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Kino on Video presents
Happy Together (Cheun gwong tsa sit) (1997)

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

Review By: Matt Peterson   
Published: October 18, 2004

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

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (sexuality, language)
Run Time: 01h:36m:56s
Release Date: October 19, 2004
UPC: 738329037826
Genre: foreign

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ B-B+C B

DVD Review

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, 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 eaiser. 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, charactersitic 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 charactersitic Doyle/Kar-Wai supersaturation 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 straightfoward 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's newly remastered anamorphic image looks very good, exhibiting a smooth, film-like image that can appear soft at times, but is not digital in appearance. Colors are well saturated, and contrast is good throughout, but print defects and grain are noticeable. A fine remaster, but some additional digital cleanup could be useful.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Cantoneseno

Audio Transfer Review: The Cantonese Dolby 2.0 audio is plagued by quite a bit of noticeable hiss. Dialogue remains clear and the South American source music has fine presence. Perhaps this is the best source material that could be obtained, but this is a messy soundtrack for a film made in 1997.

Audio Transfer Grade: C


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 12 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
2 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring As Tears Go By, Days of Being Wild, Chungking Express, Fallen Angels
1 Documentaries
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL

Extra Extras:
  1. Stills Gallery
  2. Insert with an interview with Wong Kar-Wai
Extras Review: Kino has included a substantial documentary. Buenos Aries Zero Degrees: The Making of Happy Together (59m:45s, 1999) is 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. This is a fine piece, though I’d prefer to see a documentary like this on some other, superior Kar-Wai projects.

A trailer gallery features original and Japanese trailers for Fallen Angels, Happy Together, Days of Being Wild, an original trailer for As Tears Go By and a Japanese trailer for Chungking Express.

A filmography for cast and crew, a brief stills gallery and an insert with chapter listings and an interview with Wong Kar-Wai rounds out the re-issue. This is one of five new Kar-Wai releases from Kino available individually, or in their Wong Kar-Wai Collection box set.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Wong Kar-Wai's visually affecting look at the highs and lows of a gay couple tends to meander, but remains a worthy addition to the accomplished director's filmography. Kino's reissue is an improvement.


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