The lingering effect of the past on the present is once again Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s thematic focus in Good Men, Good Women, which jumps back and forth between contemporary Taiwan, the immediate past, and the 1940s and ‘50s to tell a fractured tale of personal and national treachery. Lian Ching (Annie Shizuka Inoh) is an actress preparing to make a movie (titled “Good Men, Good Women”) in which she’ll star as Chiang Bi-Yu, a real-life revolutionary who traveled to mainland China in the ‘40s to fight Japanese occupation, only to return home to be executed by the government (along with hundreds of others) for being a communist. While preparing for her role, Lian begins mysteriously receiving faxed pages of her diary that concern her romance with a small-time gangster named Ah Wei (Jack Kao), sparking (in a lovely formal device) flashbacks to their heady love affair and, ultimately, her betrayal of his memory during her subsequent years as a drug-addled bar hostess. The implication, as subtle as it is powerful, is that Lian’s struggle to come to grips with her own disloyalty reflects modern-day Taiwan’s attempts to confront (and accept) its own shameful past persecuting communists. Cinematographer Chen Huai-en shoots Lian’s visions of the movie-in-progress in aged black-and-white, while drenching the present-day events in luxurious color, and Hou’s stunningly sparse direction – using no close-ups and measured, uninterrupted takes – frequently frames characters in doorways and other physical structures as a means of visualizing the claustrophobic binds of time, place and memory. Never easy but immensely gratifying, Good Men, Good Women may not achieve the epic grandness of The Puppetmaster, but it’s nonetheless a gorgeously wrought portrait of the cyclicality of history.