‘Together’: Raw Look at Love Falling Apart


The title of Wong Kar-Wai’s wrenching, jagged “Happy Together,” taken from the popular song, is decidedly ironic. Shot alternately in high-contrast black and white and rich color, it has a harsh charcoal-sketch look in either mode as it charts the coming apart of a gay love affair.

Photographed by Wong’s usual collaborator, the award-winning Christopher Doyle, “Happy Together” is as fragmented in style as the relationship it depicts with relentless emotional honesty. The result is a take-no-prisoners movie from one of Hong Kong’s most idiosyncratic, shoot-from-the-hip filmmakers that’s the very antithesis of sentimental gay love stories. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

It opens with a helicopter shot of Iguazu Falls, along Argentina’s border with Brazil, but Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai--so designated to avoid confusion with the other, taller Tony Leung) and Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) never make it there together.


They’ve been in Buenos Aires for a time, seeking new experiences and hoping that flight from Hong Kong will revitalize their relationship. But it’s clearly crumbling long before they’re hit with car trouble on the highway to the falls, which according to legend is a place in which to dump your emotional problems.

Lai is the stable one. He’s willing to take a series of menial jobs--doorman at a tango bar, dishwasher at a Chinese restaurant, slaughterhouse worker--but luxury-loving Ho takes to the streets as a hustler, undermining their affair. The lovers have already split up bitterly when Ho turns up badly beaten.

Lai takes him to his tiny room, the acme of picturesque squalor, and lovingly nurses Ho back to health. But Ho is too much the playboy, too much the wastrel, for the steady, loving Lai to accept. As Lai digs in, dealing with his loneliness and survival in Buenos Aires, Ho commences a familiar downward spiral.

But it’s Wong’s inspired touch to allow us to see Lai in a different light when he perversely, selfishly--pointlessly--refuses to give Ho his passport, even though he ultimately wants to return home to Hong Kong just as badly as Ho does. Ho may be foolish, even worthless, but for all his otherwise admirable character traits, Lai is finally small-minded and lacking in imagination in this petty, dangerous gesture. The exile experience in “Happy Together” heightens the sense of alienation and isolation felt by both Lai and Ho.

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai and Leslie Cheung are Hong Kong superstars of remarkable range and versatility. Wong has placed the utmost demands upon them, and they in turn make this harrowing, disintegrating relationship seem absolutely authentic. Chang Chen plays a likable, friendly young restaurant co-worker who Lai comes to realize is straight--much to his disappointment.

Wong, who took the best director prize at Cannes this year for “Happy Together,” doesn’t push it, but the tango certainly does serve as the perfect metaphor for Lai and Ho’s relationship, with their good looks, fiery mutual attraction and constant struggle for dominance. Surely, countless young gay male couples will recognize themselves in Lai and Ho.

* Unrated. Times guidelines: It includes scenes of lovemaking, some sex and some violence.

‘Happy Together’

Tony Leung Chiu-Wai: Lai Yiu-Fai

Leslie Cheung: Ho Po-Wing

Chang Chen: Chang

A Kino International release of a Block 2 Pictures Inc. in association with Prenom H Co. Ltd. presentation of a Jet Tone production. Writer-producer-director Wong Kar-Wai. Executive producer Chan Ye-Cheng. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle. Editor William Chang Suk-Ping, Wong Ming-Lam. Music Danny Chung. Production designer William Chang Suk-Ping. In Cantonese, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 37 minutes.


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