Happy Together (Wong Kar Wai, 1997)

SOMESLASHTHINGS CHAPTER004 leslie cheung and tony leung in wong kar wai's happy together photographed by wing shya 01

I am a big fan of Wong Kar Wai’s films. I have seen seven of his films so far and I liked all of them. In some way. My Blueberry Nights wasn’t that great but I didn’t hate it. There is always something to appreciate in his movies. Like the always present gorgeous cinematography, the very fitting soundtrack, the fantastic performances or the stories as a whole. His films are truly romantic and focus mostly on the soul and its hunger for love. He uses some very beautiful metaphores and motifs in his work.

The next film from him that I saw is Chun gwong cha sit aka Happy Together. The films focuses on two gay men, Lai Yiu-Fai and Ho Po-Wing, who came to Argentina to rekindle their relationship. They are played by frequent Wong collaborators Tony Leung and the late Leslie Cheung. The two are constantly breaking up and making up.
The ironically-titled film opens up with a heated sex scene. Happy Together is probably Wong Kar Wai’s most sexually inclined film that I’ve seen so far with 2046 being a close second. Their love making scenes are very powerful. One moment they are kissing passionately and the other one they are fighting and screaming at each other.

They try to get to Iguazu falls which I view as a symbol for their relationship. They get lost, fight again and break up. Lai gets a job in Buenos Aires at a night club where he sees Ho with his new boyfriend. Lai is the stable one in the relationship while Ho is the irresponsible one. After being severely beaten, Ho returns to Lai and tries to convince him to start over. Lai certainly deserves better as Ho is always bringing him down with his bad behavior.

After quitting his job at the night club, Lai starts working in a restaurant where he befriends Chang, played by Chang Chen. It isn’t clear whether Chang is gay too but he seems interested in befriending Lai.
Lai and Ho’s relationship is painful to look at. They both seem miserable but also seem to love each other. They are in an unhealthy relationship. I like that the sexual orientation didn’t matter for the story. It’s a very authentic portrayal of a relationship with all its happy and sad moments. All of this could very well happen in a heterosexual relationship.

Like in every Wong Kar Wai film, the performances are really good. Both Lai and Ho act like normal men. They are not effeminate like they are in Hollywood productions. I appreciate this as I hate this type of character so much, such a carricature. There are some really powerful scenes between the two. Tony Leung really shows us how hurt Lai is by how Ho treates him. There is a scene where he breaks down in a bar. This is very sudden and it shows how much he has held inside him.

Leslie Cheung does also a great job portraying Ho. His character is more supporting than lead as the story focuses more on Lai. Ho is vey different from Lai. He is irresponsible, letting Lai go to work while he stays at home. He gets in fights with other people, always returning to Lai for help. He is a very sad person, reaching a low point in life. Don’t know if I should feel sorry for him or not. Anyway, this is a very powerful performance by Cheung.
Visually it is so beautiful. The color palette ranges from shades of blue and green to warmer colors like red, yellow and orange. It’s quite colorful. The shots of Iguazu falls are incredibly beautiful, don’t know how they did them, but they are really good.

The soundtrack plays an important part in Happy Together, like in all of Wong’s films. Given the fact that it’s set in Argentina, there is a lot of tango and latin music. The song Cucurrucucu Paloma by Caetano Veloso is a perfect soundtrack to the heavenly shots of Iguazu falls from the beginning of the film. The ending features the titular 60’s song Happy Together by The Turtles. It fit nicely and felt uplifting.

One thing I liked about the ending was that Chang, Lai’s friend, went to the lowest point in South America also known as “the end of the world”. It is supposed that people come here to leave their sorrows, something similar to the secret-in-a-treehole motif from In The Mood for Love and 2046. Chang asks Lai to say something in his recorder as Chang goes off to dance. This is when Lai has his breakdown and starts sobbing. When Chang gets there, he listens to Lai’s cry. It’s beautiful way to say that Lai got rid of his unhappiness as he returns to Hong Kong after the mostly dark times that he experienced in Argentina.
Happy Together definitely is not one of my favorite of Wong’s films. But it’s a very beautifully acted and wonderfully shot tale about a lost relationship and loneliness.

B+

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2 comments

  1. Hi there. I’m a fan of Wong Kai Wai too! And this is a brill film review. Glad I found your blog – very content-ful. I write opinion pieces in reaction to news. Would be great if you can follow back. Thanks!

    Like

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