Review: Chun Gwong Cha Sit (Happy Together, 1997)

happy together

Is it a Chinese thing to want to sleep completely under the covers all the time?

Written By: Kar Wai Wong
Directed By: Kar Wai Wong

In film the method usually implemented when it comes to depicting damaging relationship is to show the relationship as consisting of a victim and an abuser. Those relationships do exist, they are plentiful, and they can be very compelling when put on film. Much more intriguing to me is the destructive relationship. That type of relationship is hell for all involved and what makes it the worst is that usually a deep love, or affection, is at play. It’s not simple to walk away away from a destructive relationship. In fact it’s often nearly impossible for the two, or more, members of a destructive relationship to realize they need to leave and then do as such. That’s why destructive relationships that are, to use a popular phrase, co-dependent interest me so much.

I’m sure that some people watched Chun Gwong Cha Sit and thought, “why doesn’t Fai just leave Po?” I know that a few years ago I probably would have thought and then written that very same question without a hint of temerity on my part. Being a few years older and having taken part in at least one destructive relationship myself I have a fresher and, I believe, more honest perspective on the relationship between Po and Fai. I was lucky enough that my destructive relationship just fizzled out, and that it did so very quickly and before any serious emotions/feelings could enter into the equation. I’m also lucky that I found my wife and realized what a loving relationship can, and should, be. The perspective of finding a healthy relationship allows to me to look at and empathize with the relationship between Po and Fai in ways that I would not have been capable of in the past.

It was important to me, and very effective filmmaking from Kar Wai Wong, that Pa and Fai are both at fault at times in their relationship. While there is narration in Chun Gwong Cha Sit, the visuals of the film are what tell the truth between the narration. There’s one telling moment, when Po is in the back of a car and looks back to see Fai standing in the street watching him drive away. It’s a simple, minute long shot, but it says everything about the relationship between Po and Fai. That shot lets the viewer know that Po views Fai as an article he can use and throw away at his leisure. That shot lets the audience know that Fai is holding too tightly onto someone who will not react well to being smothered. That shot lets the audience know that the characters know this, but that they will continue their destructive behavior because love is not something they can control. It’s one single shot, but that shot is emblematic of how Xiānshēng Wong is able to bolster his script with his strong visual style.

Visually the one element of Chun Gwong Cha Sit that I am still rolling around in my brain is the switching from black and white to color. If the transition was as simple as one half of the film is in black and white and other other half is in color then I think the color palette of the film could more easily interpreted. However, that’s not the way color is used in Chun Gwong Cha Sit. The first half is in black and white, and the second half is in color, but there are brief moments in the first half where color appears and in the second half where black and white returns. As I write this it’s my belief that the color moments represent when Po and Fai aren’t lying to one another. They may be lying in the words they say or even in their actions. But, when the film is in color Fai and Po realize the inevitable end of their relationship and are simply moving towards said end. I’m sure there are other interpretations of the color/black and white dynamic in Chun Gwong Cha Sit, but no matter how you slice it the cinematography by Christopher Doyle is as sumptuous and interesting as ever.

Just as interesting are the performances from Leslie Cheung, as Po, and Tony Leung Chiu Wai, as Fai. I’ve written a lot in the past about Xiānshēng Wai, and those thoughts remain the same. I could watch him do nothing but sit around for two hours and still be compelled by the performance he is giving. On the other hand I am just being exposed to the work of Xiānshēng Cheung. This is only the third or fourth film of his that I have seen, and I come away even more impressed with his acting ability. The roles taken on by Xiānshēng’s Cheung and Wai are thankless, but fruitful. They must convey that they love one another but want to destroy that love and each other. The two gentlemen do so, and they do so in a fashion that is only capable from the finest of thespians.

The more of Xiānshēng Wong’s filmography that I explore the more I come to respect him as a filmmaker. His work is almost always impressive, but in each film I watch he shows a new facet of his skillset. Chun Gwong Cha Sit is stylish like most of Xiānshēng Wong’s films, but the style creates a substance that is more overt than in the rest of his work. There isn’t a more honest film one will find about relationships and how love can often be the worst kind of medicine. Destruction abounds, and as painful as it may be I’ll be damned if the destruction wrought in Chun Gwong Cha Sit doesn’t make for one hell of a cinematic experience.





One response to “Review: Chun Gwong Cha Sit (Happy Together, 1997)

  1. Pingback: Postulating & Pontificating: The Movie Experience | Bill's Movie Emporium

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