Reaching those emotional harbors

January 23, 1998|By Henry Sheehan | Henry Sheehan,ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Any filmmaker who sets out to delineate a sense of real intimacy, in which looks and brief phrases carry the weight that whole sentences and paragraphs do between strangers, faces the conundrum of presenting a state that becomes more elusive as it becomes more intense.

That's why "Happy Together," which might at first glance appear to be little more than a slight comedy of romantic and physical dislocation, manages to pack such a raw punch by the time it ends. Directed by Wong Kar-Wai, whose "Chungking Express" was 1996's avatar of Asian hip, this new film could be described as what happens to two gay guys from Hong Kong living in Buenos Aires after they break up and then are forced together again by circumstance.

But actually, the movie is more genuinely concerned with what happens to one of them, Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung of "Hard Boiled" and "Cyclo"), as he tries to find the emotional harbors that will make his deliberately rootless existence tolerable.

Wong, along with his extraordinarily gifted cinematographer, Christopher Doyle, employ what look like fairly familiar MTV-style gimmicks. But rather than being merely decorative, these moves are lively responses to the interplay between the actors, which itself was partly improvised.

All this works, right up through the last shot. It lends an ironic, even bitter flavor to the title of "Happy Together," but it also brings a delicately rendered reality to a fulfilling conclusion.

'Happy Together'

Starring Tony Leung, Leslie Cheung, Chang Chen

Directed by Wong Kar-Wai

Released by Kino International

Unrated (sexual activity, violence, adult themes)

Sun score:***

Pub Date: 1/23/98

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