So Happy Together
The first time I ever watched Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together was with my now ex-lover.
If you haven’t seen Happy Together, then this is all that I will tell you: It is one of the first films in history to explore the queer relationship between two Asian men. They lived together in Argentina, having travelled the world in hopes of seeing the great Iguazu falls.
There’s so much to unpack when it comes to Asian male sexuality, let alone queer Asian male sexuality, and yet there is so little content within media that allows us to do so. This film was a milestone for queer and Asian communities, because not only did it showcase a queer Asian couple, but it also discussed the realities of the toxicities within those relationships — no campy cliches, no over-enthusiastic flamboyancy, no tropes. Just two people in love, but not knowing how to be.
It was toxic, tragic, painful and addictive the whole way through — just like many relationships can be.
The first time I watched this movie I watched it with my first love. Our relationship was a continuous and repetitive cycle of the push and pull of intoxication. Every day there was a promise for a new beginning, and yet, as each day progressed, it would end the same way: in tears and miscommunication, only to fall asleep in each others’ arms, breathing heavily with the weight of resentment.
The two lovers in the film played by Leslie Cheung (RIP) and Tony Leung Chiu-wai were contentious and abusive to each other. Whatever their intentions may have been, even in scenes of their own private reflection, they were never expressed with kindness. It seemed so familiar — I had seen this all before.
And as my lover and I watched it in painful silence, seeing the couple mirror us, I began to weep. They told me that they related to Leslie’s character, and I told them I related to Tony’s. And there we were, sitting there, recognizing our own pain and our own behavior and not knowing what to do about it but also not being able to look away.
Two months later, we broke up, which was only the beginning of turbulent on-and-offs — going back and forth to each other, demanding explanations, closure, faithfulness and everything else we had no energy to give. We wanted to be happy together, but how can you force something you simply cannot know?
The next time I watched Happy Together was about two years later. I’m in Virginia with my beloved friends. We are a group of queer kids, who live in New York, who wanted to visit our friend for the weekend. We had laughed so hard with the fullness of our stomachs, our bellies were already stuffed with hotpot, and so we were starting to retreat into our comas.
The colors were especially bright this time, and I noticed now the things I hadn’t before. The second time you watch a film, you not only notice the sharp details, but you pay attention to the arching tones of voice; you can close your eyes for a second and distinguish different emotions. Wong Kar-wai mastered capturing the palpable tension between the couple so aptly, and with that I could feel exactly what they were feeling all over again.
This time, I wasn’t enveloped by the warmth of a body; this time I was slouched on the couch with my beloved friends. And though we were usually in such high spirits with one another, we were silent. I could tell we were all deeply reflective of our own relationships, our past lovers, our queerness and why and how we can treat each other so poorly sometimes.
Whatever perspectives and realities were playing in our heads, I know I felt connected to them. I had not known them for that long, but the moment we met I knew we were meant to know each other forever. From that point onwards, it was a connection that made sense — QTPOC from all over the world attract each other, and we pledge to help each other feel safe. And so I thought, in this completely new version of setting and company,
what does it mean
to be happy together?
I have become so much better at seeking love, at recognizing it in its truest forms. But a platonic love that nourishes, a familial love that is chosen, a different kind of love than that we witnessed on the screen and that I experienced two years before.
I have found love in feeding my friends, in tender moments that come without expectation and explanation, in experiencing the world together and sharing our pain with one another. I was still in love with the person from two years ago, and so the film hurt in both new and familiar ways, and I vocalized that to my friends around me, and they held me till the film ended.
We were not joking or laughing like we usually did, but the silence was not stiff like the first time. I started to allow the phrase “happy together” to roll around my head like a pearl. I repeated it over and over again, redefining and re-understanding. I felt comfort in the fact that we were all reflecting, sharing a moment of vulnerability, embracing and being proud of our queerness and allowing ourselves to grieve what we had lost or could never have.
Our own versions of happy together turned into a shared comfort, a moment of union, the ability to laugh and to also cry. We were now together,
so far from what I thought it meant the first time,
and so precious the second time around.
About Mimi Zhu
Mimi Zhu is a 24-year-old Chinese-Australian person who cries to Mitski one second, and turns up to Rico Nasty the next. They are a writer, musician and actor based in Brooklyn, NY and have lived in the Bay Area, Japan, India and Australia. Their Gemini mind makes it impossible for them to stop thinking, and so they write to explore race, identity, queerness, and all the things we should be talking about.