wogma rating: Beg or borrow, but do watch (?)
Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together is one of the most important gay romances ever, thanks to its subtle expressionisms of love, caring and heart-break. Winner of the Best Director at the Cannes Film Festival, this one’s a must watch to appreciate the depth in queer relationships, especially after all the damage Dostana and Kantaben have done to our minds. PS: You’d want to book your flight to the Iguazu waterfalls in Argentina once you’ve seen this film.Read more
Just the manner in which Po Wing bends down towards Yui Fai to light a cigarette, just by the way one burning cigarette touches the tip of another, Wong Kar Wai (WKW) uses the most subtle touches between two ignited inanimate objects to describe flames of passion.
Happy Together, known to many as a gay love story, has many such moments between Po Wing (Leslie Cheung) and Yui Fai (Tony Leung Chiu Wai) where emotions seem restrained, but WKW’s touch of class gives each gesture immense depth.
The story for most part, is that about loneliness and regret, than about the two protagonists being gay. There isn’t really a supporting cast - and there’s no attempt to reflect on the stigma of being homosexuals. The viewer is exposed merely into the world of its two protagonists - Po Wing and Yui Fai. We’re not yet privy to their family stories or the battles they wage every day. If there is any sense of alienation, it is of being in a foreign country and longing for home. The director, however does introduce a new character in the second half of the film - Chang (Chen Chang), who works with Yui Fai at a restaurant. Chang and Yui Fai become close friends and although there are no gay undertones between them, WKW manages to establish his mastery at showing even platonic relationships between men, in the same film.
Happy Togetheris an important film. Not just for its portrayal of two queer men, but also for its subtle treatment of romance. Scenes where a a very sick Yui Fai cooks for Po Wing, cleans his wounds, and refuses to let Po sleep with him are fine examples of a director who’s mastered this art. I could sense tears rolling down my eyes when a lonely Yui Fai starts sobbing, when asked to record all his sorrows into a voice-recorder.
The beauty of the Iguazu waterfalls, where the duo want to visit, is the most lasting image of the film. There could have been no better visual treat to capture the pathos in the relationship between Po Wing and Yui Fai. Throughout the film, WKW is experimental with his photography - there are the saturated hues, very typical of all his films, as are the monochromatic tones supported with close-ups, which magnify the state of mind of both characters. There’s also the trademark WKW shot in the car with one’s head resting on the other’s shoulder and a walk through the streets late in the night - both of which he replicated in his subsequent film, In The Mood For Love. The colour palette - WKW’s obsession with red - comes across in a major way as his camera flirts with a blood-stained floor at the abbatoir.
Being able to spot these consistent patterns are some of the delights of reviewing a Wong Kar Wai film. The director is maintains his signature touches, themes of unfulfilled love and delicate expressionism. He doesn’t shoot colourful people, or colourful sets, but his camera feeds colours into some very grey characters.
Buy the DVD. It’s one film you’ll want to revisit again and again. Perhaps when you’re lonely.
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This page has additional observations, other than the ones noted in the main review.
The film begins with a rather explicit lovemaking scene between the two, after which Po Wing abandons Yui Fai, when both are touring Argentina on a holiday. Without enough money to return to Hong Kong, the former turns into a philanderer and soon, hooks up with multiple men, often bringing them to the same bar where Yui Fai finds employment. One day, a very drunk Yui Fai lands up at Po Wing’s room and in a fit of violent rage, expresses his regret about their failed relationship. Po Wing doesn’t relent, until one day, bleeding profusely, he comes back to him, suggesting that they both start over again, on a fresh note. With a bit of resistance, Yui Fai relents. However, things don’t remain that way for long.