Happy Together (1997)

Review #1,462

Director:  Wong Kar Wai
Cast:  Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Chang Chen
Plot:  Yiu-Fai and Po-Wing arrive in Argentina from Hong Kong and take to the road for a holiday.  Something is wrong and their relationship goes adrift.  A disillusioned Yiu-Fai starts working at a tango bar to save up for his trip home.  When a beaten and bruised Po-Wing reappears, Yiu-Fai is empathetic but is unable to enter a more intimate relationship.

Genre:  Drama / Romance
Awards:  Won Best Director (Cannes).  Won 1 Golden Horse - Best Cinematography.  Nom. for 5 Golden Horses - Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Film Editing, Best Art Direction, Best Sound Effects
Runtime:  96min
Rating:  R21 for homosexual content
International Sales:  Jet Tone Films

“Turns out that lonely people are all the same.”

Previously banned in Singapore despite an R(A) rating, Happy Together is one of those films that benefited from the Streisand effect.  So many people have since watched it, or at least have heard about it.  Often mis-described as a gay film by Wong Kar-Wai, Happy Together is best seen as a mature work about an intimate kinship between two men.  

There’s sex, in fact, in its opening minutes, as if Wong wanted to get that out of the way as quick as possible.  After that, we get a film that is markedly his, yet it is also a departure from the frenetic style of Chungking Express (1994) and Fallen Angels (1995).  Happy Together feels more like an experiment with organicity—it is interested in how the characters interact with one another in an environment seemingly alien yet fascinating to them.

Shot largely in Buenos Aires in Argentina, Happy Together brings Chinese faces halfway across the world in the form of the androgynously-charming Leslie Cheung (who plays Po-Wing), and one of the most accomplished Chinese actors of our time, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai (who plays Yiu-Fai).  Spending time in a small rented apartment, they harbour hopes of making the trip to the famed Iguazu Falls.  

Their fractured, love-hate relationship keeps them both apart and together at the same time.  They dislike each other’s attitudes and perspectives toward life, yet they seem to need each other to live.  The performances are superb, a balance of the subtle and the explosive.  Whenever the film loses narrative thrust (which often could be said of most of Wong’s pictures), the chemistry between the two actors helps to hold the fort.  

Happy Together is one of the director’s most straightforward works.  Even the subplot involving Chang Chen’s character feels quite integrated into the overall narrative.  With Christopher Doyle at the camera’s helm, the film is no doubt beautiful to look at, but it is Wong’s use of music that is unexpectedly affecting.  

The most unforgettable scene of the entire film is a hypnotic aerial shot of the Iguazu Falls, married to Caetano Veloso's song “Cucurrucucu Paloma”.  Moreover, his use of Astor Piazzolla’s tango-style accordion music romanticises the carefree with a tinge of melancholy.  The sun may be setting for the duo’s relationship, but each could still bask in its fading glow.

Verdict:  One of Wong’s most straightforward films is arguably his most mature, about the intimate kinship between two men.  





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