Written by: Wong Kar-wai
Starring: Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung, Chang Chen, Gregory Dayton
Sometimes you just can’t help who you fall in love with. Even with breaks and repeated trials ending in more separation, there could just be one thing forever connecting you to that one person perpetually drawing you to them. Tragic in its results but incredibly loving as well, Happy Together shows this with two men as their fiery romance goes through tumultuous highs and lows all while starting anew.
Moving away from Hong Kong and now living in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) have a deep love for each other but tend to have their fights. At times they break and then decide to start all over instantly rekindling their dazzling romance. Following one large fight, a longer separation sends them on two different paths of self-discovery.
Experiencing a Wong Kar-wai film centered on romance should almost count as a religious experience with the greatness this man can emulate on-screen. He can create beautifully steamy romantic scenes with the lovers he puts together and can capture any aftermath or heartbreak with such a beautifully soft touch. Even with the issues the two men followed in this story encounter, there never comes a moment where you get fed up with them because you see the potential of what their happiness could be. They share such tender moments together, which only makes it more tragic when things seemingly do not work out well.
Opening with a scene of Po-Wing and Yiu-Fai in bed, it demonstrates the relationship dynamic between them and with Yiu-Fai having most of the voice-over, we get to experience everything he does. It’s evident these two have sacrificed plenty to be with each other and their new reality finds them in Argentina, struggling to find work but still having the other to provide love and support. Right from the beginning, Yiu-Fai’s voiceover mentions the high volatility of their relationship but the magic they share demonstrates exactly why they keep running back into each other’s arms.
The use of voiceover comes as a storytelling device Wong Kar-wai loves utilizing in his stories and while it may be tacky when others employ it lazily, his use further provides definition to these characters. Especially, when the pair separate for a decent amount of time, so much of what Yiu-Fai communicates occurs in his head and thus gets delivered to us through the voiceover. Everything provided brings excellent context to this man’s character and ensures we know the pain of having to carry on even after heartbreak. Yiu-Fai’s journey strikes the heart because losing someone you love so much can hurt like a dagger in the heart, but he still needs to get up and go to work the same. Heartbreak is not going to cover the bills nor will it provide him nourishment. He needs to carry one and so do we when these instances occur.
Diverging paths allows both of these men to find their way and the approaches they take says plenty about them, but in all fairness, we see this through the perspective of Yiu-Fai. He takes on any job he can take like for a club or working in a meat shop while Po-wing ends up as a sex worker in order to make ends meet. Even with everything happening, something continually draws them together, which goes completely in line with what the title references here. Moments of reunification have this sense of euphoria when they hold each other, which makes the moments of separation filled with dread and melancholy, and consistently setting this tone and feel exemplifies what makes Wong Kar-wai a masterful director of sensuality and longing. He, of course, could not accomplish this to its height without the help of one of his greatest leading men, Tony Leung Chiu-Wai.
The master of the art of pining for another, Tony Leung just nails this role perfectly to capture the pain and demonstrate the love this man has for Po-wing. You believe everything he displays upon his face from the moments of elation when he finally gives into Po-wing’s charms once again and the hurt in his eyes when seeing what it has all become. A mesmerizingly powerful performance by the legendary actor where he navigates so much of this story on his own reflecting on his life, starting fresh, but still in moments going back to the man he loves because no one else will ever have the same impact. They can fight like animals if need be, but there will always be something there. This also does not mean Leslie Cheung also did not come to play as he most certainly did. Mostly portraying an eccentric character, Cheung does so well to be this almost fleeting character never escaping the mind of Yiu-Fai. He represents the alluring figure Yiu-Fai can never quite get away from. It takes two to tango and these two create a beautifully winning combo.
Scintillating, lovely, and incredibly raw in its depiction of emotion, Happy Together demonstrates the best and worst romantic relationships can offer someone. From the highest of highs to the devastating lows. It serves as both a warning of the damage it can do but also a gentle push to go out there and open up yourself to someone. Yet another banger by Wong Kar-wai and this legendary collaboration with Tony Leung as they never seem to disappoint and certainly did not with this moving piece of cinema.