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Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together

Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together

Jeremy Tambling
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 140
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  • Book Info
    Wong Kar-wai's Happy Together
    Book Description:

    Wong Kar-wai's controversial film, Happy Together, was released in Hong Kong just before the handover of power in 1997. The film shows two Chinese gay men in Buenos Aires and reflects on Hong Kong's past and future by probing masculinity, aggression, identity, and homosexuality. It also gives a reading of Latin America, perhaps as an allegory of Hong Kong as another post-colonial society. Examining one single, memorable, and beautiful film, but placing it in the context of other films by Wong Kar-wai and other Hong Kong directors, this book illustrates the depth, as well as the spectacle and action, that characterizes Hong Kong cinema. Tambling investigates the possibility of seeing Happy Together in terms of 'national allegory', as Fredric Jameson suggests Third World texts should be seen. Alternatively, he emphasizes the fragmentary nature of the film by discussing both its images and its narrative in the light of Borges and Manuel Puig. He also looks at the film's relation to the American road movie and to the history of the tango. He poses questions how emotions are presented in the film (is this a 'nostalgia film'?); whether the masculinity in it should be seen negatively or as signs of a new hopefulness about Hong Kong's future; and whether the film indicates new ways of thinking of gender relationships or sexuality.

    eISBN: 978-988-8053-35-3
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Series Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  5. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  6. 1 Introduction: Approaching the Film
    (pp. 1-8)

    In May 1997, just before Hong Kong passed from British colonial rule to the People’s Republic of China — the event of June 30 which turned the colony into an S.A.R. (Special Administrative Region) — Hong Kong director Wong Kar-wai released the film Happy Together (春光乍洩). Wong Kar-wai was born in Shanghai in 1958 but he was brought up in Hong Kong and began film-making — if a beginning can be located at this point without being arbitrary about his previous work on films — with As Tears Go By (1988). This was a fast-paced gangland movie set in...

  7. 2 Happy Together and Allegory
    (pp. 9-22)

    To start thinking about Happy Together, I want to look at a term which has been significant in provoking discussion of non-Hollywood film texts and postcolonial writings. I want to do so in order to add into our thinking as many different perspectives on the film as possible.

    The American Marxist critic Fredric Jameson caused controversy in 1986 when he discussed Third World literatures — explaining that by ‘Third World’ he meant countries which had ‘suffered the experience of colonialism and imperialism’ — and said that ‘all Third-World texts are necessarily ... allegorical ... they are to be read as what I...

  8. 3 Contexts: Why Buenos Aires?
    (pp. 23-32)

    That Hong Kong does not appear in Happy Together and is not referred to frequently, does not mean that the film is not concerned with Hong Kong or its people. There are some obvious examples, and a few less obvious ones that illustrate the movie’s relationship to Hong Kong. The film’s language, for instance, is mainly Cantonese and Hong Kong slang. Also, some of the violence between Lai and Ho recalls the situations of As Tears Go By. The characters’ modes of eating, and their playing of mahjong in a foreign milieu is a reminder of the power of cultural...

  9. 4 Contexts: The Road Movie
    (pp. 33-38)

    Borges’ short story ‘Rosendo’s Tale’, set in Buenos Aires, includes a character, Luis Irala, who is embittered because he has been deserted by Casilda — his wife or his girlfriend — who has gone off with another man. He says he is not worried about her, adding, ‘A man who thinks five minutes straight about a woman is no man, he’s a queer.’¹ The statement may be taken in two ways. Heterosexuality is definable in terms of not thinking about women — just using them, which is macho behaviour. Macho behaviour includes a fear of homosexuality, which perhaps, according to the ‘queer theorist’...

  10. 5 Reading the Film
    (pp. 39-64)

    Happy Together opens with a shot of passports being stamped for entry into Argentina in 1995 (so that the action of the film lasts two years), and the two colours of the passports, red for Lai and blue for Ho, dominate the imagery. This scene implies the starting and finishing dates of the action in the Happy Together, but since it was filmed using actual passports from members of the film crew as they entered and left Argentina, it is interesting to note that the scene also reveals that the passage of time experienced by the characters in the movie...

  11. 6 Happy Together and Homosexuality
    (pp. 65-76)

    It was, perhaps, surprising that a Hong Kong film should be so open on the subject of homosexuality. Though homosexuality was part of the plot of Yip Wai-sun and Kwok Wai-chung’s Mongkok Story (1996)¹ and had appeared before, for instance in Peter Chan’s popular He’s a Woman, She’s a Man (1994) (a Leslie Cheung film also starring Anita Yuen, about genders being confused by characters in disguise),² homosexuality was only de-criminalized by the British colonial government in 1993. Chan’s film was asking for tolerance and recognition of homosexuality. The cool temperature of Happy Together can be gauged when it is...

  12. 7 Happy Together, Hong Kong and Melancholy
    (pp. 77-92)

    There are many comic moments in Happy Together which reinforce the sense that the characters do enjoy happiness together as well as suggest that happiness may also not necessarily be recognised as such, but may be the product of adversity and difficulty. Yet in narrative terms, the presentation of Lai and Ho’s lives together is negative. The title of the film is complex. It could be read as two interrogatives i.e. Happy? Together? This could make the two halves of the English title constitute an oxymoron (that is, a statement where words of opposing meaning are brought side by side),...

  13. 8 Epilogue: Happy Together and In the Mood for Love
    (pp. 93-104)

    Wong Kar-wai’s latest film to date is In the Mood for Love (2000), scripted by Wong with Chris Doyle and Mark Lee (photography), and Man Lim-chung and Alfred Yau (art directors) and William Chang (production designer). This film gives another context for Happy Together by centring on a couple, each married to other partners, who are older, middle-class and more financially secure than the characters in Happy Together. Mrs Chan (Maggie Cheung) and Mr Chow (Tony Leung) discover that each of their spouses is having an affair with the other’s spouse. As in Days of Being Wild, the action is...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 105-114)
  15. Filmography
    (pp. 115-118)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 119-122)