Happy Together (1997)

Wong Kar-wai again, I know. Maki’s choice, not mine, but I thought: why not? Happy Together follows the lives of Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung), two men from Hong Kong who share a turbulent, erratic relationship. In one of their many efforts to “start over,” they make a spontaneous decision to travel and find themselves stranded, penniless, in foreign Argentina. There, the two engage in a familiar cycle of breakups and reconciliations, pushing each other to the limits of tolerance until one of them is forced to make a final decision.

I do not understand why I like this film. The landscape is bleak, the soundtrack peculiar, the time jumps undetermined. Most of the time there is no plot, and where there are semblances of it, its elements elude understanding. What do you do with a twenty-second clip of an inverted Hong Kong cityscape? Crazy, experimental, borderline absurd: then again, how could I not have liked it?

Narrated by Lai, the story revolves around a central motif in the form of the Iguazu waterfalls, a place (both literal and symbolic) where Ho and Lai have always wanted to go but never manage to reach together. Instead they remain trapped in a relationship where feelings are tossed around like a ball at play in soccer (an oft-depicted game in this film)—enjoyable for a time but meaningless in the end. Despite its English title (the Chinese one means “the exposure of something indecent”), a constant dissatisfaction with life permeates this movie’s atmosphere. In one scene, Lai’s friend from work Chang (Chang Chen) says, “I promised Fai to leave his sadness here [in this lighthouse]. I don’t know what he said that night. Maybe the recorder broke. I can’t hear anything on the tape. Just some strange noises, like someone sobbing.” An unhappiness so profound it cannot even be recorded, that’s how Maki described it.

I’m probably not supposed to compare, but this movie feels more plot-progressive than the first Wong Kar-wai film I watched. But although Happy Together commanded my attention better, In the Mood for Love trumps it in terms of concept, and if I had to decide between the two, I would undoubtedly choose the latter. Still, that does not detract from my enjoyment of this film, and I look forward to others from the same director.

‘You can pretend to look happy, but your voice reveals the truth. Listen closely and you can tell.’

‘I don’t know what to say.’ ‘Whatever. Anything from the heart. Even something sad. I’ll take it to the end of the world.’

‘I heard there’s a lighthouse down there. People who are heartbroken go there and leave their unhappiness behind.’

I always thought I was different from Po-Wing. Turns out that lonely people are all the same.

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