Happy Together Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997


Imagine me and you, I do
I think about you day and night, it's only right
To think about the girl you love and hold her tight
So happy together

Hong Kong director Wong Kar-Wai received the Best Director award at Cannes in 1997 for his latest effort, "Happy Together", which details the pathological relationship between two homosexual men in Buenos Aires. This long-awaited follow-up to 1994's "Chungking Express" and 1995's "Fallen Angels" is more linear than his previous films, but love it or hate it, it is classic Wong Kar-Wai, rife with the metaphorical musings of the hopeless romantic.

Instead of spreading the story over an ensemble of characters, Wong Kar-Wai focuses on the tedious and repetitious relationship between Lai and Ho, which is typical of any married couple, a perspective that most viewers will appreciate, whether gay or straight. The casting is daring with two of Hong Kong's brightest straight actors, Tony Leung (who also starred in "Chungking Express") and Leslie Cheung ("Farewell My Concubine", and co-starred with Leung in Wong Kar-Wai's "Ashes of Time"), as a homosexual couple, which would be the equivalent of casting John Travolta and Nicholas Cage in a gay film. Lai Yiu-Fai (Leung) and Ho Po-Wing (Cheung) are a couple of ex-patriates living together in Buenos Aires. However, after an aborted trip to see the Iguazu Falls on the border of Argentina and Brazil, a symbol of renewal that is touched upon throughout the film, they drift apart. Lai becomes a doorman at a tango club, which pays enough for him to maintain a claustrophobic flat in a rundown building. Meanwhile, Ho sells himself out as a hustler, making a living off of a series of one-night stands. However, after finding Ho bleeding on the street, beaten up by a 'bad trick', Lai decides to take Ho back in an attempt to 'start over', and finally make the trip to Iguazu.

If I should call you up, invest a dime
And you say you belong to me and ease my mind
Imagine how the world could be, so very fine
So happy together

HT exhibits many of the hallmarks inherent in all of Wong Kar-Wai's films. The story, rather than being plot-driven, is theme-driven, with many layers of interpretation. Every aspect of the story, whether it be characters, the occupations of the characters, or even where they stand in a room, speaks to hidden metaphors and subtext. His characters are usually divided into two camps with opposing philosophies, and this is seen in the contrast between Lai and Ho. Lai, the more reserved and responsible of the two, is haunted by the past and is blinded to opportunities in the present by the haze of nostalgia. Ho, the more petty of the pair, has a shiftless life without any 'memory' of the past, which leads to a meaningless existence and the need to define his own purpose through his relationships with others. This same juxtaposition was seen between Yuddy and the cop in "Days of Being Wild", and the Hitman and Michelle in "Fallen Angels".

I can't see me lovin' nobody but you
For all my life
When you're with me, baby the skies'll be blue
For all my life

The images that Wong Kar-Wai and his ace cinematographer Christopher Doyle in

HT are, as usual, stunning. Using the same techniques employed in "Fallen Angels", where the luminance of the image was boosted through the use of high-contrast film, Wong Kar-Wai creates a dizzying array of richly-textured shots. Those familiar with his films will see the usual indulgences-- the sped-up footage of city traffic, the arty and introspective slo-mo, the MTV-school-of-film-making, the long monologues, the shifting points-of-view, and the Godardian influences of jump-cutting and iconography (the fixation on stationary objects, such as clocks, street signs, and statues)-- all of which speak to the themes common to all Wong Kar-Wai films: the transiency of relationships, the introspective point-of-view, and the persistence of memory.

Me and you and you and me
No matter how they toss the dice, it has to be
The only one for me is you, and you for me
So happy together

"Happy Together" is a straightforward narrative with the existential philosophy and the stylish-camera work toned-down, which made it an average Wong Kar-Wai film. The exhilaration of watching his films comes from fitting together the pieces of a 90-minute intellectual puzzle, and subsequent viewings generally revealed new interpretations and nuances. Though the film had a few moments of brilliance, the combination of leisurely pacing without the trademark eye- and brain-candy made it difficult to sit through-- there was just not enough mystery and mysticism to make it one of his better films.

So happy together
So happy together (ba-ba-ba-ba ba-ba-ba-ba)

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