Review: Happy Together

Happy Together screenshot

Original title: Chun gwong cha sit
Year: 1997 | Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Holy smokes. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a film in which every single frame feels like an innovation, like something I’ve truly never seen before. The style that director Wong Kar-Wai, cinematographer Christopher Doyle and editor William Chang achieve with Happy Together is simply remarkable. I doubt that there’s anything that I could possibly say about the camerawork that hasn’t been said before, so instead I’ll just say this: Wow.

But beyond that, Happy Together is exactly the kind of film for which Western audiences have been begging for years: a film about queer people that is not explicitly about queerness; a film that portrays a gay relationship realistically, without embellishment or glamorization or condemnation or heavy-handed themes. That’s not to say that the queer experience is downplayed here, but simply that it is shown honestly and objectively. This is a movie about gay men, not about being gay men, and the fact that Wong was able to pull off this seemingly impossible feat back when queer film was just starting to gain worldwide acceptance and prominence really begs the question of why Western filmmakers have not really been able to follow suit in the 25 years since.

There are a lot of themes and symbolism to unpack here, including, from my understanding, some that are very specific to Hong Kong in the time that this film takes place, but the real reason that Happy Together has endured as a landmark queer film that still holds up today is because it doesn’t pander, or rely on stereotypes to tell its story. It’s timeless because it’s simply a story of two lovers in a volatile relationship in a land far away from home, a story that would be engaging and interesting regardless of the genders of its characters. The fact that it’s a film that an underrepresented — especially at the time — audience can latch onto and see themselves in is just icing on the cake.

Happy Together was my first Wong Kar-Wai film if you can believe it, and I’m glad that finally “got it out of the way,” so to speak. Now that I have experienced first-hand the artistry and beauty that I’ve heard so much about, I can’t wait to check out his other films like In the Mood for Love (2000) and Chungking Express (1994). Perhaps this is the beginning of a long and fruitful cinematic relationship.

Language: Chinese, Cantonese, Spanish
Genre: Drama, Romance
Runtime: 1 hr. 36 min.
Rating: Not Rated

Director: Wong Kar-Wai
Starring: Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Leslie Cheung, Chang Chen, Gregory Dayton

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