I was trying to get away from using Asian cinema as a safety net but I couldn’t resist a little more Wong Kar Wai. Happy Together (1997) is at least set and filmed in Argentina so it does have a different flavour.
Happy Together is a beautiful and dreamlike piece of filmmaking; coloured with the mixture of darkness and grace that I’ve come to associate with this director’s films. Much like Kowloon in Chungking Express (1994) the city of Buenos Aires is as much a character in the film as the humans. Although if the earlier film is a loving portrayal of home with all its flaws and comforts, then Happy Together is a more raw experience. A remembrance of somewhere that you were both very happy and utterly heartbroken – a city you fell in love with and stayed in, long after the romance has faded away. This is a portrayal neither of the city the tourists see nor the one the natives know. Both the beauty and the grubby ugly side are portrayed as transient. Nothing can be truly transcendental or truly sordid, because this reality is ultimately temporary, both viewers and characters will eventually go home sooner or later. Fitting given that at its heart it’s a film about starting over and the different things that can mean.
There are continued references to the waterfall depicted on the lamp the couple own, a place they visit only to kick start the end of their relationship. Yet, despite the beautiful romanticised shots of both the falls and the lamp that the film portrays, it doesn’t make me want to visit. Instead it is the Lighthouse ‘at the end of the world’ that Chang is so determined to visit before he goes home to Taiwan that calls out to me, with it’s threat of suicide and present of peace.
According to the back of the box of the copy I watched, it was quite controversial when it was released because the director had convinced two of Hong Kong cinema’s biggest male stars to play a gay couple. And we’re not talking a few chaste kisses, but a passionate, messy love affair with an utterly unashamed (though admittedly tastefully shot) sex scene. Yet ultimately this isn’t a ‘gay’ film, it’s a film about two lovers and their messy broken love affair as it falls apart. The rawness and heartbreak are familiar and the fact that both lovers are male is largely of secondary importance. As Yiu-fai says, turns out that lonely people are all the same.
This is a film for anyone who’s ever fallen in love with someone they shouldn’t have or wished they could throw a friend’s sadness off the end of the world.