Cinema Club: Happy Together (1997)

Posted on November 27, 2013


Happy Together (Wong Kar-wai, 1997)

Love movies are strange beasts. I wouldn’t want to pretend I understand the complexities of emotion, or presume that one emotion is more complex than the next. Despite this, there must be a reason ‘love’, or at least our interpretation of it, dominates so much of our day to day thinking and night to night dreaming. Attempting to transfer this feeling into art is simultaneously easy and terrifyingly hard, and the vast majority of films I’ve seen on the subject have missed the mark with regards to my own interpretation. Whilst sitting at the two extremes of loved one treatment, ‘Happy Together’ is not one of these films.

The travails of Ho Po-Wing and Lai Yiu-fai are followed throughout. Ho and Lai are a couple from Hong Kong who have the most tumultuous of relationships, breaking up and starting over basically on repeat. After purchasing a lamp with the motif of Iguazu Falls of Argentina, they decide to move there in the hope of some form of stability, or more likely the hope of different misery. They get there, and break up practically immediately. Lai gets a job as a doorman, and frequently sees Ho with his new lovers. The cycle of shite is continued as Ho calls up Lai, to which Lai comes running, only for an argument to ensue. This changes slightly when Ho turns up at Lai’s, all banged up and beaten. Lai takes him in and cares for him, only for Ho to eventually continue being manipulative. They eventually break up, seemingly for good. Along the way Lai befriends a chap called Chang, who sneakily provides the films best performance, as an endearing rock-of-sorts for Lai. There is a scene with a tape recorder which is particularly beautiful. Chang leaves Buenos Aires looking for the bottom of the world, which despite kicking Lai into depression also acts as a catalyst for him to head home and right the wrongs of his past.

Ho and Lai are almost opposite in character, yet are strikingly similar in their loneliness. Ho is incredibly manipulative and compulsive, and seems to exist mostly to make Lai’s life increasingly difficult. The vast majority of the film focuses on Lai however, a lonely and naive young man. Despite constantly seeming angry at Ho’s actions, he always returns and eventually relents to him. Their relationships is based on abuse, attention and a need to be needed. It is wrong, in almost every possible way. It’s love, but only seems to hurt. They seem happy together (chortle chortle) only at choice moments.

In that respect, this is far more real than any major Hollywood production on the subject of love. It’s a raw take on our most precious emotion, a look into the real poverty of existence. Many people, and I’m far too guilty of this, dream of a love that is constant, of a happiness that is never-ending, of a positive preciousness. Real life doesn’t work like that however, and the expectation of such things is dangerously naive. ‘Happy Together’ excels in that it is unrepentantly raw in it’s being.

It also perfectly show the different sides of a manipulative relationship, or any relationship by that means. Love is making your partner a meal whilst you are wrapped up in a blanket practically dying of illness yourself, but love also happens to be making your partner cook you a meal whilst they are practically dying of illness. Love is hating seeing someone you love with other people, but love also happens to be wanting the person you love to see you with other people. Love, and it is an emotion that is difficult to romanticize when talking about, is based in contradiction and contradictory desires.

The film itself is beautiful as well. What begins as black and white slowly seeps into colour as intricately as you can imagine. It is then on at times monochrome, at times over-coloured. The frequent use of the waterfalls as a visual motif give the whole film a feeling of crushing lightness, which I understand is a contradiction but at the same time makes sense for ‘Happy Together’. It is sparse, but it is completely suffocating. It’s even funny at times.

It’s also a bloody good film.

Posted in: Cinema