Happy Together (Cheun Gwong Tsa Sit) (1997)

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Released 20-Jul-2005

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Drama Main Menu Audio
Audio Commentary-Stephen Teo (Author)
Featurette-Making Of-Buenos Aires Zero Degree
Theatrical Trailer
Booklet-Essay On Wong Kar Wai By Janice Tong
Rating Rated M
Year Of Production 1997
Running Time 92:56 (Case: 96)
RSDL / Flipper RSDL (67:54) Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 1,2,3,4,5,6 Directed By Kar Wai Wong
Studio
Distributor
Block 2 Pictures Inc
Madman Entertainment
Starring Leslie Cheung
Tony Leung Chiu Wai
Chen Chang
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $34.95 Music Danny Chung
Frank Zappa


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None Cantonese Dolby Digital 5.1 (448Kb/s)
Cantonese Dolby Digital 2.0 (192Kb/s)
English Audio Commentary Dolby Digital 2.0 (224Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.75:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio Unknown Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures Yes
Subtitles English Smoking Yes
Annoying Product Placement No
Action In or After Credits No

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Plot Synopsis

Lai Yiu-Fai - "Turns out that lonely people are all the same."

    Wong Kar Wai's films are as much experimental as they are narrative, using a vast array of styles and techniques to develop and sustain an emotional core, which creates a state of reverie in the audience. His films are noted for their disjointed narrative structures as well as for the visual collages he constructs, usually created through extensive improvisation and rehearsal rather than from a screenplay, with the editing process being where the final film is found and formed. In this way Happy Together is a distinct piece of Wong's oeuvre, joining films such as In the Mood for Love and it's sequel 2046, Fallen Angels, and Chungking Express, for both his visual aesthetic and his thematic investigations of the emotional isolation of characters and the increasingly fragmented experiences of the postmodern world.

    Happy Together is the tale of two Hong Kong men who travel to Argentina when their relationship at home becomes stale. Tony Leung Chiu Wai is Lai Yiu-Fai, the melancholic romantic, who has followed his lover Ho Po-Wing, played by Leslie Cheung, across the world in the hope of reviving their relationship. They find a lamp with a revolving picture of the Iguazu Falls, which becomes a loaded symbol in their relationship: as a destination they fail to reach on a road trip, as a site of closure, and (in an overhead shot reminiscent of the visual poetics of Werner Herzog) as a visual motif for the turbulence in their relationship.

    Po-Wing is the promiscuous partner, who invariably bores easily, especially when he feels tied down to Yiu-Fai, and has a habit of abruptly ending their relationship in favour of the nightlife and frivolous flings. Yiu-Fai is the romantic one, inclined towards domesticity and nurturing; when circumstances go against Po-Wing, he returns to Yiu-Fai and convalesces in a tiny room in a rundown apartment. Much of the film is contained within this claustrophobic space, as the two lovers respond differently to this situation: Yiu-Fai enjoys the proximity and his role as nurse and keeper, but Po-Wing begins to chafe at his constraint in the room and in his re-formed relationship with Yiu-Fai.

    Both Leung and Cheung are well known movie stars from Hong Kong. Leung from a number of action films, such as Infernal Affairs and Hard-Boiled, but also a number of high-profile art house films, such as Hero and Cyclo, and other films by Wong Kar Wai, such as Ashes of Time, Chungking Express, and In the Mood for Love and 2046. Cheung was also in Wong's Days Of Being Wild and Ashes of Time, he had a part in A Better Tomorrow, and was a very popular Asian singer in the 80s (Leung is also known as a singer). In a sad footnote to this story and film, Cheung committed suicide in April 2003. Both actors give extraordinary performances, but it is ultimately the story of Yiu-Fai, effectively trapped in Argentina with no money, limited job opportunities, and no love. Tony Leung is one of those rare actors, alongside David Morse and Daniel Auteuil, who can plumb the depths of the soul's sadness with only their eyes and deliver a performance that transcends actorly ticks and mannerisms.

    In the Mood for Love has been available on DVD in Australia for sometime, but now it seems a number of Wong Kar Wai's earlier films, such as Fallen Angels and Days Of Being Wild are starting to trickle in. Unfortunately, there is no sign of Chungking Express (available in both region 1 and 2), nor Ashes of Time, an amazing art house martial arts film that precedes Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Hero by over half a decade. Wong's films are not for audiences that prefer films with straight narratives and unobtrusive style, but if you have never experienced the films of this unique director and feel up to the challenge, then Happy Together is a great place to start.

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Transfer Quality

Video

    Happy Together is presented in a ratio of 1.75:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced. Imdb.com does not list technical specifications for this film, but it would be safe to bet the framing was somewhere between 1.66:1 and 1.85:1, which would be common for an Asian art house film.

    Approximately half of this film is in black and white and half in colour. However, much of the black and white is tinted, and when colour is used it is typically washed out, and high grain is typical throughout. A number of sequences look very much like they were shot on video, with varying resolution, however this could simply be the source. Christopher Doyle (an expatriate Australian), Wong Kar Wai's cinematographer of choice, is renowned for his striking (and deliberately misframed) compositions, as well as his use of light and colour. Happy Together is no exception, with much of the film shot hand-held within the cramped confines of Lai's tiny apartment room. Because of this deliberate aesthetic choice by Wong and Doyle this transfer is hard to judge by conventional standards (a comparison of four international region versions of this film on DVDBeaver is instructive of just how difficult this film is to judge - no screenshots from the separate discs look the same). According to Doyle, the film "was very heavily push processed, and then we increased the grains by reduping the film again. We were really working for grains and contrast and a very special image." One entry in an online forum also suggests the black and white footage was actually shot on colour film and printed on black and white stock. This certainly seems likely as a few scenes appear as both colour and black and white in different parts of the film.

    At certain times the image is very sharp, with no film-to-video artefacts, such as low-level noise, pixelization, or aliasing. At other times the opposite is true, so much so that it really looks like video. And problems are plainly visible, such as aliasing, pixelization, posterization, and Gibb effect which is very noticeable in the beginning and end credits. In fact, during the end credits the image is very slightly crooked; it is impossible to know if this problem afflicts the entire transfer or just the credits, and I only noticed this when I was enjoying a close view of the Gibb effect on the titles. During the colour sequences the image tends to be very washed out which is obviously deliberate, but many of the black and white scenes are quite stunning for their sharpness and their shadow detail.

    There are plenty of film artefacts, more than is worth listing. I don't know if this is a deliberate choice or a fact of the very low-budget circumstances. Either way, the film artefacts are there: scratches, marks, and hairs. Personally, I did not think they detracted too much from the film, but rather enhanced the aesthetic of instability and fragmentation which mirrors the relationship between the two characters.

    The English subtitles are on by default, but are a separate stream and not burnt into the print. I cannot judge their accuracy, but they are devoid of silly translations (a funny problem that often afflicts the subtitles in Asian films). Since the film is set in Argentina, there is the occasional Spanish, but this is not translated. This is obviously disappointing, but these sequences are very short and do not seem too important for the narrative.

    This is an RSDL disc, and the layer change occurs at 67:54 during a scene change. Unfortunately, the sound cue for the scene change begins before the layer change, and is therefore very noticeably interrupted. Quite distracting. A few minutes later there is a nice quiet scene change which would have worked much better.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    There are three soundtracks included on this disc: the new Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, encoded at 448Kb/s, a Dolby Digital 2.0 track at 192Kb/s, and the commentary track. I listened to the 5.1, and sampled the 2.0, as well listening to the commentary.

    Superficially, the 5.1 starts very well, but it's not too long before problems start to appear. But the good stuff first. It is mostly an immersive track, and there are no problems with audio hiss, or dialogue sync problems. The dialogue always sounds very clear, and I did not detect any pops or clicks.

    The music is mainly from a number of South American sources, such as Astor Pataleon Piazzolla, and is used to envelope the viewer and establish the sombre mood. The title song, Happy Together, is of course the famous song by The Turtles, sung by Daniel Chung. The use of this song is in obvious counterpoint to the actual story, and is not actually used until the very end of the film.

    This film relies as much on dialogue as it does on music, and as such is oriented towards the front speakers. Since it was probably originally a stereo soundtrack, I'm not sure why it was necessary to remix it to 5.1. Unfortunately, there is no information about the source of this remix, or if there was any director involvement at all. I only really noticed the rear surrounds during scenes with music. However, what I did notice was some poor use of the front surrounds during simple dialogue sequences. In at least two different scenes, 31:24 - 32:07 and 40:28 - 40:53, when the two actors were talking in a static medium close up, the dialogue from the actor on the left would shift back and forth between the centre and the right! I didn't double check this; I triple checked it. And I also checked this on the 2.0 soundtrack and found the problem was also there. Another problem with the front surrounds was towards the end of the film - when Yiu-Fai is driving and cars are travelling towards him and passing him on the left at 76:55 - 77:33, the sound actually moves from the centre to the right.

    There was very minimal subwoofer use, except when required by the music, but this is to be expected in a film like this.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

    There are a number of very good extras which will greatly enhance the viewer's experience of this film.

Menu

    The menu is 16x9 and Happy Together is appropriately the accompanying music.

Biography on inside of cover sleeve

    This is a mini-biography of Wong Kar Wai and his previous films. There are a couple of photos, a list of his films, a quote, and four paragraphs of interesting information.

Booklet

    In the booklet is an essay by an academic, Janice Tong, called The Aesthetics of Distance, which is a very insightful examination of the various themes and ideas in Wong's films, such as the use of time and memory. Although there is a fair amount of depth, the essay never gets too bogged down in academic jargon, and should be quite accessible to most readers.

Theatrical Trailer (1:23)

    Set to the song Happy Together, this trailer is mainly a series of shots from the film, with no narrative context provided at all, and is letterboxed in a 1.33:1 ratio. Most of the shots are from scenes of anger, violence, or frustration, focusing on the negative aspects of the characters' relationship. Combined with the up tempo beat of Happy Together the trailer suggests a much faster and violent film than Happy Together really is.

Featurette - Buenos Aires Zero Degree: Making Of Happy Together (59:12)

    Much like Wong's own films, this is a collage of different styles and film stocks, as well as an intermingling of documentary with narrative. It follows intermittently two female members of the crew as they reminisce about the film's production and the locations in Buenos Aires. Along with on-set footage, and a brief interview with Tony Leung, there is also a lot of film footage, both from the final film and from many scenes that did not make it into the final cut. It is quite obvious that at least one major sub-plot was not included, and it is very interesting to view this footage in light of the final version. The documentary is also letterboxed in a 1.33:1 ratio, and footage varies greatly, with much of it being very grainy video footage. However, it is perfectly watchable and gives an immediacy to the story it tells.

Commentary - Stephen Teo

    Stephen Teo is a leading academic on Asian cinema, and has written a book on the films of Wong Kar Wai. Although his commentary, which is scene-specific, is often quite academic, he never lets theory get in the way of his straightforward analysis. His primary focus is the themes in Wong's films and how they relate to Happy Together, as well as how this relates to the film's visual and narrative styles. He provides a lot of useful information, from the casting, to the production design, as well as the film's political allusions to Hong Kong's impending hand-over to China in 1997 (the film was made from the end of 1996 to the start of 1997 in Argentina). There are not many lapses in his commentary, and despite the occasional repetition of on-screen action, he keeps his discussion focussed without being boring. Access to the commentary is somewhat annoying: although it is on the Extras menu, selecting it will automatically play the 5.1; instead, you must go to the Setup menu, which is where you also have a choice of the other soundtracks as well, and select it there.

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    There are four other versions of Happy Together: Mei Ah, Region 1, Artificial Eye, Region 2 (UK), Kino, Region 1, and the Kino, Region 0, Special Edition. There is a comparison of these four on DVDBeaver, and the screenshots they have provided are useful for judging this local release. More accurately, they've helped me identify our transfer as most probably the same as the Artificial Eye, Region 2.

    Briefly, the Mei Ah edition is framed at 1.73:1, is non-anamorphic, has no extras, and the English and Chinese subtitles are burned in. The Artificial Eye is 1.75:1 (which is the same as ours), is anamorphic, has a trailer, the Buenos Aires Zero Degree documentary, and a filmography. The first Kino version was 1.77:1, non-anamorphic, and had English subtitles burned in. The second Kino, the Special Edition, is 1.77:1, anamorphic, has two original trailers, and six trailers for other Wong Kar Wai films, the same documentary, and an interview with Wong on the insert slip. All of these versions have a Dolby Digital 2.0 soundtrack. Judging by the screenshots on DVDBeaver, the Kino, Region 0, Special Edition has by far the sharpest image, although there is the suggestion of a cropped image, and a short section in black and white instead of colour.

    There are a number of advantages in favour of our disc: it is the only edition with a 5.1 soundtrack, a commentary, and the essay in the booklet. These are enough to make the choice even with the Kino Special Edition, which is slightly compromised. But only just.

Summary

    Happy Together is an extraordinary film, released on a DVD which is a real mixed bag of good and ordinary.

    The video quality is only average, which is very disappointing for a film less than ten years old.

    Except for the problem with the front surrounds, which seems isolated to a few scenes, the audio quality is very good.

    The extras are limited, but are excellent for the range of insight they provide into the film.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Michael Cohen (read my bio)
Sunday, October 09, 2005
Review Equipment
DVDPhilips 860, using RGB output
DisplaySony 76cm FD Trinitron WEGA KV-HX32 M31. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver.
AmplificationSherwood
SpeakersSherwood

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