One of Wong’s most straightforward films is arguably his most mature, about the intimate kinship between two men.
Dir. Wong Kar Wai
1997 | Hong Kong | Drama/Romance | 96 mins | 1.85:1 | Cantonese, Mandarin & Spanish
R21 (passed clean) for homosexual content
Cast: Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Chang Chen
Plot: Lai and his lover Ho go on a trip to Buenos Aires from Hong Kong. Their torrid relationship lives out among lusty tango bars and the salsa music of La Boca sidewalks. But tensions grow between the two lovers, as they find themselves far from home with their lives drifting in opposite directions.
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
Source: Block 2 Distribution
Subject Matter: Slightly Mature
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
First Published: 19 Jun 2017
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.
“Turns out that lonely people are all the same.”
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.