Happy Together ★★½


Just gonna cut/paste my capsule from NYFF '97 below, as it still accurately reflects my feelings (though I'm uncomfortable with how much it sounds like Jeffrey Wells). This is my least favorite of Wong's films, but I wouldn't call it his worst—dysfunctional romances just bore the shit out of me, and I only perk up here when Chang Chen is onscreen offering a potential way out. Interesting to note now how much this seems like a dry run for In the Mood, from the use of Astor Piazzolla (creating much the same wistful flavor as the tracks from Cole Español) to the device of feelings lugged to the far side of the world and then ceremonially relinquished. But to say I prefer Wong's swoon to his stew would be an understatement.

From NYFF 1997:

Don't you hate it when a critic dismisses an entire movie just because (s)he doesn't care for the subject matter? Doesn't the review-by-genre strike you as distressingly superficial and obtuse, not to mention lazy? Personally, I think that that kind of shoddy, devil-may-care criticism ought to be forbidden by law...tomorrow. As for today: Happy Together, the other Wong Kar-wai film in this year's festival (this one is actually new) [OCT 2012: Fallen Angels was also in that year's lineup, two years after its world premiere], is an evocative exploration of an unhappy relationship, and features scene after scene after scene of its two lovers, Lai Yiu-fai (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) and Ho Po-wing (Leslie Cheung), bickering. Hong Kong natives living as expatriates, for no apparent reason, in Argentina, the pair quarrel, argue, accuse, deny, briefly reconcile, play torturous mind games with one another—it's a completely believable portrait of the final weeks of a love affair. (Leslie Cheung, incidentally, for those of you who don't know, is a man; this is a rare "gay film" in which the characters' sexual preference is simply taken for granted, and what a breath of fresh air it is.) And, like Godard's renowned Contempt, which is equally accurate about the ways in which paramours grow apart, it bored me more often than not, simply because I find such behavior as tedious and pointless on the screen as I do in real life. Though less ostentatiously flashy than Wong's previous two films, Happy Together features all of the elements that have consistently impressed me in his other pictures: elegantly moody characters; stunning cinematography (courtesy Christopher Doyle, as ever); a loose-limbed narrative that careens from shot to shot without deliberation; a general air of cinema as possibility. All that's missing is the powerful romantic yearning that suffused Chungking Express, Fallen Angels (see above) [OCT 2012: nothing to see above], and even parts of Ashes of Time and Days of Being Wild. In its place, to my irritation, is endless squabbling—the very kind that, rather than engendering my sympathy, merely finds me nodding my head, waving my hand in a circular get-on-with-it gesture, and murmuring "okay, it's over, deal with it, move on." Those who aren't similarly afflicted may well find the couple's plight extremely moving; I wish you well, so long as we aren't dating.