Happy Together (1997)

The films of Wong Kar Wai endure multiple viewings, not because they are beautifully photographed, which they are, and not because they have great romance, which they also have, but because they embody the common consciousness of Hong Kong in the period of pre- and post-handover so well, and in such voluptuous colors. “Happy Together” is my favorite among all his films because it is the final statement of Hong Kong in the 1990’s. It was released in 1997, the handover year of Hong Kong from Britain to China.

Lai Yiu Fai (Tony Leung) and Ho Po Wing (Leslie Cheung) are lovers. They arrive in Argentina from Hong Kong to debark a road trip for a holiday. They goes adrift, car is broken, so is their relationship. From that point, Yiu Fai and Po Wing are stranded in Argentina in a doomed relationship. That is my best effort to describe the storyline as there is not a clear one. The movie is more about the characters than a story.

Yiu Fai is the more quiet and sensitive of the couple, while Po Wing is explosive and seductive, bringing a balance to the duo. They run out of money. Yiu Fai longs for his homeland. He saves up for a return flight ticket from the modest income he makes from a Chinese restaurant, while Po Wing has no obvious plan and supports himself a lurid lifestyle by shuffling between foreign partners.

The two personalities draw an interesting analogy to the pre-1997 period of Hong Kong – the Hong Kong citizens who have been drifting for so long that they long to return “home”, whatever the home is, and those who still long for the foreigners during the colonization.

Po Wing is spontaneous and playful, at times explosive, the right mixture of a good lover until he goes beyond control. Yiu Fai struggles between Po Wing and a more stable life. A more realistic plan is to save up enough to return home and fix the existential crisis. His struggle interestingly suggests the internal conflict of the Hong Kong citizens before 1997. The eventual breakup between the couple, leaving Po Wing alone in Argentina and Yiu Fai returning home, illustrates the difficult breakup of the Hong Kong citizens from the british rule. The ending is that of a lost love, which is destined to doom, despite false expectation.

Whether or not Wong Kar Wai had these in mind during the making of this movie would be up to your imagination. The theme of lost time, obsession to a due date (1997 in the case of Hong Kong) and doomed lovers can be found throughout his work prior to 1997. His direction is changed after the 1997 handover and his later films illustrate a different consciousness that is analogous to that of the post-1997 Hong Kong citizens. Many viewers accuse Wong Kar Wai as a one off director whose films only contain style with little substance. Looking beyond the surface, one could find different meanings and motifs manifested by his characters which roam in the world of lost love and opportunity.

Happy Together” is directed by Wong Kar Wai, beautifully photographed by Christopher Doyle, starring Tony Leung and Leslie Cheung.

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2 Responses to “Happy Together (1997)”

  1. Joy Says:

    Hello Tat, it’s Joy from Lomography Manila!

    Although I’ve watched very few of Wong Kar Wai’s films, I must say I love all that I’ve seen. “In The Mood for Love” will always be my favorite WKW film; I find the tension and repressed passion so gripping!

    Thanks for writing about this, will include “Happy Together” in my must-watch films!

    P.S.

    I think I need to back-read for the other films!

  2. tattso Says:

    “In the Mood for Love” is gorgeous! Everything before that is vintage WKW and I suspect, more personal work for him.

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