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Kino on Video presents
Happy Together (1997)

"I always thought I was different...turns out lonely people are all the same."
- Lai (Tony Leung)

Review By: Joel Cunningham  
Published: March 30, 2009

Stars: Tony Leung, Leslie Cheung
Other Stars: Chang Chen
Director: Wong Kar-Wai

MPAA Rating: R for (sexuality, language)
Run Time: 01h:36m:56s
Release Date: March 31, 2009
UPC: 738329063023
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-A-B+ B

DVD Review

The film review is by Matt Peterson.

Romance is the genre of choice for director Wong Kar-Wai. His visual poetry, coupled with strong, emotive performances and creative situations, generate films of great power and intensity. Proven by such outings as In the Mood for Love and Days of Being Wild, and Chungking Express, Kar-Wai's success is assured. In Happy Together, his usual examination of the intricacies of heterosexual love is replaced by a look at the highs and lows of a gay couple, trying to find peace of mind among the spires of the other city that never sleeps: Buenos Aires, Argentina. Relationships of any kind encounter the same problems and sufferings.

Though Lai and Ho are together, they are by no means happy. Lai (Tony Leung) has left Hong Kong to find a better life, but his world is quickly on the downward spiral. He is beginning to miss his homeland, working as a doorman at a tango club, a dishwasher, and a butcher to make ends meet, and return home. Financially, things are not falling into place, and his eternally on-again, off-again relationship with Ho (Leslie Cheung) does not make life easier. Lai simply wants happiness and stability, while Ho seems to have no clear goals. His promiscuity, manipulation and outright cruelty break Lai down. Nevertheless, Lai is willing to "start over" with Ho at the first sign of renewed feelings.

This roller coaster of emotion continues throughout the film, set against the contrast of urban jungle and grand nature, characteristic of the diverse Argentina. The ebbs and flows of the relationship resume, and ultimately, there is less to examine here than in some of other Kar-Wai's more successful romantic pictures. The pair reunites, breaks up, Ho is under the weather, Lai nurses him back to health, and vice versa. The final catharsis is set against the raging waters of Iguazu Falls, the final destination the pair was unable to reach early in their relationship. It becomes a symbol of their relationship-we know these two will probably never be fully at peace with one another, ever flowing down different paths.

This is another highly visual outing from Kar-Wai and his veteran cinematographer Christopher Doyle. This time around, the initial look is more in tone with noir, opting for heavy use of black-and-white imagery, interspersed with a dash of color from time to time. Later, the characteristic Doyle/Kar-Wai super-saturation returns. Bold strokes of color point to happiness, sharply contrasting the grayscale palette. These images help enhance strong performances from both Leung and Cheung, though the former's quiet insensity stands out as superior to his counterpart. Cheung's character is more over-the-top, not lending himself to the kind of realism created by Leung.

Though I enjoy Kar-Wai's work, I find he is more in love with tone and image, somewhat neglectful of script (he often shoots with not script whatsoever). This can be a strength at times, and I certainly applaud his experimental nature. However, where In the Mood for Love took seemingly disconnected vignettes and intertwined them into a story of complex longing, Happy Together's bits amount to little more than a dark travelogue of love and loss. The unique tensions and themes of In the Mood for Love are all but missing here, opting for a more straightforward look at the euphoric highs and bitter lows of relationships. The message that comes through is important, however: We cause much of our own suffering needlessly. We may be willing to endure to abusive settings for the mere possibility of happiness, but we must accept the consequences. Conflict may lead to new understanding and happiness, but it can take the form of poison.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: Kino takes a third crack at Happy Together, and finally gets it right. Though it's always hard to judge the transfers for Wong Kar-wai's visually audacious films, the previous discs suffered from obvious problems like overenthusiastic cropping, washed-out color, softness, and incorrect color timing (the last one even had a shot in black-and-white instead of color).

This new transfer is a revelation, with a much more detailed, saturated image. Black levels are vastly improved, and film grain appears more natural than in the past. The cropping problem has been corrected as well. The box advertises this as a new HD transfer, and I can't imagine why they aren't putting it on Blu-ray, because it looks great. Maybe I've just been spoiled by the Criterion Blu-ray of Chungking Express.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: Presented in 5.1 for the first time, the Cantonese audio track is also vastly improved. Gone is the background hiss that marred the previous disc. Speech is clearer than before, and the vibrant music features a much stronger presence.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 24 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Fallen Angels
2 Documentaries
Packaging: Keep Case
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills gallery
Extras Review: Kino's last stab at Happy Together was billed as a "Special Edition." This one must be extra-special—it retains all of the extras and adds a sizeable new one.

Returning is the documentary Buenos Aries Zero Degrees: The Making of Happy Together (59m:45s, 1999), a detailed, very stylish look at the making of the film in Argentina. Crew members revisit locations and reminisce on the shoot, intercut with candid on set footage and clips from the film.

Wong Kar-wai at the Museum of the Moving Image (44m:15s, 2008) is a new retrospective interview with the director, taped during a public appearance at the Museum of the Moving Image in New York. Following an introduction by Ang Lee, Kar-wai, looking cool in aviator shades, talks about his love of film and provides a review of his career, film by film. It's more of a broad overview, but will be of great interest to fans of this influential filmmaker.

In addition to two trailers for Happy Together, there's a stills gallery and a preview for Kar-wai's Fallen Angels, also recently re-released by Kino.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Wong Kar-Wai's visually affecting look at the highs and lows of a gay couple's romance tends to meander, but remains a worthy addition to the accomplished director's resumé. This double-dip from Kino has such a strong transfer, it's a shame it isn't being released on Blu-ray. If you're a fan who can't wait for the inevitable HD release, this one is definitely worth an upgrade, right down to the cover art.


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