This is the sixth film from Hong Kong arthouse director Wong Kar-Wai, and the one that netted him the Best Director award at Cannes in 1997. Wong takes two of Hong Kong cinema’s most handsome leading men to South America for a story of love lost and love endured. The script is partially based on The Buenos Aires Affair, by author Manuel Puig, whose non-linear narrative techniques were a seminal inspiration to Wong’s development as a film-maker and storyteller.
Lai Yiu-Fai (Tony Leung Chiu-Wai) and Ho Po-Wing (Leslie Cheung Kwok-Wing) move from Hong Kong to Buenos Aires to start over. The film opens with them making love in a fashion at once tender and desperate, and soon enough they break up again over an aborted road trip to see the famous Iguazu Falls. Lai goes to work as a doorman at a tango bar, and must endure the sight of Ho coming and going most nights with a different man. However, when Ho is badly beaten, Lai takes him in. The two start over again, with inevitable results. As Lai sums it up, “I had no regrets until I met you. Now my regrets could kill me.”
It’s a beautiful and mesmeric film. Australian-born Christopher Doyle’s cinematography is exquisite, and uses a wide mix of mediums, from black-and-white to video to 16mm to grainy colour to still frames and back again. It sounds messy, but the result draws you effortlessly into the misfiring emotions of Lai and Ho’s world, so much so that after a while you fail to notice exactly when the colour comes and goes.
There’s not a great deal of plot, which is the point; humans are unpredictable creatures, particularly in love, and life rarely runs neatly. It leaves the actors plenty of space, and Tony Leung picked up the Best Actor award at the 1998 Hong Kong Film Awards. His character’s journey defines the film, and it’s ultimately a hopeful one. The credits roll to the tune of the Turtles song “Happy Together”, and you’ll be still humming it for weeks afterward.