Win 1 Thong Win

Desire: Negotiations with Desire and Politics in Happy Together

Released in 1997, the fiction film Happy Together by Wong Kar-Wai follows the tumultuous relationship of gay lovers Ho Po-Wing and Lai Yiu-Fai while abroad in Buenos Aires. Struggling to find happiness abroad, Po and Fai try to repair a damaged relationship filled with anxiety. There is a continual theme between the two to “start over.” However to reduce the film down into a simple love story about two gay men would be an oversight of the historical, cultural and political significance of the film. To understand the depth of not only how Happy Together operates but how Wong utilizes the mechanisms of the film in order to address a political situation; a specific language needs to be adopted to negotiate the multifaceted behavior of both film and auteur. In trying to adopt a specific type of language to address the mechanisms at work in Happy Together it seems proper form to establish the methodology in which one can relate the characters, plot and structure of the film to a broader, more pressing concern of the time period in which the film is made. This relationship we define between the story told in Happy Together and the real world political agenda of Hong Kong can be considered in most respects an allegory. More clearly, Happy Together functions as a national allegory which utilizes its characters and personal conflicts to negotiate a specific political terrain that deals with the handover of Hong Kong from England to Mainland China. According to Fredric Jameson's essay, "Third World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism" when regarding texts that derive from the third-world states that these texts, "project a political dimension in the form of a national

Win 2 allegory: the story of the private individual destiny is always an allegory of the embattled situation of the public third-world culture and society" (Jameson 69). Thus according to Jameson the matter of origin of a text can automatically defer onto it a label of national allegory, a text deriving from the third-world is implicitly allegorical due to its being. Is it impossible to separate the libidinal from the public as Jameson notes? Is it in the very nature of all third-world texts to have an element of national allegory within them? These large assumptions made by Jameson seem ready to be deconstructed by theorists (such as Aijaz Ahmed in his essay "Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and the 'National Allegory'") however despite Jameson's use of binary opposition to prove his point there seems to be some merit in Jameson's assumption that all thirdworld texts have at some level a national allegory element to them. Jameson's assumption seems to be grounded in an intuitive fundamental element of new historicism when realizing the nature of third-world texts. Given that the third-world is defined by Jameson as a nation or nation-states that have suffered or is suffering under the flag of imperialism, all cultural artifacts such as film and literature are informed not only by alien practices but by economic influence. In the thirdworld more so than other developed and culturally free countries the libidinal is directly influenced and negotiated by the public and political sphere, it is ultimately the imposition of an imperial country on the third-world that entangles its citizens and likewise its texts in a dialogue (whether through the text material itself or in its creation) with politics. Understanding the economic influence and political implications of producing texts in the third-world Jameson will later decide that, when a psychic structure is objectively determined by economic and political relationships, it cannot be dealt with by means of purely psychological therapies; yet it equally cannot be dealt with by means of purely objective transformations of the economic and political situation itself, since the habits remain and exercise a baleful and crippling residual effect.

Win 3 (Jameson 76). If we take Jameson's account of the avenues left open to deal with a psychic structure determined by economic and political influence as correct it seems plausible to understand how and why Happy Together would be read as a national allegory. Wong Kar-Wai, a Hong Kong citizen influenced and concerned with the pressing desire to understand and negotiate the handover of his home from one country to another crafts a film that can be read as dealing with these issues. Happy Together is entangled (if not purposefully than at least through its own existence) with the political and economic status of Hong Kong and ready to be read through as an allegory. As a national allegory we can understand that the characters and spaces of Happy Together are projections of desire whose functions are meant to reconfigure ideas of a mutating national identity. To use "desire" as an umbrella term in Happy Together can be seen as a reductive measure that would seem to limit a generative understanding of the film. After all it can be argued that all films deal with desire in some form. Plot is driven by the need of something that is not present in the beginning of a film. Whether it is the constitution of the couple in romantic comedies, the unraveling of mystery in crime-thrillers or the exploration of the fantastic in science fiction, narrative is motivated by a force that tries to satiate desire. Examining Happy Together (or any film) by tracking and examining the functions of desire proves problematic since narrative is constituted by some form of desire. It doesn’t seem worthwhile at first to understand the mechanism of desire, however given the socio-historical context in which the film was created and the political ramifications of the narrative, one can understand the desirable in Happy Together as a vehicle to negotiate the political. Before examining specific scenes and sequences of Happy Together, it is imperative to locate the specific historical and political context that is being negotiated in the film’s

Win 4 representation of desire. The year of release of the film (1997) marks a crucial crossroads in Hong Kong history. The signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration officially concluded the Opium Wars in China (1984), the stipulation being that Hong Kong would remain a colonial territory of England till July 1st 1997. Thus after 1997, Hong Kong would be free from English rule and placed back under the control of Mainland China- a transition that marks a major shift in cultural values. This in-between status of Hong Kong between England and Mainland China has created a friction for its inhabitants, an anxiety of a culture built under the influence of England to be erased or renegotiated upon being reabsorbed into Mainland China. As Ackbar Abbas notes in his text Hong Kong: Culture and the Politics of Disappearance, “[Hong Kong] faced with the uncomfortable possibility of an alien identity about to be imposed on it by China…is experiencing a kind of last minute collective search for a more definite identity.” (Abbas 4) It is this anxiety of impermanence, a lack of a definite and reliable identity coupled with a mutation of national space that is represented in the unstable relationship between Po and Fai, who have come to Argentina together from Hong Kong. Wong maintains this thread of representing the political and cultural fear of mutation and of loss through desire in Happy Together by not only character relationships but also in his representation of temporality and spaces. Though Wong has denied any intention of creating a film that represents the shift of his national space, the opening scene establishes the temporal and spatial orientation for the spectator that clearly alludes to the political situation for Hong Kong. The opening sequence is set in an airport, whose sounds establish the location. Someone is obviously going somewhere or returning from somewhere (the former proves to be correct.) A close-up shot of two passports shows the words “British National Overseas” and the pictures of Ho Po Wing and Lai Yiu Fai. A visa stamp is applied whose date (May 12, 1995) proves to be crucial in creating the temporal

Win 5 framework and thus political situation of the film. Given the date of the stamp an informed spectator understands that within the year the “identity” conferred onto them by the passport under the postcolonial predicament will be void. To situate the film temporally and spatially in the first shots does not warrant investigation, but what does warrant investigation is the specific and purposeful insertion of these shots. There is a clear expression of an anxiety regarding the transfer of Hong Kong in these opening shots. To assume that the insertion of this specific date into the film as arbitrary would be to reduce the film to a simple love story (as Wong has tried to do) and to neglect the almost therapeutic affect of utilizing the film’s characters to negotiate and work through the issues of the hand over. The characters and even the spaces become representations of different ideologies that center on a longing for happiness. Like a game of chess, characters in the film are given a certain core element that guides the action and through the interaction among the characters reveals the path to happiness. In her essay “Queerscapes in Contemporary Hong Kong Cinema” Helen Joksze Leung focuses her attention on the representations of non-normative groups in Hong Kong Cinema and notes the trend that: “It is perhaps appropriate that the anxiety of displacement should itself be endlessly displaced onto an ever-proliferating range of concerns that are contiguous, yet never identical or reducible, to the postcolonial predicament” (Leung 424). As Leung correctly diagnoses in her essay the prevalence of displacing issues onto other vehicles is a reoccurring motif in Hong Kong cinema. Happy Together proves to be no exception to this insight and utilizes a love story to mediate the politics of Hong Kong’s hand over. Though Leung notes that the displacement in Hong Kong films such as Happy Together are not “identical or reducible” to the original issues that are being displaced, one can imagine that they are the closest permutation of the core issues and the dominant reactions of the public to the hand over.

Win 6 Thus an allegory is set up by Wong, who creates characters who voraciously search with each other and against each other in their own predetermined ways to reach happiness (or in nonallegorical terms: to negotiate some form of national identity and peace to negotiate for themselves the transition of Hong Kong to China). Though Happy Together does not clearly demarcate a definite protagonist and antagonist it is important to note the absence of Po’s diegetic narration. Given that the story is primarily narrated by Fai, the spectator’s sympathies are conditioned to remain aligned with his plight. Even Chang, a character that appears mid way through the film is given narration space (possibly as an answer to Fai’s narration) - it seems that through Po’s muteness Wong is purposely setting him up as if not the protagonist then the character the spectator is supposed to identify the least with. If the spectator is meant to identify the least with Po it can be assumed that he represents an ideology that creates the friction and turmoil in the film. By tracking what Po’s core motivation is and how this motivation is worked out through his interactions with the other characters the spectator is ultimately shown a character that does achieve his version of happiness. His desire forces him to be isolated from those who care about him and alienated from the mutating home of Hong Kong. If we recognize Po as representative of a Hong Kong citizen negotiating a return to the past then one can understand Chang as functioning as a foil to Po’s nostalgia. Though not from Hong Kong, Chang being from Taiwan represents a culture that has also been subject to colonization. Historically native Taiwanese became subject to a wave of diasporic Chinese who did not want to stay in Communist China after the Chinese Civil War. In essence the diasporic Chinese invaded Taiwan and eventually settled, imposing a modified colonization over native Taiwanese (Yu-Fang Cho Rewriting Exile, Remapping Empire, Re-membering Home). Like Po

Win 7 and Fai, Chang’s home has been subject to the post-colonial predicament. However it is his character’s persona that separates him from the other characters. Serving as a foil to Po’s quick temper and nostalgic characterization, Chang is slower and methodical when making decisions. Chang’s desire is characterized by a desire to visit a lighthouse which is said to be the last one before reaching Antarctica. Though the motivation for the trip remains unclear, Chang desires to go some place not to recapture a moment but to create a new experience. Between Po and Chang on the character spectrum is a vacillating Fai that seems to absorb the ideologies of whoever he is with. Spectator identification is most closely aligned with Fai due to his role as the primary narrator of the film. Considered a giant question mark throughout most of the film, Fai though seeming to lack any definite characterization can be seen as serving a function in the political allegory. His role as mediator between characters and spaces seems to be the role Wong wants the spectator to align with so that we can work through the political allegory by navigating through the drama with Fai. Given that all major characters have been assigned some significant role to play in the national allegory it is Fai’s lack of singular representation that allows him to be the center of negotiations in the political allegory. It seems appropriate to leave Fai’s status indeterminate for the duration of the film. After all Fai is representative of an entire population that is indeterminate, a group of people that are scrambling to decide whether to charge into the future or to hold onto the past. Fai’s agency is rooted in the ability to choose, to mutate and compromise unlike his predetermined counterparts in the film. By having his desire undetermined and having him vacillate between Po and Chang, Wong makes Fai’s desire representative of the Hong Kong people. He represents a quest for a truth, a journey for answers to find happiness. For the majority of the film when Fai is with Po he firmly believes that a trip to Iguaçu falls will restore their relationship. He subscribes to Po’s nostalgic

Win 8 view of recapturing a happier moment to disastrous ends. But Fai’s nostalgic alignment with Po is challenged when Fai encounters Chang at the restaurant. Thus, as we will explore, it is through the drama of the film that the political is negotiated, with Fai as the ambassador for a troubled public that tests the dominant ideologies of the time period. Fai as an indeterminate figure within the allegory of Happy Together proves to be significant in that it deviates from a traditional singular reading of an allegory against a metatext. The meta-text, usually a well-known (if not then at least one that has an established beginning, middle, and end) story is represented through vehicles in the allegory to essentially retell the story in the new configuration. However this relationship between allegory and metatext is disrupted when dealing with the political allegory of Hong Kong. The issue arises from the fact that the “story” of Hong Kong’s handover back to Mainland China is still an on-going process. The complications of renegotiating an entire culture is a process not easily summed into a singular allegorical telling. The relatively free range and possibility given to the indeterminate Fai leaves him as what Jameson will refer to as a “floating reference,” a deviation from the traditional western concept of a singular meaning allegory. Being indeterminate Fai is able, “… to generate a range of distinct meanings or messages, simultaneously, as the allegorical tenor and vehicle change places…the same ‘floating’ or transferable structure of allegorical reference (Jameson 78). As Jameson notes, the ability given to Fai to exhibit multiple and even competing attitudes is not something alien to the nature of political allegories. Fai is at once aligned with Po with a desire to start over and aligned with Chang to create new experiences as he tries to negotiate different pathways to retain some happiness pre-hand over. In a bid to understand the competing feelings regarding how to negotiate the handover of Hong Kong back to Mainland

Win 9 China, Wong has utilized the “floater” referent to capture and test the competing ideologies of a culture on the cusp of witnessing the sudden mutation of their national space. Though spectator identification seems to be given to Fai and Chang, it is Po’s adamant desire to “start over” that is the dominant motif running throughout the first half of the film. Po’s constant portrayal of nostalgia, a desire to return to a happier time, to recapture a fleeting happiness remains the point of division between Po and Fai and Po and Hong Kong. Succeeding the opening passport scene the spectator is introduced to the couple in a seedy motel. Po lies on the bed and says, “Lai Yiu Fai, let’s start over.” Po’s first bit of dialogue functions in the same way as the opening passport scene. Both establish certain thematic cues that can be traced throughout the film. It is this constant desire Po has of returning to an earlier context in which he was happy with Fai that motivates the couple to stay together. There is a promise of happiness in Po’s desire that never comes to fruition. Po’s request to start over is never answered, instead Fai’s narration begins and the film acknowledges Po’s continuing desire to restart their relationship. Over the initiation of sexual intercourse Fai reveals why they are in Buenos Aires, which is due to Po’s insistence on starting over by leaving Hong Kong (a point that is key in understanding the representation of Hong Kong in the film which will later be explored). Po’s desire is grounded not in progression but in retrogression. He latches onto his nostalgia and refuses to work on going forward and rather chooses to occupy his desires with a return to the past. The opening sex scene offers a physical display of the tension that exists between Po’s nostalgia and Fai’s indeterminate status in his quest for happiness. As Helen Jok-sze Leung aptly describes the scene: “an anxiety lurks beneath the playful sex between the lovers… The sequence establishes an emotional proximity between the personal drama of two people’s desire…and a political process that also falls short of its promise of stability.” (Leung 436) What Leung has

Win 10 described as “playful sex” is better understood as a jockeying for power between the two lovers. As both lovers embrace, they playfully “fight” against each other with each lover trying to dominate the other. In the end Po wins, a symbol of an ideological victory that aligns the “defeated” Fai with Po’s desire to recapture the past at least temporarily. However it is evident that a struggle masked under the guise of aggressive sex has been displayed. A struggle beyond the physical act signifies the friction caused by Po trying to align Fai with his desire to recapture the old Hong Kong. To expand this thread into the political allegory, the desire for a return to the Hong Kong under British rule is manifested in Po’s continual desire to “start over.” Almost like a litmus test Wong challenges Po’s desire to recapture the old Hong Kong by testing this ideology within the context of the love drama. If Po is able to happily return to an earlier context with Fai in tow than that would seem to imply that the possibility to maintain Hong Kong’s autonomy and life style under Mainland China’s rule would be plausible. In an attempt to lay out the majority of the answers in the opening moments of the film Wong challenges and defeats Po’s attempt to recapture the now mutating Hong Kong. After the combative sex scene we watch the lovers attempt to make their way to Iguaçu Falls. Fighting along the way they eventually fail in reaching the waterfall. The constant bickering and fighting of the reality is mitigated by the supposed promise of what the waterfall offers. As Fai narrates during the dystopic adventure, “We planned to see it and then go home but we lost our way.” Thus the waterfall stands as a symbol of hope for Po and Fai, a utopia to counteract the dystopia of his reality. The waterfall is meant to be the last sight before returning home, as if not reaching the waterfall means never returning home (an interesting revelation when one considers that Fai is the only one to reach the waterfall and the only one seen on his way home). The failed dystopic enterprise of the search

Win 11 for the waterfall is followed by the beautifully crafted continuous shot filmed through a blue filter of the waterfall itself. With a soft song playing and the powerful rushing of the water Iguaçu becomes the projection of a utopia. Thus as we will later see characters are linked within the political allegory to interactions with each other and with their relationships and desire for spaces as well. Po’s representative position of the individuals in Hong Kong who wish to hold onto the pre-1997 identity is the dystopic aspect of struggle in which Hong Kong citizens chase after the projection of a utopia. Wong in Happy Together objectifies this projection of utopia by concretizing this desire in the waterfalls. The term “recapturing” an older Hong Kong has been used with some frequency thus far without any real definition attached to the phrase. It is to be noted that the term used in the film is technically “starting over,” used repetitively and associated with Po. So why does Po insist on “starting over” and what does it mean in regards to the political framework in which the film operates? The desire to start over skewed by a belief in utopia is rendered problematic when one considers the ramifications of what starting over would mean. To define starting over as acknowledging the past errors with a promise to change in the future seems secondary to the idea that starting over for a Hong Kong citizen during the transition is a choice between choosing an obsolete history or a new colonial identity. If one was to understand Po and his desire to start over as meaning to forget the past and to restart from where he began with Fai then one sees the impossibility of starting over in this sense. It’s problematic because to start over by returning to the origin is impossible since the origin (Hong Kong) is in essence, culturally and politically mutated by British colonizers. Thus if one were to interpret starting over as a return to the original state, the original state is non-existent, changed forever by the forces of politics.

Win 12 The other possibility the desire of “starting over” has is a proactive step to acknowledge the errors of the past and to move forward with the promise to change. Though out of the two possible meanings of starting over this one seems to have the more positive meaning it proves to be equally impossible to attain. To acknowledge the past would mean to acknowledge the colonial identity bestowed on them while under English rule. If those seeking to “start over” in this sense have an understanding of the colonial identity then one could assume that when they start over they would shed this bestowed identity for a new one. However this desire to start over is thwarted by the machination of politics. Being a citizen of Hong Kong means that the spatial, cultural, political and even personal associations become currency that is passed along with no regard to the consequences. To start over under the given definition would mean that Hong Kong would shed the colonial identity for a completely autonomous identity. However Hong Kong is not given an opportunity to become autonomous. Removed from China’s influence during British rule, “Hong Kong Chinese are now culturally and politically quite distinct from mainlanders; two peoples separated by a common ethnicity” (Abbas 2) Hong Kong is no more Mainland Chinese than it is British. Though technically returning to Mainland China, Hong Kong appears to be so culturally removed that it seems to be re-colonized by a new imperial country rather than being reintegrated into its original country. Thus there is no starting over, no acknowledging of the colonial identity and shedding it, but rather we see Hong Kong and the people of it trading one colonial identity under a foreign power (England) for another colonial identity under another foreign power (Mainland China). There is no definitive change in the situation of the Hong Kong people trying to start over. This failure to start over is exemplified in the failing of Po and Fai to reach Iguaçu Falls in the first segment of the film and in the eventual isolation of the lovers from each other when Fai goes back to Hong Kong with Po’s passport.

Win 13 In order to comprehend the totality of reactions and concerns the film tries to address Po’s desire needs to be seen not as an isolated unit (which it has been treated thus far) but in relationship to the desire of Fai. The failed attempt to reach Iguaçu Falls eventually causes another break up between the Fai and Po with each going their separate ways. With Fai working as a doorman servicing visiting tourists and Po acting as a gay escort their paths eventually cross at the bar Fai works at. After giving Fai a watch Po shows up at Fai’s apartment on two separate occasions. Both times Po has been badly beaten, the latter assault being more ferocious than the first which requires a trip to the hospital. In the hospital, a bandaged Po states, “Lets start over.” A cut reveals the newly restored couple in a taxi with one profound difference than the preceding shot. The film thus far has been shot in black and white; however the reformation of the couple this time and for the rest of the film is now in color. The change from black and white to color marks an important shift in the allegory. Visually Wong draws the spectator’s attention to the fact that the restitution of the couple this time does not produce the same dysfunctional relationship. If the relationship was exactly the same as before there would be no need to shift to color. The immediate question becomes what has changed between the couple so drastically that warrants the shift? If one refers to the previous discussion of the opening sex scene between Po and Fai as a jockeying for ideological control and that Fai loses this battle, one sees a reversal of fortune when Po, who has been beaten, is now the “weaker” partner. Fai who has acted as the perpetual floating ideal between two rigid ideological surfaces is finally in the position to control the relationship, at least temporarily. There is neither a negotiation nor compromise in finding happiness; rather it is when Po is unable to physically sustain himself and Fai is able to exert his own agency (which will be addressed) that the allegory will develop a deeper representation of dealing with the hand over of Hong Kong.

Win 14 There is a marked proximity between Fai and Po; Fai is purposefully distant from Po and secretly happy about being able to exert control over Po’s actions. Disregarding numerous advances from Po and only acting as caretaker Fai is able to enforce his own type of agency that is not to be restricted to be one mode of meaning like Po or Chang. It seems that a level of distancing from the rigid ideologies of “starting over” (and likewise that of constant progression with Chang) is necessary to achieve happiness. In a temporally dislocated scene with low color saturation and quick cuts, that create an almost dream-like atmosphere, Fai is seen nursing the still injured Po and remarks, “…I didn’t want him to recover too quickly. Those were our happiest days.” The physical and emotional proximity seen up to this point is underscored by the fact that despite the conscious distancing, Fai knows that he likes being able to control the relationship. To read this allegorically, a possible solution to the hand over of Hong Kong seems to be a distancing of oneself from the whole enterprise. For the segment in which Po and Fai seem to “work” as a couple, it would seem that this is possible only if they completely maintain a relatively safe emotional distance from each other. Po, unable to exercise his continual quest to “start over” is subject to Fai’s own desire (if only momentarily) to maintain the distance. Fai’s answer to the situation of Hong Kong’s hand over seems too simple, a rather naïve mentality to ignore the problem until it goes away is an ideal solution rather than a pragmatic solution. However the representation of this ideal within the allegory offers another form of desire and another layer to what Fai represents within the meta-text. Thus far Fai has been aligned with Po’s desire to “start over” and now the spectator can understand him as also being representative of a desire to try to generate a distance between the libidinal and the political affairs (which according to Jameson is impossible since all third-world texts are inherently political). In a scene where Po tries to teach Fai how to dance the tango which is immediately

Win 15 replaced by a temporal and spatial disjointed “dream.” Dressed in different outfits, Po and Fai dance a seductive tango in the usually crowded kitchen alone. The temporal and spatial dislocation and dream-like ambiance of the scene offer some telling clues as to the consequences of ignoring the political machinations of Hong Kong. Unable to find narrative space within the temporal continuity within the film, an ideal world is imagined where the public and political are independent of each other. This is pure fantasy since as Laura Briggs determines in her essay “Transnationalism: A Category for Analysis,” citizens of Hong Kong are “…still fundamentally shaped by historical colonial processes, epistemologically, institutionally, and in the their processes of citizen formation.” (Briggs 629). The tango scene is forced to be situated in a temporally dislocated dream because there is no place for such an independent ideal to exist in the real politics of Hong Kong, which supports Jameson’s assertion that all third-world texts are inherently informed by political processes. The post-colonial identity of Hong Kong demands that its culture and likewise citizen’s identity be informed by the politics of the culture. The hand over of Hong Kong back to Mainland China only pushes the interrelation between cultural and national identity to the forefront of Hong Kong consciousness. Within the allegory, Wong critiques the ideal that some Hong Kong citizens might have regarding the hand over, showing that a desire to maintain independence from the machination of Hong Kong politics is futile; that any identity that is constructed in the post colonial world is at least fundamentally structured and informed by its national history and politics. The tango fantasy illustrates that any desire for a Hong Kong citizen to completely ignore the political situation of Hong Kong is ultimately living a fantasy. There is no space or time in the real world politics of Hong Kong for a citizen to tuneout, every decision and desire is informed whether consciously or unconsciously by the political sector of the culture.

Win 16 To take a momentary look back at the idea of “starting over,” whose strict ideological representation is embedded in Po’s persona and the two possible meanings that it can have (the first being to recapture a previous time already proven impossible) Wong envisions the second possibility of learning the errors of the past and moving forward and suggests that if not impossible, then it is unsuccessful. When Po is fully healed and thus regains his ability to take care of himself the combative struggle for ideological control within the relationship starts again. Thus it is when Po regains his ability to assert his own desire that the unity of the couple begins to break down. When Po is healed he disappears only to return later citing that he left to buy cigarettes. An anxious Fai in the succeeding scene appears in the apartment stacking cartons of cigarettes which Po in a fit of rage destroys. At the first glimpse of recovering, the two lovers resume their previous struggle shown in the beginning of the film, the only difference being that an empowered Fai (not only empowered by having control of the space since it is his apartment) now has the agency to hold on to his fleeting ideological idealist control over the relationship. By trying to restrict Po’s reasons to leave Fai exerts a control that inevitably falls short. To move forward in the meta-text of Hong Kong’s hand over is just to accept a new form of colonialism under Mainland China. If starting over is to be taken as beginning fresh the same mistakes of accepting colonialism and being treated as currency between nations negate this idea. Eventually after Fai steals Po’s passport, meaning he has no way of returning home if he wanted to, which prompts violence and the immediate dissolution of the couple, the apparent final blow to any alignment with a desire to “start over” is voided. Hypothetically if Po was to stay with Fai this might generate the possibility of starting over as worthwhile. However just as Hong Kong is only trading one colonial identity for a new one under Mainland China, a desire to “start over” is a cycle that repeats itself while giving the illusion of progressive movement. This moment marks

Win 17 the last time Fai is to be aligned with a desire to “start over,” an overall failing enterprise. It seems that Wong by working through the relationship of Po and Fai shows how the political and personal are bounded together and that “starting over” in any sense is a failed if not impossible venture. Though we have explored at great length the relationship between Fai and Po and their allegorical counterparts there has only been a fleeting reference to the third main character in the film that unlike Po is given narrative space in Happy Together. As the relationship between Fai and Po begins to disintegrate, Fai picks up a job as a cook in a Chinese restaurant befriending fellow employee Chang in the process. At times disconnected and at other times acutely aware of his surroundings Chang is eventually given reign over the narrative space in the film when Po disappears following the loss of his passport. By understanding Chang’s function not only in the film but in the political meta-text as well, we are given another possible reaction on how to handle the handover of Hong Kong to Mainland China. Chang’s most striking difference to the drama thus far is that he is Taiwanese rather than a Hong Kong citizen which by itself offers an entirely new unexplored region of politics in the film. It is worthwhile to take a brief moment to understand the historical significance of utilizing a non-Hong Kong citizen to address the issues surrounding the handover. A political entity considering itself different than China, tensions have continually risen between Taiwan (which wishes to stay an independent state) and Mainland China which refuses to acknowledge the independence of Taiwan and has a standing threat of military action on the formal announcement of independence. So the question becomes why Wong introduces a seemingly separate political issue in the already convoluted allegory of Hong Kong? The relationship between Taiwan and Hong Kong can be seen as being similar since it is Mainland China that is imposing an

Win 18 imperialist right over both these “countries”. Consisting of historically Mainland Chinese who fled during the Revolution in China, Mainland China is reserving the right to force Taiwanese citizens into a similar situation that Hong Kong is in. As T.Y. Wang and I-Chou Liu note in their essay “Contending Identities in Taiwan,” Mainland China views Taiwan as a, “local government under Beijing command, like Hong Kong and Macao, but one that will enjoy a high degree of autonomy.” (568) There is a clear indication that the relationship between Hong Kong and Taiwan goes beyond the ethnic population in their country. Both Taiwan and Hong Kong are situated in a tense and messy relationship with Mainland China. Wong utilizes Chang’s character almost as a precedent to show that the situation of Hong Kong is not an isolated incident but rather the latest nation-state to be stuck in this national conundrum. Chang’s narrative insertion into the film is far from arbitrary and reflects a binary opposite to Po’s ideological desire to start over via his desire to move forward. It is with the arrival of Chang in the film that the film creates a shift in tone, if we characterize the constant bickering and violence of Fai and Po’s relationship as a downward spiral we see the binary opposite in the platonic relationship of Fai and Chang. Though Chang’s most obvious difference is being Taiwanese, his secondary difference is an insistence (one that Wong makes very clear in the succeeding scenes) on listening as a means for finding the truth instead of seeing. After a night at the restaurant Fai and Chang have drinks at a local bar in which Chang says to Fai, “You can pretend to look happy but your voice reveals the truth…Just like you voice now shows you’re not happy.” This very particular character trait stands out in a film that has thus far centered on talking, predominantly arguing. Chang offers a tremendous amount of insight pertaining to the lives of others. Fai is lost in a bubble trying to negotiate his own feelings regarding the handover and Po is never given the opportunity to voice his own

Win 19 opinion. It is Chang’s insight into listening and understanding that sets not only his character but his allegorical counterpart of Taiwan as a precedent to the situation of Fai and the problem facing Hong Kong. His insight correctly assumes the façade of happiness that Fai has and is able to pinpoint through listening that underneath the façade is turmoil. Given an air of authority that surpasses the often-times mislead Fai, Chang’s introduction into the film is characterized by a tone of authority and truth that has till this point remained absent in the film. Though Chang and Fai are representative of different nation-states in similar predicaments it is obvious that there is a monumental divide between the attitudes that both of them have. In a narrative voice-over after a soccer game Fai notes that, “Chang has one of the liveliest voices of all of us.” This statement by Fai seems to be contradictory to what has been discussed so far. If Fai and Chang are allegorical counterparts subject to the same national dilemma it would seem appropriate that both characters be as haunted and downtrodden as Fai is. The answer to Chang’s ability to remain the liveliest voice and the happiest character in the entire film might be found if one takes a step back to recognize that the situation in Taiwan is different by a few degrees from that in Hong Kong. If we can recognize Hong Kong and Taiwan on the same continuum then we understand Taiwan as being further along on this continuum compared to Hong Kong. Taiwan has been historically under threat of annexation from Mainland China since its declaration of autonomy and some may argue before this. This independent native Taiwanese identity has developed and has become relatively sedentary compared to the still in flux Hong Kong. Taiwan and Hong Kong though still under the same threat of Mainland China can be seen as residing in two different phases of this continuum with Hong Kong scrambling for identity and stability while Taiwan given time has had the opportunity to find and develop an identity; an identity that gives its citizens the pretense of nationhood and of home.

Win 20 If Taiwan and Hong Kong are subject to the same imperial situation but belonging to two different locations on the continuum it is clear why Chang would be different from Fai since their allegorical counterparts are essentially different. This difference manifests itself in Happy Together as a level of happiness that can be gauged in each character. Wong inserts the character of Chang into the drama of Happy Together purposefully not only to draw on precedence to the situation of Hong Kong but as a plot device as well. The relationship between Chang and Fai is never fully explained in the film but rather left to interpretation. The only clue in the film is given when Chang refuses a date with a female coworker but does not refuse to go to the bar with Fai. This clue however does not warrant any justification to assume the sexual orientation or the relationship status of Chang. Though the spectator is never given a clear definition of the relationship between Chang and Fai, this non-explained relationship is arguably the reasoning for Fai returning home. It is Chang’s positive attitude even though in a similar situation to Fai that convinces him to return home. When Fai returns to Asia, with a brief stay in Taiwan before heading home to Hong Kong he eats at Chang’s family restaurant and upon recognizing a picture of Chang at the lighthouse says, “I didn’t see Chang but I saw his family. I finally understood how he could be happy running around so free.” If one could extrapolate the meaning behind Chang’s function in the film it would seem to say that even though Hong Kong is in flux and scrambling for identity, eventually the national situation will settle like Taiwan and likewise happiness can be negotiated. It is when Fai visits Taiwan and sees Chang’s family (both of which represent stability for Chang) can he realize how someone can be happy, and thus the spectator is able to understand the function of Chang in the drama. This argument about a continuum of time in which Taiwan and Hong Kong both sit on can be seen through Wong’s persistent shots of clocks around Buenos Aires that punctuate the

Win 21 film’s narrative. A high shot of a busy street is dominated in the foreground by a clock which is sped through in the film showing a very long period of time. The significance of time in Happy Together as a methodology to cure the prevalent unhappiness in the protagonist is introduced when Chang and Fai eventually part ways. The answer given by Chang is that time will settle the national situation of Hong Kong like it has settled the situation (though not entirely) of Taiwan. A film that in its meta-text has been preoccupied with the concerns of Hong Kong’s handover is given a remedy that seems banal in light of the drama when Chang’s character is inserted into the film. There seems to be no solution to the problem of Hong Kong’s handover and the implications of that handover. The only thing Fai can do is let time settle the issues that might arise. Given the language used thus far, it would seem that Happy Together is a film that tries to understand the politics of Hong Kong via the drama set in Buenos Aires. This assertion seems true however it would be wrong to believe that Hong Kong is completely absent from the film. In a scene after Fai has begun working in a slaughterhouse he is seated in his room and asks: “I wonder how Hong Kong looks upside down…” This question is followed by an upside down tracking shot through the seats of Hong Kong. The space of Hong Kong is present in the film but is shown in an uninhabitable manner. The tracking shots through the streets of Hong Kong show only road signs and buildings. Hong Kong as a place seen through the upside down tracking shots seems to be a land that is absent of people. So why does Wong rupture the continuity of the film in order to show the space of Hong Kong? Moreover why is the space of Hong Kong shown in a manner that indicates there are no citizens living there? The answers to these questions can be found if we understand why the politics of Hong Kong are displaced in the first place. If we are to understand Hong Kong as in the process of a major culture shift during the handover; it

Win 22 can be concluded that as Hong Kong goes through the change the culture of Hong Kong temporally does not exist. Hong Kong being in flux is in a state of becoming and logically there are two states that something can be in, that is an object is either in a state of becoming or in a state of being. Since Hong Kong is in the process of changing (or becoming) the culture of Hong Kong cannot simultaneously exist (be). Hong Kong is thus shown in a manner that is absent of people because the space of Hong Kong during the handover can be understood as being two dimensional, existing only in name and as currency instead of an inhabitable three dimensional world. The Iguaçu waterfall was first introduced as the physical projection of Po and Fai’s desire in Happy Together; however its significance is relegated into the background during Chang’s involvement in the drama. When Chang and Fai eventually part ways Fai ventures to Iguaçu falls alone and eventually arrives standing wet under the cascading waters saying, “I lose my way and wander around for awhile but I finally make it to Iguaçu. I feel very sad. I feel there should be two of us standing here.” The waterfall has been represented as the physical landscape that would restore Po and Fai to their happiness, a simple equation set out in the opening in the film that equates Iguaçu with happiness. However when arriving, when achieving that desire that was marked in the opening of the film Fai notes how he feels sad. The desire projected onto the waterfall fails to meet the expectations Fai has; instead of happiness he can only feel sadness. The entire enterprise of going to waterfalls seems to have been doomed from the start. This projection of desire has proved to be delusion. The key to happiness might not be spatial but rather is temporal. Chang’s answer to find happiness (time) is strengthened when Fai dips his hand back into spatial desire that is associated with Po and is disappointed. Hence after realizing

Win 23 the façade of Iguaçu the succeeding scene with Fai locates him back in Asia on his way home to Hong Kong. Before we can deal with Fai back in Asia however the spectator is given one last sequence narrated by Chang who has reached the lighthouse, his location of desire, and a place where heartbroken people go to leave their happiness behind. Filmed with circular shots the spectator finds out that Chang reaches the lighthouse in January of 1997 and that when he arrives, he plays the recording of Fai’s voice, which only plays the sounds of what he deems a man crying. The significance of this scene is two-fold. One being that Chang arrives at the lighthouse before the handover of Hong Kong to China and that when he finally arrives at his location of desire he notes, “Suddenly I feel like going home. Even though home is far away.” The significance on time that Wong inserts, stressing that Chang arrives before the handover of Hong Kong. By having Chang arrive before the handover to leave Fai’s unhappiness behind it sets up the second sequence of the ending when we see Fai back in Asia on his way home. There has been some validation of what the lighthouse is meant to do. Leaving Fai’s unhappiness behind, Fai seems to be able to move forward and actually make his way back home. The latter of the two points seems to be another flaw in the spatialization of desire that we saw when Fai arrived at the waterfalls. Chang’s arrival at the lighthouse provides no other emotion than a return to the familiar, Taiwan. The significance of the lighthouse and likewise the waterfall produces none of the emotional satisfaction that has been built throughout Happy Together. The achievement of these spatial desires prompts a desire to return home for both characters. Fai, having his unhappiness left behind at the lighthouse courtesy of Chang, embarks on his journey home but makes a temporary layover in Taipei, Taiwan. Again there is a two-fold significance in the Taiwan sequence, one being that Fai is back in Asia and will presumably be

Win 24 back in Hong Kong before the handover (he arrives in Taiwan on February 20 1997) and the

second being that he visits Chang’s family restaurant while he is staying there. There has been some closure in the sense that the looming dread of Hong Kong’s handover to Mainland China has been mitigated with Chang’s solution to allow time to take its course. Thus the exact time of the hand over and the implications of the hand over culturally and politically are not as important as once stressed in the meta-text. Fai visiting Chang’s family restaurant is a link that is formed that associates the familial with the national. Fai going home means not only dealing with the problems of the handover but also dealing with his father. However seeing Chang’s family restaurant he sees a functional family and a picture of Chang standing by the lighthouse hanging by a telephone. The familial unit is able to function under the threat of annexation, giving a sense of hope to Hong Kongers who fear the same. Though it seems there has been a preoccupation with deeming Chang’s answer to allow time to take its course to settle the problems of annexation by Mainland China it is important to note that the ending of the film is ambiguous on whether Fai ever reaches Hong Kong. Fai climbs onto the train which proceeds to move through a city, however the spectator is never given any clues as to whether he is in Hong Kong or still in Taiwan. This open ending shows that even though Chang seems to appear happy and free though under the threat of being annexed by Mainland China, it is impossible for Fai to be truly content with Chang’s solution because Taiwan’s political situation is open ended. Taiwan’s pro-independence stance leaves the country in limbo, a temporary state that is never resolved. Hong Kong will eventually reach a point that will diverge from the position of Taiwan however. There is no governing body of Hong Kong to declare independence from Mainland China as there is in Taiwan. Wong understanding the significance of Taiwan inserts Chang’s narrative ideology into the film to offer an example of

Win 25 how a specific culture negotiated the threat of annexation. However one could contend that given Taiwan’s still unsolved autonomy his narrative thread is incomplete, which is a crucial and valid point. Again even though Chang’s solution can inspire Fai to return home, the mechanics of the film will not show him actually arriving in Hong Kong, at least not blatantly. For Fai to arrive home would be a complete alignment with Chang’s ideological solution, which is impossible due to an open ended lifestyle that the Taiwanese have in relationship to Mainland China. Po is left in Argentina without a passport, Chang reaches the lighthouse which ultimately proves to elicit a different reaction then expected and Fai is never clearly located in Hong Kong. If Wong is trying to negotiate the handover of Hong Kong to Mainland China through Happy Together, it seems that the film is preoccupied in recognizing the complications and raising more questions then giving any definite answers. The film as an allegory is thus read not as a solution manual to the problem but rather a tool to concretize the political situation of Hong Kong in libidinal terms (making it possibly easier to digest by the public). Created amidst the handover of Hong Kong to Mainland China it is only right for Wong to leave the film open ended with no solutions. Any answers that Wong might have given in Happy Together would have been pure speculation since the actual political drama of the handover was still an ongoing problem. The allegory of Happy Together does not have the luxury of telling a political story in hindsight. Rather than telling an established political story Happy Together is working through the political situation as it is unfolding in real time. Wong navigates, without offering any answers, the terrain of Hong Kong politics by mapping out allegorically the relationship of Happy Together’s characters in relation to each other and their desires in relation to spaces.

Win 26 Bibliography Abbas, Ackbar. Hong Kong: Culture and the politics of Disappearance. Minnesota: University of the Minnesota Press, 2008. Abbas, Akbar. “Cosmopolitan De-scriptions: Shanghai and Hong Kong” Public Culture 12(3): 769-786. Duke University Press, 2000 Ahmad, Aijaz. “Jameson's Rhetoric of Otherness and the ‘National Allegory’" Social Text, No. 17 (Autumn, 1987), pp. 3-25. Duke University Press, 1987 Chow, Rey. Primitive Passions: Visualitity, Sexuality, Ethnography, and Contemporary Chinese Cinema. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995 Hsiao-peng Lu, Sheldon. Transnational Chinese Cinemas: Identity, Nationhood, Gender. Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 1997 Jameson, Fredric. “Third-World Literature in the Era of Multinational Capitalism” Social Text, No. 15 (Autumn, 1986), pp. 65-88. Duke University Press 1986 Leung, Helen Hok-Sze. “Queerscapes in Contemporary Hong Kong Cinema’” Duke of University Press, 2001 Li, Kay. “Performing the Globalized City: Contemporary Hong Kong Theatre and Global Connectivity” Asian Theatre Journal, vol. 24, no.2 (Fall 2007) University of Hawai’i Press, 2007 Niou, Emerson M.S.. “Understanding Taiwan Independence and Its Policy Implications” Asian Survey, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Jul. - Aug., 2004), pp. 555-567. University of California Press, 2004 Pellarolo, Sirena. “Queering Tango: Glitches in the Hetero-National Matrix of a Liminal Cultural Production” Theatre Journal 60 (2008) 409-431. The John Hopkins University Press, 2008 Rosen, Philip. Narrative, Apparatus, Ideology: A Film Theory Reader. “Narrative Space” New York: Columbia University Press, 1986 Siu, Lok. “Diasporic Cultural Citizenship: Chinese and Belonging in Central America and Panama” Social Text 69, Vol. 19, No. 4, Winter 2001. Duke University Press, 2001 Wang, T.Y., Liu, I-Chou. “Contending Identities in Taiwan Implications for Cross-Strait Relations” Asian Survey, Vol. 44, No. 4 (Jul. - Aug., 2004), pp. 568-590. University of California Press, 2004 Wanning, Sun. “Media and the Chinese Diaspora: Community, Consumption and Transnational Imagination” Journal of Chinese Overseas 1,1 (May 2005): 65-86 Yau, Ka-Fai. “3rdness: Filming, Changing, Thinking Hong Kong” Duke University Press 2001

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