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Homosexuality and its Portrayal in “Happy Together”

Wong Kar-wai’s film Happy Together explores the aspects of a homosexual relationship and shows the striking similarities between homosexual love and heterosexual love.  I think the film is very productive in representing these alternative modes of experience—the same irrationality, cycles of breaking up and being “happy together,” seeking comfort elsewhere when one’s relationship is failing, ect. shows up in both gay and straight relationships.  Homosexuality has historically been seen as taboo for various reasons, be it the church, intolerance, or fear of change.  This taboo aspect of the homosexual culture is reflected by Chang’s unwillingness to openly come out.  Throughout the movie, we only get two hints: a) when he turns down the advances of a female coworker instantly; and b) when he says that he prefers women with low speaking voices.  Although we are given a valuable and open look into their lives, these men are still closed off from society, reflecting the reality that homosexuals face.

However, I believe this movie’s realism—both through camera techniques and the dialogue—helps unmask the myth that gay relationships are somehow immoral or causing the decay of society.  Although we see the negative aspects of Lai’s relationship with his volatile and inconsiderate boyfriend, we also see the positive aspects of Lai’s relationship with Chang.  Whereas Lai is forced to make dinner for his boyfriend when he’s extremely ill and is cheated on by him, Lai and Chang talk about the “end of the world” lighthouse and dreams of something better for themselves.  So although the perspective given into homosexuality is not wholly positive and not wholly negative, it is at least wholly realistic, at least in my view.

Furthermore, the complexity and vagueness of the plotline mirrors the complexity of their emotional and physical relationship.  There’s no real end goal in sight, only a desire for happiness, exemplified by dancing sequences in the movie and dreams of traveling to “the falls” or the lighthouse.  The movie is at its core about temporary happiness vs. authentic happiness.  Both men seek temporary happiness to fill the voids in their lives left by each other, exemplified by the gay pornographic theater scene and also Lai’s bathroom exploits.  However, they are still looking for permanence, which is difficult to find as Chinese men living in a foreign country.  Just as their geographical location is far from fixed, so are their emotions and perspectives on life.  This makes for a rich and complex storyline, as we maneuver through the unmasked life of a homosexual couple.

Kenneth Anger’s Scorpio Rising parallel’s “Happy Together” in many ways because of its exploration of masculinity, homosexuality, and the concept of taboo.  Both movies take on the issue of masculinity and mock it, of course to a far greater degree in Scorpio Rising with its biker gang, Nazi symbols, and James Dean worship.  In Happy Together, it is much more subtle.  Through their dress, we see that they dress like typical heterosexual males.  They’re also smoking cigarettes the entire movie, play soccer, and Lai works himself to death at the Chinese restaurant.  The mockery of masculinity in Happy Together is simply the statement that homosexuals live vaguely the same way as heterosexuals, though their sexual preferences differ.  In any event, both movies criticize Western morality and values and place homosexuality in a more realistic light. 

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2 responses to “Homosexuality and its Portrayal in “Happy Together”

  1. nlaroque ⋅

    I think what you said about the film’s realism is what makes this such a spectacular film. Even today we tend to focus on the differences between heterosexuals and homosexuals, but what I feel this film reveals through its realism is that in the end both groups desire the same thing; they want to be accepted, understood, and loved. While we quickly become aware of the nature of Ho and Fai’s relationship, we as the audience become entranced by their actions toward one another rather than just their sexuality. Over a decade after its release, Happy Together continues to tackle a very relevant issue of seeing a couple as a complex unit that is defined by its ability to work successfully rather than the gender of the members within it.

  2. newmansam ⋅

    I believe that you are right in saying that “Happy Together”‘s most compelling element is its realistic depiction of a homosexual relationship. As the title suggests, homosexual couples, just like heterosexual couples and even anyone in general just want to live “happy together” and you could extrapolate a bit and say that perhaps Wong Kar Wai’s choice in title is an allusion to the idea of everyone in the world being “happy together” and not letting things such as sexual orientations divide or upset them.

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