Most beautiful film ever? “Happy Together” (1997)

29 October 2011

It was Spanish Professor who sparked my yearning to see this film again. It begins with that lamp — one of those old motion lamps from the 1950s that use a rotating screen inside to simulate waterfalls flowing. It’s like the sirens’ song of myth, this lamp: it shows a view of Argentina’s famous Iguazú Falls, and I can assure you that you’ll be called by it as well:

Like the sirens, the lamp calls Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung) and Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) fatefully from Hong Kong in search of the falls, and further onto the rocks of relationship misery. Don’t see this film because you want to see romance: Po and Fai are most certainly not happy together, at least not most of the time — but you’ll recognize on a gut level the dynamics of their passions for one another. Po is the flakiest of all boyfriends, with a disastrous penchant for picking up men in public restrooms; their home life in that sad little apartment can be miserable. But oh! Director Wong has the most beautiful eye, and the most vivid use of color — which you’ll remember, perhaps, from his In the Mood for Love (2000, which you should see if you want romance). Just look at how Wong puts vivid color and Fai’s emotion at the front of a scene, with all manner of light and wallpaper and tilework illuminating the backdrop:

Or the way an enormous blue sky can illuminate their growing disappointments with one another:

Or the way a glance through a brilliantly-painted bar’s window allows us to see the self-destructive Po doing more of what he’s good at:
And, most heartbreakingly of all, Fai sitting with a tape recorder, trying to record something that his new friend Chang (Chen Chang) promises will release him from his sadness:
Wong, come back! It’s been four years since you directed My Blueberry Nights, and watching Happy Together again has evoked such a longing in me for your images saturated with color, the way those interiors and lampshades and wallpapers evoke such passion and visions of tragic love. As a master of set design and color cinematography, Wong is unmatched. And I would suggest that my claim that Happy Together is the most beautiful film ever can be challenged, the only contender is In the Mood for Love — and that’s due to those amazing cheongsams that Maggie Cheung dons in every scene — seemingly a different dress each time:
Gorgeous. Wong Kar-Wai: come back to us.

4 Responses to “Most beautiful film ever? “Happy Together” (1997)”

  1. Spanish Prof Says:

    I know. I wonder what he is doing… I know he shot a commercial (BMW, I think) a while ago, but that’s it.

  2. JustMeMike Says:

    Wong Kar-Wai;s next film is called The Grandmasters. It is currently in post-production and will be released in 2012. It is the story of Ip Man who was the original trainer of Bruce Lee. The film stars Tony Leung and Zang Zhiyi,

    HD Trailer:

  3. […] beaten-down appearance, those eyes that bespeak yearning and self-defeat (see especially his Happy Together [1997] and the luminescent In the Mood for Love [2000]); here his character is particularly hard […]

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