A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Happy Together (Wong Kar-Wai, 1997)

Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in Happy Together
Lai Yiu-fai: Tony Leung Chiu-Wai
Ho Po-wing: Leslie Cheung
Chang: Chen Chang

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Screenplay: Wong Kar-Wai
Cinematography: Christopher Doyle
Production design: William Chang
Music: Danny Chung

The title, of course, is ironic: Lai Yiu-fai and Ho Po-wing are anything but. In short, Happy Together is another of Wong Kar-Wai's studies of frustrated passion, though unlike the heterosexual couple in In the Mood for Love (2000), Lai and Ho have each other as a physical outlet for passion -- the frustration comes from their blocked desires to have their relationship transcend sex. Any happiness they might find together is prevented by incompatibility: Lai is steady and hard-working, Ho is unfettered hedonism. It's never made explicit why they have chosen to exile themselves in Argentina, other than that Buenos Aires might be presumed to offer a more tolerant environment for a gay couple than a Hong Kong threatened by the transfer to the People's Republic of China that took place in the year of the film's release. As it turns out, exile serves mainly as a catalyst for their breakup. This is, in short, a character study, and a fine one. Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung give searing performances as the volatile lovers, and Wong Kar-Wai wisely concentrates the film on them, providing only one other witness to the intensely destructive entanglement of Lai and Ho: a young Taiwanese named Chang, out to see the world, who works in a kitchen with Lai. In fact, Chang sees only Lai's side of the relationship, although the fact that he is gifted with heightened powers of seeing and hearing suggests that he perceives more than he can interpret. Chang is presented as rather asexual -- perhaps gay, but not experienced enough to make any sort of move toward Lai -- and as such serves as the perfect foil for Wong's portrait of the erotic time-bomb that is the relationship of Lai and Ho. The film ends poignantly with Lai, having finally broken completely with Ho, returning to Hong Kong, but making a stopover in Taipei where he visits's Chang's family's food stall, but narrowly missing the chance of a reunion with Chang. It's another missed connection in a film filled with them.

Watched on Filmstruck

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