I love Wong Kar Wai’s Happy Together and have since first seeing it in the late 90s. I rewatched it recently, and it’s as beautiful as ever, but my reactions to it’s drama now were very different than they were then.
Circa 1999, I watched two men caught in a relationship they couldn’t find a way out of and I judged them for not making changes, for not doing whatever was required to get them out of their awful situation. When Leslie Cheung repeated his line about starting over, I remember thinking something like “you idiot, don’t you realize that you can’t start over?” and being frustrated that they both kept giving it a try. I remember believing that the late arrival of the young traveller Chang offered a way for Tony Leung’s character to love someone else. I remember believing too that even if it didn’t last, Chang could teach Leung to be happy if he would let himself be pulled up out of the darkness and begin to look at things clearly.
Older now and with some scars to show for it, “We can start again” feels different to me than it did then. I think we love the people we love. Sometimes they change; often they don’t. And mostly I think that what I called “seeing things clearly” at 27 was a way of ignoring the various difficult things-themselves that I simply wasn’t equipped to acknowledge, much less deal with. Like what people will fight for when they find themselves lonely and far from home and there is no easy way back.
Watching the film again now, I also felt more strongly than ever the constrained possibilities of the location these men’s drama unfolds within. They are caught fast and fighting to live and that manifests as fighting with each other.
All of this was as moving as ever, even if the movie felt unsettlingly different this time around.
ps–This is the film where I found myself lost irremediably to the charms of Tony Leung