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|Index||70 reviews in total|
Just when you thought that you knew everything about Hong Kong cinema
or about romantic adventures in film, director Kar Wai Wong steps
forward and eliminates all boundaries. Transforming your typical
picture of a straight couple and violently handing us the relationship
of Yiu-fai and Po-wing using untraditional cinematography is only
scratching the surface of this picture. If you found yourself shocked
by the opening sequence or annoyed by the drastic image of the film,
then you definitely are not a film junkie. This movie had everything a
cinephile would desire like strong characters, a non-linear story, and
the brazen truth about modern society's relationships. This was more
than just a gay film, but instead a story about emotions and loves,
coupled with all the turmoil that surrounds it. It is ironic that the
title of the film is Happy Together, because it completely challenges
the true themes. It is about love, but about the difficulties that
surround a dying relationship. From the visual opening to the amazing
use of several different cinematography techniques, Happy Together may
not suit everyone, but to this film junkie it opened a new door in Hong
This film would not have worked if it weren't for the apparent brilliance of director Kar Wai Wong. While I have been impressed with his other films like In the Mood for Love and his work on the BMW series, The Hire, this film literally blew me out of the water. To begin, the opening sequence. If this very sexual opening doesn't set the tone for the rest of the film, I don't know what will. I was shocked, disturbed, and on-edge the entire time. I didn't see the love between our two characters at all in the beginning, but that was because it was to show the destruction of their relationship. Then, Wong did several things that just impressed me and kept my attention focused on the film. First, he took these two vacationing men from Hong Kong and set them in a foreign city. So, not only was it uneasy to watch this relationship disintegrate in front of our eyes, but to be lost in a unfamiliar city only made it worse. Second, he focused the camera on only one of the characters (Yiu-fai) to enhance that sensation about Po-wing's indiscretions. Through Yiu-fai we felt the human emotions just boil through of having to see a love that only hurt. Finally, he continually changed the cinematography through different scenes. This was impressive because it only added more tension to our characters and themes. Two travelers lost in a foreign country, trying to patch a dying relationship, with a constantly changing cinematic style, was tough to watch but that was the theme that Wong wanted to capture. This is not your typical romantic picture, but instead it showcases the truth about two men that perhaps were not the greatest fit. Even when he throws in the waterfall element, it only adds to the overall theme. The waterfall, to me, represented the falling relationship. Beauty on the outside, a violent tendency as the water falls just like our relationship.
Wong successfully created this tension by hiring some of Hong Kong's best actors. They carried themselves with the greatest of comfort and control. I felt as if I knew these characters by the end of the film. I felt as if I had gone through a similar struggle as they did. These two men challenged the idea of "normal" relationships, yet kept their personas simple, human, and intense. You could not help but feel emotion for these two, even if you did not like the story. They kept the tones light when they needed to be, then brought you deep within the rabbit hole when the darkness erupted. The final scenes of this film are fascinating to watch, and I had to see them again. The downfall of Yiu-fai into a role similar to Po-wing was heartbreaking, yet stunning. Here we have two men who I thought were complete opposites from the beginning, yet somehow, to quote Wong, "Turns out that lonely people are all the same."
Finally, I cannot finish without saying that the cinematography was outstanding in this film. The use of black and white in the beginning and slowly bringing in the colors was breathtaking. This film was more than just actors working for a director, but instead a director creating art. Christopher Doyle bulls-eyed the tone of the film and brought forth an intense picture that only complimented Wong's work. It just impresses me to see a film, like Happy Together, where all the elements come together and work in unison. It is a rarity in today's Hollywood, but thankfully we have directors like Kar Wai Wong whom embrace it. From the beginning of the movie until the final scenes, Doyle challenges an brings together some of the most beautiful scenes in cinema, transforming the normal into the extraordinary.
Overall, this was a spectacular film. After I watched it the first time, I had to see it again, but didn't know if I could. Its emotional strength was so overwhelming that I had to stop myself. I couldn't watch these two brilliant actors tear my heart apart again. It was a sad film, it was an angry film, but most importantly it was a film about being lost in love. Those who may have enjoyed Lost in Translation, this would be a great film to match with it. While not structured the same, it does give us that feeling of being apart in a new world, struggling to get home or to discover one's self. Wong is one of the greatest directors in the world, and I cannot wait to open my soul to his work again. Brilliant film-making, determined and unmatched acting, coupled with the best cinematography this world has ever encountered! A must for everyone!
Grade: **** out of *****
In this Wong Kar Wai production, loneliness takes on the face of 3 Chinese
travellers who, after alienating themselves from the society they came from,
end up at the end of the world. Argentina, which is the antithesis of HK,
may be the farthest place you can get from HK, but still they cannot
entangle themselves from the emotional baggage they have been carrying.
Loneliness is a state of mind which follows you no matter where you are, and
ensnarls you when you are at your most vulnerable.
While the story may be more famous as a film about gay relationship, it is in fact, not so. The lead characters just happen to be gay, and loneliness, with all the jealousy and melancholy that comes with it, takes centrestage.
"Happy Together" is a depressing film. Yet it's one which I keep coming
back to when I feel down and heartbroken.
Lost souls, lonely, longing, and lovelorn, are staples in the Wong Kar-Wai universe. His best works uncannily portray the beauty and misery of being struck by love and its multiple variations and illusions. His fluid, script-free, improvisational style of work is now legendary and applies well to the unpredictable nature of this subject matter while giving his works a raw, open-ended quality. "Happy Together" is quite probably his rawest work to date and, as a result, one of the most difficult to watch (this honor goes to "Ashes of Time"). The rawness makes it seem organic. It feels as if it's an ever-evolving creature which hides and exposes its multiple facets with each different viewing.
Argentina sounds like a great romantic escape for most of us but for our couple, Po-wing (Leslie Cheung) and Yiu-fai (Tony Leung), it's a lonely, bleak, melancholic place on the edge of the world. Travelogue film this isn't. Buenos Aires may have initially held romantic promise for them. "Let's start over," Po-wing asks Yiu-fai yet again, and off they go to South America to work things out. Soon, however, the place becomes a physical representation of their relationship. It's claustrophobic and oppressive, something that could've been so beautiful yet one which they now need to escape from. Wong beautifully portrays spectacular Iguazu Falls with mythical significance throughout the film. Initially nothing more than amusing kitsch, it eventually progresses as the defining geographical manifestation of their amorous aspirations. It achieves such heavy, symbolic power, the last time we see it is one of the most memorable scenes in the film.
If the homosexual angle seems downplayed here, it is to parallel the film's treatment. It's so matter-of-fact it's irrelevant and even embarrassing to make an issue out of it. This is a couple who just happens to be gay. Indeed, there is nothing gay-specific about the film, the couple may well have been straight and it wouldn't make a difference at all.
"Happy Together" is such a vivid examination of a relationship, it's occasionally painful to watch. The emotional authenticity, however, makes it quite absorbing. Wong Kar-Wai often aims for the heart and, with the possible exception of "In the Mood for Love", he's never been closer to his target.
In "Happy Together" Director Wong Kar Wai tells us the story of a
relationship that does not survive the alienation inside and outside.
The film is set in Argentina where two lovers are stranded because they don't have enough money to return to their native Hong Kong.
The film shows us that Fai and Po-wing are unable to find equality or balance in their relationship. It is a story about the way most relationships are defined by the balance of power.. and how this leads to despair. Fai reflects that their relationship was the happiest when Po-wing was ill and had to be cared for like a child. As Po Wing's health improves Fai draws away from him and refuses his attempts of closeness, illustrated by the constant battles over couch and bed. When Po-Wing is well enough to go out again by himself the balance of the power in relationship shifts. Po-wing slowly but surely slips away into the world of hustling. He never finds his way back to Fai who eventually saves enough money to go home.
Both are emotionally devastated by the loss of their lover. We only see them being happy together in a glimpse, as they dance a slow dance together in their room. It seems the happiness in their relationship that Fai refers to in connection with Po-Wing's illness, is an isolated kind of happiness that he himself enjoys without Po-wing's knowledge. If they are ever indeed Happy Together we see it only in facial expressions, in their tone of voice but these are expressions of love and tenderness that never seem to reach the surface that remain unspoken.
Wong Kar Wai's visual style is absolutely stunning. He conveys the alienation inside the relationship - and the alienation outside - (I am referring to the fact that they are in a different country) through colors and camera-movements. We are constantly looking at the protagonists from a corner high above or through the window of a seedy bar. Every single shot feels claustrophobic and it irritates the viewer. It makes the viewer long for closeness and clarity. It imitates the longing of the characters and their attempts - and failure - at connecting to each other. Their feelings, as does the eye of the lens, float above them in a silent, detached loneliness.
"Happy Together" is one of those films that I do not really enjoy watching. It is actually physically painful to watch because it hurts the eye as much as it hurts the soul. The film makes its style and subject matter into one flesh, a "happy" marriage of form and content.
Aw-kommon's notes on "Happy Together" are typical of those who cannot approach a film without aligning it with definite paradigms and secure standards. In this case, the paradigm is "Midnight Cowboy" -- a film that belongs to a totally different genre, was written and shot according to "naturalistic" procedures of Hollywood commercial cinema and, most of all, deals with romance from a quite different perspective. In "Midnight Cowboy" redemption of homoeroticism comes through death, a strategy that was quite revealing of the morals that prevailed at the time the movie was produced. "Happy Together", on the other hand, deals with romance as if it could have been homo-, hetero- or whatever, and even though homoeroticism is such an essential element to the narrative, the protagonists'love affair is a pretext for the emergence of their decentered identities, their search for love and friendship and, most important, it ends on a note of hope of future encounters. All that in a poetic tone, one that demands a continuous esthetic reconstruction, hardly understood (or accepted) by those who are encapsulated in a world of conventional filmmaking.
I didn't think so the first time I saw HAPPY TOGETHER, but I really
think this film is a masterpiece. Technically it's amazing - the
hand-held camera-work is incredible, and the mindbending shifts from
saturated colors to monochrome (which I first felt was a stylish stunt)
really underscores the loneliness and alienation of the characters
brilliantly - the overall effect by the films' end is devastating.
HAPPY TOGETHER was apparently also - at least partially - inspired by the Argentine novelist Manuel Puig, author of 'Kiss Of The Spider Woman' among many other novels, and Puig's fiction tackles similar issues in a similarly fractured style (filled with footnotes, digressions and sudden shifts in perspective), all to incredibly powerful emotional effect.
If HAPPY TOGETHER is something of an homage to Puig, it's a great one. On it's own it's also a devastating portrait of a disintegrating relationship.
Something of an obvious precursor to the subsequent masterpiece In the
Mood for Love (2000); Happy Together (1997) is a tragic love story by
way of recollection. If you're at all familiar with the work of
director Wong Kar-Wai - from his breakthrough film Days of Being Wild
(1991), to his more recent masterwork, the unsung 2046 (2004) - then
you'll be accustomed to his personal approach to cinema; from that
continually drifting sense of quiet melancholy and disconnected ennui -
all captured by a roving camera that conspires to alienate characters
from one another by intrusive shot composition and naturalist
production design - and a beguiling approach to the concept of time
continually abstracted in order to create drama from moments of fond
reminisce. Once again, the feeling expressed in Happy Together is that
of loneliness and despair, as characters drift spectre-like through
desolate cities attempting to cling to moments and memories as if
gasping for their final breath; and all the while distorted by a
frequently hypnotic approach to music, structure, pace and
If the film lacks the sophistication of the aforementioned In the Mood for Love, it is only because the process of refinement has replaced the edginess and earthiness of this film, with a studied, technical grandeur and ornate beauty that is really quite transcendent. Nonetheless, the style and tone of Happy Together fits the mood of the film perfectly; capturing the feckless uncertainly of the character's lives - both together and apart - and concurrently suggesting the idea of memory and repetition that plays an important role in the way the narrative ultimately plays out. The first viewing might very well be confusing, with scenes occurring that seem to simultaneously represent both the past and the present, and with information presented in a series of incredibly quick cuts, disconnected voice-over and a continually jarring cross-cutting back and forth between lurid colour and an oddly tinted monochrome, which seems to work on an emotional level, as opposed to any kind of narrative convention.
That said, the grittiness of the film suggests an uncompromising and starkly unconventional beauty in keeping with the film's central relationship; with the violent and volatile shifts in stock capturing the same unpredictable impulses and urges of the central characters as they fight, break-up, reconcile and drift apart against a rolling backdrop of exotic and atmospheric locations. The use of Buenos Aires as the central setting adds texture to the film, and the vibrant way in which the director captures the strange, mysterious and nocturnal atmosphere of the city is evocative to say the least. Here, the rhythm of the film becomes tuned to that of the Argentine tango that swirls through the bar where the characters rediscover one another; with the staccato rhythms of the movement underscored by the sad reflections of the accordion music and the stampeding percussion of feet against floors, combined with continual hints of tortured romanticism - touching without feeling, sensing without sensuality, etc - that are so central to these characters and the odd situation they find themselves in.
The location also ties in with the filmmaker's fondness for the work of author Manuel Puig; whose style of writing has some influence on the tone and languid energy of the film in question, with Wong and his crew - and in particular cinematographer Christopher Doyle - expressing certain unspoken facets of this relationship through framing, movement, colour and rhythm. The fact that the film focuses on a homosexual relationship is ultimately secondary. As is often the case with Wong Kar-Wai, the film is about that urge and desire to belong to something - or someone - and the pursuit of an unrequited love that is powerful enough to drive you to the end of the world. We see these themes repeated again and again, from the inter-linked meta-romance of Days of Being Wild, In the Mood for Love and 2046, to the brilliance of Chungking Express (1994). Through the jarring nature of the relationship between the reckless and subtly abusive Ho Po-Wing and the more sensitive and brooding Lai Yiu-fai, Wong is able to express a series of thoughts and ruminations of the notions of love in a way that is intelligent, but always easy to identify with, regardless of gender or sexuality.
Later in the film, the director expresses slightly more profound feelings through the friendship of Lai Yiu-fai and the young runaway Chang. Here, we see a mutual respect and unspoken love that goes beyond sex and sexuality; creating a pure statement on the notion of love and the desire to belong to someone or something, within a certain time or place. A love so great that the person would be willing to carry your own sadness to the end of the world, to lessen the burdens of life and open the door to a new beginning free of difficulties and strife. There are deeper themes expressed throughout - too many to go into in this review - nonetheless, the film is understated and brimming with emotion; in keeping with the director's more iconic or well-regarded films, such as the ones aforementioned, and continuing a number of important themes and motifs that are both thought-provoking and affecting. The film also benefits from the fine performances of the three lead actors, stunning locations, cinematography, great atmosphere, mood and spirit; and an overall approach to cinema that is poetic, to say the least.
"Happy Together " is essentially a study of a couple falling in and out of love. Their sex - they are a gay couple from Hong Kong - hardly matters: the film could just as well have been about a straight or lesbian couple. The fact that very near the beginning there is as explicit a scene of male anal intercourse as one is likely to encounter in mainstream commercial cinema is far from gratuitously sensational. As the film is meant to start on a passionate high, this is the most convincing way of doing it - so be it. The director has the integrity not to repeat this for the reason that the couple never quite feel the same about each other again - indeed there is a great deal of alienation. Both have arrived in Argentina in search of work. Although the jobs undertaken by one of the pair, Lai, are fairly menial, first as a doorman at a Tango club and then a kitchen worker, he seems more stable than his companion, Ho, who does little but hustle, gets beaten up fairly early on and spends much of his time in an incapacitated state. In the room they share there is a lampshade depicting the Izuazi Falls. The cascade almost becomes a symbol for the relationship they would ideally like to achieve. Early on they hire a car to look for it but lose their way. After their relationship has finally broken Lai finds it, but as he is alone, the landmark seems sadly lacking in excitement. There is a third main character, a straight guy from Taiwan, who works in the kitchen with Lai. With his amiable self-sufficiency he seems to have been introduced to provide a balance to the angst of the main pair, a device that works well as it reinforces our sympathy for them. "Happy Together" looks rough and crude. A hand held camera is used with frenetic nervousness. Sequences of monochrome alternate with scenes that are almost perversely over-coloured. I know it is fashionable to give some films a nightmarish look. Here I found it a distinct stumbling block to be got over for the sake of a work that says so much about loneliness, homesickness and the struggle of people simply to be "happy together".
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Viewing this film was like watching the Tango! Leslie Cheung and Tony
Leung were absolutely mesmerizing as lovers who exist in a state of
conflict, constantly estranged from their homeland, their loved-ones
and each other. The ending was heartrending (no surprise), but I found
the interaction between the couple to be pure comedy. The situations
that each character found himself in were anything but funny, however,
the ups and downs in their relationship were so realistic that I
couldn't help but laugh at how insane love can be.
Regardless of race, class, gender, culture, sexual orientation and even geography, this movie will serve as a love letter to anyone who has the misfortune of being truly, madly and deeply in love with the one person on earth who drives them nuts. Those of us fitting this description will find many confirmations (but no comfort) in Yiu-Fai and Po-Wing's story. I could totally relate to Yiu-Fai when he stated that Po-Wing's illness was actually the time when they were the happiest together. Moreover, the story paints a vivid portrait of long-term relationships as swaying perilously between states of codependence, complacency and claustrophobia.
If I had to decide on a letter grade, though, I would have to give the movie an "A-" instead of an "A" because I was hoping that Leslie Cheung would not be confined to the typical doomed drama-queen role. Ironically, the story explores individual, national and global identity when, throughout the cinema world, one is hard pressed to find performers who rival Tony Leung's depth and Leslie Cheung's range. Despite his hallmark androgyny, I personally believe that Cheung could play Rambo convincingly! The universal nature of the story was also threatened by its stereotypical depictions of gay life (violent relationships and promiscuity). I think the film's core message could have been conveyed just as effectively without the use of hackneyed scenarios. Fortunately, the amazing soundtrack and the breathtaking cinematography more than made up for any flaws.
Happy Together is a throbbing, raw, and profoundly nostalgic lament
from two displaced traveling Chinamen yearning for emotional soundness,
for their homeland, and for each other. Wong doesn't front us any of
the flickering that can still be struck between lovers who fight all
the time. There is no deep poetic interpretation of the story itself,
but by leaving so much unsaid, writer-director Wong Kar-Wai doesn't
make the misstep of suffocating his characters' relationship with trite
soap dialogue. That is not to say, however, that the film even remotely
knows the meaning of the phrase "less is more."
You don't watch this film as much as seize on to it. Letting it yank you every which way is a raucous yet intriguing excursion, with fertile visual stylizations that trail you long after seeing the film, all with the impact to communicate directly with the heart. The visuals make the film come alive, and make material the displacement, and thus the unhinging, that the main characters feel from their surroundings and each other. Rather than using dialogue, this highly stylized romance chiefly imparts its themes and moods through its images, and Wong fashions an interior audiovisual composition about the mood swings of a love affair. Wong's use of images for purely emotional photogenic value, feverish camera movements, jukebox soundtrack and his improvisation and experimentation with the actors have an effect reminiscent of Scorsese's Mean Streets. In Wong's emotional roller coaster of a film, the characters seem to have a formidable intuitive certainty that their relationship is star- crossed sooner or later, but they follow passionate impulses regardless, giving the film a dreamy texture that it can't shake as its lovers turn-step to and fro during their free-form Argentine spree.
Wong gradually layers the relationship, just like it would happen in real life, and the doubts and obscurities are constant. He extracts powerful performances from his lead actors. While Leslie Cheung gracefully fluctuates his moments between yearning, resentment, and anger, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai is the calm eye of the storm.
Leung acts from the inside. We intuit his feelings through his natural physical subtleties, chiefly through the sensitive eyes. Even purely physical scenes, like the fights he has with Leslie Cheung's character, don't happen suddenly. Leung winds up for these moments instinctively and then defensively underplays them. And when the tears come, they pour without affectation, making me wonder from what part of Leung's soul he quietly unearths these moments from as Wong rolls the camera.
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