Sunday, May 19, 2013
2013 Cannes Marathon: Happy Together
(Winner of the Best Director Prize to Wong Kar-Wai at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival)
Written and directed by Wong Kar-Wai, Happy Together is the story about a tumultuous romance between two men as they travel from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires where they endure more trouble as they make up, break up, and do all sorts of things. The film is a look into the world of love and its complications told from the perspective of a man overwhelmed in his troubled relationship. Starring Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Leslie Cheung, and Chang Chen. Happy Together is a rich yet exotic film from Wong Kar-Wai.
The film is about a relationship between two different men as they travel to Argentina in hopes to visit the Iguazu Falls. Instead, they get lost on their way as they get separated only to meet again in Buenos Aires to resume their relationship but it becomes back-and-forth as one becomes frustrated while the other becomes very selfish. As much as Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yui-fai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) have their differences in personalities and drive, they definitely love each other but there comes the question about whether or not they are right for each other? Ho is a very volatile individual who likes to party, get into fights, and be very controlling though he is often apologetic for his behavior but gets into that dangerous cycle again. Lai is a more responsible and sensitive man who is willing to help but doesn’t feel appreciated for what he does for Ho.
The film’s screenplay does have a structure of sorts though it’s very loose as Wong Kar-Wai is more interested in this very tumultuous relationship where it begins with the two arriving in Argentina where they attempt to travel to the Iguazu Falls by car but things don’t go well aside from the fact that the car is a piece-of-shit. Ho and Lai split up where the latter has to find work in order to raise money so he can return to Hong Kong while Ho just wanders around partying with various people and getting into fights where one fight has him coming back to Lai. The two end up being together in Lai’s apartment but the cycle of chaos and selfishness returns where Lai has to work to buy cigarettes and make food for Ho while Ho would blow the money gambling and such. It then raises questions into why does Lai put up with Ho’s selfishness? Another question is why can’t Ho just step up and actually do something for Lai other than teach him tango?
A lot of the film is told from the perspective of Lai as he tries to deal with his relationship with Ho while the narrative would later introduce another character in a Taiwanese immigrant named Chang (Chang Chen) who is definitely the kind of person that Lai needs in his life. While Chang is also someone trying to raise money to return to Taiwan, he’s an individual that is embarking on a journey of his own though his voice-over narration doesn’t reveal whether or not that he’s gay. Chang just adds a new dynamic for Lai’s character development though it also increases his sense of melancholia over how troubled his relationship with Ho is where things finally reach a breaking point.
The direction of Wong Kar-Wai is just intoxicating to watch with its hypnotic imagery and stunning approach to presentation. While it plays to a lot of the visual styles that Kar-Wai is known for that includes slow frame-speeds towards lingering images and motifs that includes lots of references to the Iguazu Falls such as the lamp Ho bought for Lai. It is told with a sense of restraint for the scenes in Lai’s apartment that is a bit cramped but also comforting though it would devolve into chaos once Ho stays there. There is an intimacy to those moments though Kar-Wai would maintain some energy to the scenes where Lai has to cook in the kitchen at his apartment building where it’s always chaotic and then walk up the stairs to his apartment carrying food.
For the scenes in Buenos Aires, Kar-Wai makes the city a character onto itself where it does have this strange yet ethereal quality for what happens in night such as tango dances and what goes on in the city. Notably a sequence where the Obelisco de Buenos Aires shown in the middle of the frame while the frame also contains the clock showing what time it is as it time moves forward. It plays into that world where Lai starts to feel lost as he is obsessed about going to the Iguazu Falls. The direction has Kar-Wai playing up that sense of frenetic style as the film is shown in this heightened yet grainy black-and-white film stock early on before going into full-on color where it plays up that mood of melancholia. Even in the end where once again the colors have this sense of style but also the fact that it plays about the outcome of this relationship as well as Lai’s journey to find strength in himself. Overall, Wong Kar-Wai creates a truly evocative and riveting drama about love gone wrong.
Cinematographer Christopher Doyle does phenomenal work with the photography from the use of grainy black-and-white to play up the turmoil of Ho and Lai‘s relationship to the use of colored lighting schemes to heighten that mood with the use of blue to showcase the images of the Iguazu Falls as well as some of the scenes in the morning as Doyle‘s work is a major highlight of the film. Editors William Chang and Wong Ming-lam do amazing work with the film‘s very stylized editing with its use of jump-cuts as well as playing around with frame-speeds to create these exotic images that play up some of its melancholia.
Production/costume designer William Chang does excellent work with not just the look of Lai‘s small yet quaint apartment but also the Chinese restaurant he and Chang work at as well as the Cantina the two go to while the costumes are mostly casual with some style to play up the different personalities of the three men. The sound work of Chi-Tat Leung and Du-Che Tu is brilliant for the atmosphere is created in some of the film’s locations including Iguazu Falls plus some of the moments at the places the characters encounter. The film’s soundtrack is wonderful for its intoxicating mix of music that features elements of tango-based music from Astor Pataleon Piazzolla as well as ballad by Caetano Veloso plus some frenetic music by Frank Zappa and a cover of the Turtles song Happy Together by Danny Chang.
The film’s small cast consists a lot of interesting appearances from the people in the film though it really belongs to its three principle actors. Chang Chen is great as Chang as a man who is intrigued by Lai’s presence in the restaurant they work as he is eager to go to the lowest point of South America where he would become the one sense of hope in Lai’s troubled life. Leslie Cheung is remarkable as the volatile Ho as a man who wants to party and do crazy things as he often takes advantage of Lai’s kindness while he also tries to apologize to him unaware of how valuable Lai is. Finally, there’s Tony Leung Chiu-Wai in an incredible performance as Lai as a man lost in a trouble relationship as he tries to pull away only to come back as Leung displays that sense of vulnerability and despair as a man who is unsure about who he is in a land that is foreign to him.
Happy Together is a magnificent film from Wong Kar-Wai that features superb performances from Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, Leslie Cheung, and Chang Chen along with some amazing technical contributions from Christopher Doyle and William Chang. The film is definitely one of Kar-Wai’s finest films in terms of its visual style and exploration into the world of troubled relationships. It’s also a film that dares to ask questions while not giving any answers into this relationship that is very chaotic but also very loving. In the end, Happy Together is an outstanding film from Wong Kar-Wai.
Wong Kar-Wai Films: As Tears Go By - Days of Being Wild - Chungking Express - Ashes of Time/Ashes of Time Redux - Fallen Angels - In the Mood for Love - 2046 - Eros-The Hand - My Blueberry Nights - The Grandmaster - The Auteurs #28: Wong Kar-Wai
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