Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997)


Leslie Cheung (Ho Po-wing), Tony Leung (Lai Yiu-Fai). Screenplay by Wong Kar-wai. Directed by Wong Kar-wai. Rating: 15. Running time: 96 minutes.

Oh I so wanted to love this one. I really did. I’m still in awe of Chungking Express after first seeing it a week ago, and I was eagerly hoping my second encounter with Wong Kar-wai’s work would be similarly fruitful. It thus pains me greatly to have to say I was lost completely by Happy Together; a fish out of water for a full ninety minutes.

It’s not that the style is completely different; if anything, a lot of the things I loved about Chungking are here too: the confessionary narration, Western music, casual camerawork and stunningly rich yet urban colouring. What’s changed, however, is the pace and naturally the plot. Neither film has a whole lot going on, but Chungking had an extremely compelling rhythm to it, and the extent to which Happy Together is slowed down in comparison is hard to miss. This should be to ease in serious drama, and indeed the film’s content and its approach is praiseworthy precisely because it assumes homosexuality and accepts it without question, thus not looking for praise nor bringing attention towards its forwardness.

Unfortunately, this does not mean in Happy Together‘s case that great drama awaits. It still looks as beautiful as I’m getting the impression all of Wong Kar-wai’s films look, but insofar as events and content here are concerned, I couldn’t even say it’s about the tension and breakdown of a gay couple’s relationship, as a promotional synopsis might be tempted to. That really would be a lie, for at very few points does the film feel like it’s consciously observing this relationship and its decay in any shape or form. It’s set in Argentina and it’s loosely based around these two men, but if you asked me what fills the ninety minutes exactly, I’d struggle to recall the majority of the scenes.

Whilst Cannes and critics together took this to mean Happy Together is a careful and composed study that’s quietly compelling, then, I instead ache in seeing something that’s unguided, boring and even pointless. I watch a lot of cinema; I know the rules of the game. But if meaning is discernible here then it’s well hidden and wholly impenetrable even for this most avid of movie goers.

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