#157 Happy Together
春光乍洩 (Chūn guāng zhà xiè)
(1997, Wong Kar-Wai)
“Turns out that lonely people are all the same”
Chinese New Year happened not too long ago, so I decided to pull out a Chinese movie, and the movie I pulled out was Happy Together. Appropriately, it also kind of works for Valentine’s Day, and even more appropriately, it works to celebrate the recent successful vote for gay marriage here in the UK. It’s the single most appropriate film I could review at this point in time. But is it any good?
Happy Together is about a gay couple from pre-handover Hong Kong who travel to Argentina to try and rekindle their ailing relationship. Lai Yiu-fai (Tony Leung) craves a simple life, but Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) is abusive and selfish, craving attention from Lai at all times. The film tracks their time in Argentina as they break up and argue and attempt to get back home despite their destructive relationship.
Boy, was that plot description hard to write, largely because, well, there isn’t really much of a plot here. The two men break up, fight a lot, there’s a lot of moping around, they get back together after Ho turns up at Lai’s apartment battered and bruised, they fight some more, then there’s a whole bunch more moping around until the film ends.
Yes, this is another of those movies that sets out to analyse abusive relationships but spends more time navel-gazing than actually saying or doing anything. Remember when I reviewed Loulou? Well, this is basically the same thing only this time the couple are Chinese, not French, and they’re both men. And it has the same problems.
When I reviewed Loulou, I recognised that it was slice-of-life, and that this is a perfectly reasonable route to take with a movie like this, but things still need to happen. And that’s exactly the problem with this. There aren’t any particularly noteworthy scenes to speak of here. Sure, Ho turns up covered in blood and bruises, but we get no detail on this, and it just results in scenes of the couple shouting at each other while Ho lazes around in bed while he recovers. It gets repetitive fast.
Another criticism of Loulou I feel to be appropriate here too is that for a character-driven movie, it really doesn’t do much to endear the viewer to the characters. If your characters are unlikeable, the movie ends up feeling like a waste of time. Unlike Loulou, I don’t outright hate the characters in Happy Together, but this is because they’re so bland and personality-free that it’s impossible to feel anything for them at all.
Ho is the more interesting of the two, but only because he’s somewhat volatile and unpredictable initially. That said, he’s not particularly interesting beyond that, and doesn’t get much screen time in the later parts of the movie.
Lai, however, has the spotlight for much of the movie, and is just boring. As I said, he spends a lot of time moping around doing very little. I honestly couldn’t tell what motivated him, or why we as the audience should particularly care about him. I’d go into more depth, but I honestly can’t remember much of what he does in the movie. And he’s the main character. So that’s a great start.
The movie also tries on a number of occasions to jazz up this lack of activity with odd shots designed to make it look more arty. One key moment that stood out was a series of upside down shots of roads near the end of the film that just looked odd and out-of-place. There were several instances where the framerate dropped at certain moments and I was never sure if this was part of the movie or if my DVD was skipping (if it’s the latter, please disregard this critique).
Overall, Happy Together is a plodding, directionless ninety minutes which has the least appropriate title I’ve ever seen.
Starring Tony Leung, Leslie Cheung & Chen Chang
Written by Kar-wai Wong
Produced by Ye-cheng Chan
Cinematography by Christopher Doyle
Edited by William Chang & Ming Lam Wong
Favourite Scene: The famous song the movie is named after pops up right at the end and damn, it’s still a catchy song. Yes, something made independently of the film and included due to a shared title is my favourite part of the movie.
Scene That Bugged Me: Those upside-down driving shots. Just…why?
Watch it if: You liked Loulou and felt it needed less women
Avoid it if: You like things to happen in your films