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Issue #159 HOME E-mail: mail@dighkmovies.com BACK ISSUES May 12th, 2003

Happy Together
(1997; Block 2 Pictures/Prenom H Co./Saewoo Film Co./Jet-Tone Production)

A Masterpiece
Highly Recommended
Very Good
Marginal Recommendation
Not Recommended
Definitely Not Recommended

Cantonese: Chun gwong ja sit
Mandarin: Chun guang zha xie
English: A Sudden Leak of Spring Light

Wong Kar-wai won the Best Director prize at Cannes for this estimable work which, while more readily accessible than some of his earlier projects, still beautifully conveys the director's characteristic themes. Ho Po-wing (Leslie Cheung Kwok-wing) and Lai Yiu-fai (Tony Leung Chiu-wai) are a gay couple, living in Buenos Aires, whose relationship is winding down. The pair soon split up, with Yiu-fai supporting himself by working as a nightclub doorman, while Po-wing sells himself on the streets. Yiu-fai does his best to avoid Po-wing but takes him back into his life when the hustler is badly beaten one evening. Shamelessly manipulative but also utterly dependent, Po-wing seeks to restart the sexual element of their relationship but Yiu-fai resists. Eventually, the two begin arguing once again, prompting Yiu-fai to leave and switch jobs. He meets Chang (Chang Chen), a Taiwanese tourist, who has run out of money and works to support himself, and the two strike up a platonic friendship that eventually helps Yiu-fai see where he wants to go with his life. Racked with boredom, Po-wing returns to hustling and the two men seem to finally part company. Still, no matter how much he seemingly wants to extricate himself from Po-wing, Yiu-fai keeps the man's passport, making it impossible for them to be ever be totally apart.

Like the director's earlier films, the predominant topics here are loneliness, the longing for love, and the waiting one must undergo for affection to be reciprocated. Cinematographer Christopher Doyle gives HAPPY TOGETHER an even more varied and unique look than on his other collaborations with Wong from this period, juxtaposing stark black and white and hazy, high contrast color. Time is manipulated through the use of slow motion, random freeze frames, time lapse, jump cuts, and flash frames, and everything unfolds to an eclectic selection of music that ranges from local standards to Frank Zappa. While it lacks the narrative density of ASHES OF TIME and the playful restlessness of CHUNGKING EXPRESS and FALLEN ANGELS, this is an engrossing, deceptively simple character study, buoyed by three superb performances. The production gained some notoriety prior to release when Leung revealed to the press that he had agreed to do the film on the basis of what turned out to be a fake script. Only once he was in Argentina did Leung see the real pages and he was none too happy about the love scene he had to do with Leslie Cheung (it occurs in the opening moments and was also the first scene to be shot). His discomfort seems discernible at times but in no way hinders his interpretation of the character or the quality of his work.

Cover art courtesy Kino on Video.

Leslie Cheung. Image courtesy Kino on Video.

Chang Chen (left) and Tony Leung Chiu-wai (right). Image courtesy Kino on Video.
Kino on Video #K119 DVD (U.S. Label)

Dolby Digital 2.0

Sync Sound Cantonese Language Track

Permanent English Subtitles

12 Chapters Listed in the Menu

Letterboxed (1.78:1)

Coded for ALL Regions

NTSC Format

97 Minutes

Contains mild sexual content, coarse language, and brief nudity

DVD menu courtesy Kino on Video.

Argentina: 16
Australia: M 15+ (Low Level Sex Scenes, Medium Level Coarse Language)
Chile: 18
Finland: K-16
Great Britain: 15
Hong Kong: III
Norway: 15
Nova Scotia: 14
Ontario: AA
Portugal: M/18
Singapore: BANNED
Spain: 18

Kino's domestic DVD and Mei Ah's HK release (which usually measures about 1.50:1, though a handful of shots appear in fullscreen) look radically different. The import has deeper colors and much harsher contrast, offering far less detail in many shots than Kino's more subdued presentation. I have not seen the film theatrically but suspect that the Mei Ah edition is probably closer to Wong's original intentions. Regardless, Kino's rendition is much easier to appreciate on a video monitor. Purists may want to look at both: Mei Ah for the original look and Kino for the opportunity to pick up nuances in the camerawork and production design that are not visible in the HK version. The end credits carry the Dolby Stereo logo but neither version has any discernible channel separation and boast only slightly wider soundscapes than an average monaural film (again, this may have been Wong's intention all along). A brief interview with the director is included on the inside cover of the snapper case and a theatrical trailer follows the feature.

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