Happy Together

How does Wong Kar Wai do it? He has this preternatural gift for film style–few modern filmmakers have his graceful command of the medium in conjuring moods and emotions. Happy Together is an incredible example of that gift, telling the story of two gay expatriate lovers who’ve left Hong Kong for a sojourn in Buenos Aires. One of them gets a job at a restaurant while the other lays about the boarding house where they’ve shacked up.

They break up and get back together again. Their bliss is short-lived, though, because jealousies soon creep in and they’re right back to where they started from before they realize that they need to seek their destinies separately. There isn’t much to it. The power, though, of this movie is all in Wan Kar-Wai’s imagemaking–he begins with gritty black-and-white then slowly saturates the movie with pulpy colors as the characters’ relationship evolves. The best term that I can think of for this movie’s style is “Vérité Chic”–it uses this jostling “guerilla” technique but the cinematographer Christopher Doyle, the genius that he is, tricks out the images with filters and does very innovative things that I can’t begin to understand, all of which lend Happy Together this subtle but undeniable sense of yearning.

While Argentina’s landscape and culture lend the movie its authenticity, its sense of place, it never becomes travelogue-ish. Rather, the vitality of Buenos Aires is shot so expressively that it augments the movie’s youthful themes. This is all-around fabulous work that deservedly won Wong a Best Director prize at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival.

Grade: A-

Directed by: Wong Kar Wai
Written by: Wong Kar Wai
Cast: Leslie Cheung, Tony Leung, Chen Chang, Gregory Dayton

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