"When routine bites hard and ambitions are low
And resentments ride high but emotions won't grow
And we're changing our ways, taking different roads
Then love, love will tear us apart again" - Joy Division, 1979
In writer/director Wong Kar-Wai's melancholy homosexual-romance Happy Together (Chun gwong cha sit, 1997), Ho Po-wing (Leslie Cheung) and Lai Yiu-fai (Tony Leung Chui-Wai) fly from their native Hong Kong looking for distraction to balm their troubled relationship. The couple comes to ground in Argentina. On a road in the Argentine outback, somewhere between Buenos Aires and the impossibly-beautiful Iguazu Falls, things fall apart. Their heap of a car won't go, but Ho does.
Sometime later, Lai is working as a doorman at a marginal tango bar in Buenos Aires trying to earn enough money to return to Hong Kong, when Ho, now a hustler, arrives by chance with a client. Though Lai knows that Ho is no good for him and initially tries to keep his distance from Ho, he takes him in a few days later when Ho is badly-beaten. Lai, ever the more tender and constant of the two, unsuccessfully attempts to nurse Ho without falling into bed with him again. Yet, no sooner is the feckless Ho on the mend then he's also on the make for new conquests, once again breaking Lai's heart.
Though much of Happy Together revolves around the doomed romance of Ho and Lai, the film is relieved from the threat of claustrophobia by a secondary storyline focusing on a tender nonsexual friendship that develops between Lai and Chang (Chen Chang), a younger Taiwanese working-traveler. Chang is naively sweet and earnest. Though Lai doesn't try to seduce the ambiguously asexual Chang, it's apparent that he takes great solace from the friendship.
Exquisite monochromatic and color cinematography by the incomparable Christopher Doyle, and enchanting set design from William Chang, together with tour de force performances by Leslie Cheung and Tony Leung Chui-Wai who breathe immense depth into such slight characters make Happy Together an exceptional film.
Happy Together is presented on a single 50GB Blu-ray disc from Kino in a standard Blu-ray case with a cardboard slipcover.
Video & Audio:
Happy Together is anamorphically presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 at 1080p from a remastered New HD film transfer. The presentation looks beautiful with deeply saturated colors, crisp monochrome, fine detail and contrast, and the original film grain preserved.
The Cantonese-language, 5.1 DTS-HD audio generally sounds good but the various overlapping noises of dialogue, soundtrack, and ambient noise can sound slightly muddled together which may owe to limitations in the master recordings. Optional English subtitles are available.
This release of Happy Together includes two substantial extras, as well as trailers and production stills:
Buenos Aires Zero Degree (1999, 59 min.) -- The first cut of Happy Together was over three hours. This production documentary-is filled with clips that didn't make the final cut, hereby conveying more of the incidental details of Ho and Lai's lives together, as well as whole storylines and characters previously unknown.
Wong Kar-Wai at the Museum of the Moving Image (2008, 44 min.) -- A career-retrospective interview with Wong Kar-Wai conducted by David Schwartz and introduced by filmmaker Ang Lee.
Trailers for Happy Together and Fallen Angels, and finally production stills from Happy Together are also included.
Happy Together, with its slight narrative but stunning sets and cinematography, is that rare film that burrows deep into the viewer; a cinematic experience never to be completely forgotten, even if not necessarily completely recalled in passing years.