Love in Exile: ‘Happy Together’ (1997) / Wong Kar-Wai

Image: Happy Together (1997), directed by Wong Kar-Wai

The first clip in colour, following the black and white bedroom scene, is the shot of the Iguazu Falls. From a bird’s-eye view, this spectacular, somewhat psychedelic, scene seems to mean everything. The image of the waterfalls is the relationship between Fei and Po-Wing; their passion, love, aspirations. Happy Together depicts the arduous journey to find their way to this waterfall. This and the symbol of the Iguazu Falls conveys more of their relationship than words could, even between each other.

“I had no regrets until I met you. Now my regrets could kill me.”

Fei and Po-Wing journey to Argentina to see this waterfall. However, they soon become stranded and separated in Buenos Aires. Broke, alone and apart in a foreign place, the solitude is so much. There is the temptation that they could be happy together, especially in this distant city where they are the only ones to care for the other. Despite that care, it’s never the case. Brief moments of beauty, tenderness and solitude break into anger and charged feelings which verge on violence. Still, the hope of ‘starting over’ persists.

This connectedness reminds me of the shared queer diasporic care.

Image: Happy Together (1997), directed by Wong Kar-Wai

There is never a question of care. The chemistry between them is everything; everything feels like it is drawing in. In fact, this film has some of my favourite depictions of intimacy. I keep replaying the scene of Po-Wing lighting his cigarette with the end of Fei’s, his hand over the others, and how that felt almost like a kiss. There’s never a doubt about the feeling between them and yet, it seems, love is not enough here.

Lai Yiu-fai — we could start over.

Or do they run away from Hong Kong to find somewhere, anywhere (the falls) where they can be happy together? To the geographical opposite of Hong Kong in Buenos Aires, to the opposite of home. But the vulnerability in Argentina bears down and between them — it’s no easier being together here than back there. Diaspora reproduce their context where they go yet Fei and Po-Wing must re-negotiate everything, wherever they go, to be together.

Instead Po-Wing is punished for subverting all normality, in his sex-work, living in excess and non-traditional/-hegemonic masculinity. He is confined to exile in the apartment he once sought to escape, living in the shadow of their relationship, for this. Whilst Fei, who prefers monogamy and traditional work, moves forwards and on.

Still, I think of Fei’s co-worker, Chang, who travels to the end of the world to release Fei’s sobs in that Buenos Aires bar to the world. Something about Chang stuck with me, perhaps it was the way that he listens — not always able to decipher words, hearing instead what people mean and feel. This meant something to me watching a film in a language I don’t know. There’s something universal in feeling. There’s a significance in that he returns to Argentina, looking for Fei who sits in Chang’s family night market — both seeking new fate and desire. Perhaps they are confined in some way, despite representing traditional values they are not rewarded with love; that love is exiled also.

Happy Together is a visually stunning film that, at times, feels like a collection of beautiful photographs compiled into a story. I was unprepared for the end and I still feel as though I could watch their lives unfold forever through this lens.

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Afrín Ahmed

Afrín Ahmed

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they/them | writing on film, books, politics and other opinion pieces ❤