Published December 1, 1997
Happy Together, directed by the Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai (Days of Being Wild, Chung-king Express), tells the story of two Chinese youths (Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chiu-wai) living in Argentina. Fai (Mr Leung) and Ho Po Wing (Mr Cheung) are on-again, off-again lovers, the former sober and hard working, the latter a wild boy and rather a “little slut” (as Fai calls him) who is always getting in fights or trouble of some kind. They travel together; they split up; they live together, fight and they split up; they get back together, fight some more, then split up for good. The title, you will gather is ironic. Or perhaps it refers to Fai’s relationship with the other boy who consoles him for Po Wing’s loss, another Chinese called Chang (Chang Chen) who seems to be straight, but becomes a true friend to Fai and offers to take Fai’s sadness with him to the end of the world. He hands him a tape recorder which Fai sobs into, and Chang takes it with him to the lighthouse at the southern tip of Patagonia.
Chang is Taiwanese and about to return home, where his parents run a noodle shop in the night market of Taipei. Fai, too, after realizing his own dream to see the falls at Iguaszu, decides to return to Hong Kong. He stops at Taipei on the trip home—where he must face a painful interview with his estranged father—and has some noodles at Chang’s parents’ stall. He even steals one of the photos that Chang has sent home. In the voiceover narration which punctuates the film’s quirky succession of images, Fai tells us that he knows he may never see Chang again, but he will always know where to find him. It is a finally touching tribute to home in a movie about leaving home behind, but it comes too late to pull together all the miscellaneous crazy stuff that has gone before.
It should tell you something that Mr Wong won “Best Director” at Cannes earlier this year. This is not a bad picture, but there’s not a lot more to it than a road movie which exploits the unexpectedness of gay Chinamen in Argentina (the ironic romantic background is Astor Piazzola’s tango music). It doesn’t unduly emphasize either the gayness or the Argentinian setting, and both Mr Leung and Mr Cheung turn in fine performances. But if its sad tale were about a straight couple, it would have been thought pretty routine.