Wong Karwai’s Happy Together(1997): Would pleasure compose suffering, too?
I saw Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together numerous times, but only in 2020 that I see it in the Cinema for the first time in Bangkok. After being stuck in Lockdowns in London, I left my dream and promised land and a free country to return home physically to — Bangkok, Thailand, and mentally to my life’s calamity. In the Cinema next to me were my five years of unrequited love.
The film’s main characters are Lai Yiufai (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung) and Ho Bowing (Leslie Chueng) — a Hongkong Gay couple. They travel to Argentina to see Iguazu. From Hong Kong to Argentina, it is somewhat an escape to another world.
We know that Lai is finding something for himself, a question about happiness in his life, and an answer to a rival love affair between him and Ho. Later, we know that Lai also has a conflict with his father and does not want to live the life he had in Hong Kong.
Lai rescues his flesh and soul from a city. He embarks on a journey to see the beauty of raw nature with his lover — Ho, whom he hopes to continue to love. His trip is not planned; perhaps Lai thinks the plan is useless. He allows his lover to take advantage of him and spend all his savings. He is a fool, or his ignorance spawns from a hole in the heart. It gives him a romantic situation, and it reveals the romanticism in his nature.
“Travel and run out of money” is what Lai Yiufai told us. For him, the most crucial thing in this long journey is not money but following his heart. The beauty of the film is seeing two Chinese guys walking amidst European architecture in Buono’s Ires and Latin-American landscape.
However, life in Buono’s Ires is of low quality. Lai resides in a crackhouse flat, sleeping on a small old bed, and sharing a kitchen with other families. He lives in a slum. Moreover, he has to work as a car attendant in a nightclub. How much would Lai have left to appreciate the Buenos Aires romantic scene? The only thing he desires is the romantic idea,
“At the end of the day, we only need someone to listen to, accept us unconditionally, and do not leave us,”
is the only thing he desires. It is the only reason Lai endures his tragedy.
Not until Lai meets Chang, another Chinese lad in Buenos Aires, that he realizes he is not received and will never get the intimacy he craves. Perhaps, meeting with a Chinese friend reconnects him with himself again. Lai is on the verge of tears trying to speak his heart over a recording tape. He decides to abandon the life he romanticized.
Unlike a traditional tragic hero, Lai does not end his life when he does not get what he wants. He returns to the life he has left, starting from calling and writing letters to his father. Lai liberates himself from an unhealthy affair between him and Ho. He parts with Chang to visit the real “Iguazu.” He forges a journey again, this time back home, with life experiences accumulated from his trip to promised land.
Lai has spent part of his life paying for the life he romanticized in Argentina. Buono Aires’ part ends, and Lai brings us not to Hongkong, but to Taiwan. The modern city is now the backdrop. Chaos, capitalism, and everyone is in a rush. These are enemies of romanticism. He discovers that the street food stand he sits in is Chang’s family. No Chang’s presence, he snatches Chang’s photograph as a souvenir and tells himself in a voice-over,
“At least I know where to find him.”
At least the relationship between him and Chang is not out of touch?
The film gives us no answer but ends it abruptly and poetically as Turtle’s Happy Together hurls.
A house is not a home, and if a house — families, lovers, countries — makes us suffers, should we move away? But where in the world and with whom? Would the move make us happy? But what is happiness, anyway? Is it a feeling of pure joy? Or is it a sense where elements such as purpose, desire, and satisfaction are present? Would pleasure compose suffering, too? And would it is happiness still when we suffer?