I have already told you that I often find myself becoming Tony Leung’s character in Happy Together. I too have a desperate and unhappy love, but in my life Leslie Cheung’s character is played by something else, which you already know and which snickers at description as Leslie Cheung snickers often at Tony Leung throughout the film; a snicker which promises suffering and orgasm or suffering and orgasm; and also love, which sneaks into the snicker without even Leslie Cheung really being aware of it, although I think Tony Leung is aware of it.
Tony Leung’s character is named Lai Yiu-fai and Leslie Cheung’s character is named Ho Po-wing, but I never call them or myself by those names.
My life has taken up where the film left off and I have married Chang Chen’s character, who is also named Chang. Chang and Tony Leung work together in the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant in Buenos Aires. People often say Wong Kar-wai is a romantic filmmaker and that is true, but I think he is a great filmmaker of labor and in particular illegal labor and the service industry.
You never know for sure if Chang is gay. What you know is that he had eye problems in his youth and so cultivated a practice of listening to people in a supernatural or super-sensitive way. Even after a surgical procedure restored his eyesight, he says, he never lost the habit of listening.
Chang is from Taiwan and speaks Taiwanese while Tony Leung speaks Cantonese (incidentally one of the most beautiful dialects in cinema—not Cantonese itself, but Tony Leung’s Cantonese).
Chang is gentle and it is easy to think that he is naïve, but I find I am most attracted to people who seem naïve and then puncture you with the pureness of spirit and gesture that is the blood of the best naïveté. These people are quite dangerous because you fall in love with them and are happy.
You on the other hand which is my hand are not naïve, but you know this and I am not punishing you for it. This has all happened in spite of what I say, so you know very well that I can be attracted to what I am not most attracted to.
Chang walks around the film moving his head slightly from side to side as if he is listening to a song through invisible earphones. Whatever the song, it is definitely not “Happy Together” by The Turtles, or the cover by Daniel Chung which is the one that we actually hear during the credits.
It pleases me that Chang seems to be listening to something else; the way it pleases me that the only time we hear “Happy Together” in the film, it is a cover. The way Buenos Aires in the film is like a cover of Buenos Aires by an already-forgotten Cantopop singer. Buenos Aires in the film is shrunk down to the size of a bodily organ and only lovesick migrants live in it.
The way Wong Kar-wai writes over Buenos Aires, and the way he writes over Frank Zappa. There are, I think, two Frank Zappa songs in the film and, if I remember correctly, wasn’t Zappa accused of being a homophobe at some point? I don’t know him or his music that well.
It pleases me that the songs might be used with a tense vengeful grin, like how when you are angry at me for reasons I deserve entirely you pinch my face too hard and say hey good-looking.
Chang also has tiny sabotaging gestures, like when Leslie Cheung calls Tony Leung at work and Tony Leung puts the phone down for a moment to attend to some kitchen task; Chang wanders over and picks up the phone to say Hello? all cheekily as if he did not already know that Tony Leung’s lover was on the line.
Eros limb-loosener mind-masterer will-subduer your sense of justice is inimitable.
Happy Together was Chang Chen’s first film. He played a similar character in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; a desert bandit whose fidelity and purity of motive both attracts and weighs heavily on Zhang Ziyi’s character, who is not ready to be loved so perfectly.
I fell in love and married that character, too. So I have been married to Chang Chen twice.
The desert bandit, the one who walks away singing while you are taking a bath so you know where his body is.
(Takeshi Kaneshiro does the same thing to Zhang Ziyi, in Zhang Yimou’s House of Flying Daggers, a film that you know I did not care for upon first viewing, but I am prepared to revisit my sentencing.
Takeshi Kaneshiro does not sing, but flicks his sword to make a clanging sound. This time too, he walks away so Zhang Ziyi can take a bath.
Afterwards Zhang Ziyi dresses in men’s clothes and Takeshi Kaneshiro is visibly more aroused by her in this guise.
For a long time there have been rumors that Takeshi Kaneshiro is gay. I am never Takeshi Kaneshiro.)
Now that I think about it, Chang Chen played a similar character again in Hou Hsiao-Hsien’s Three Times! Especially in the contemporary section of the film, when he falls in love with a young epileptic woman who already has a girlfriend.
I don’t know if I married this Chang Chen; or maybe by then we were already married and I was watching yet another version of how we happened.
I know you do not want to hear about Chang Chen and I also know that the misery I give you is arousing, so let’s keep your hands where I can see them though I cannot see them will not see them ever ever.
In Days of Being Wild, Leslie Cheung goes to the Philippines to find his long-lost mother, a Filipina aristocrat whom he never meets and who gazes at his departing body from the window of her mansion. Leslie Cheung does not sing or flick a sword as he leaves.
I know what you want to say, but we are not going to talk about my father today and I am not Leslie Cheung but Tony Leung, remember.
Although to be truthful, I sometimes think I am Leslie Cheung. I used to have a dream of acting in a film with Maggie Cheung in which I play the child she might have had with Leslie Cheung in Days of Being Wild.
In our conversations she speaks to me in Cantonese and heavily accented French, which is based on her French in the film Clean, and I reply in perfect Parisian French.
Let’s keep those hands where I can see them where I can see them where can I see them.
In this film I am somewhat in love with Maggie Cheung who is my mother, because I am not really my father’s child but a reincarnation of my father Leslie Cheung, and I think Maggie Cheung knows this and loves me with a great wild fear because of this. She is afraid I too will run away to find a long-lost aristocratic parent, she is afraid I too will tease and then destroy her heart.
Sometimes it is a film in which an old friend of Maggie Cheung’s from Hong Kong comes to stay in our apartment in Paris for murky political reasons. I am very irritated with this friend from Hong Kong who speaks no French and with whom I have to reveal the poorness of my English.
I have known since the beginning what kind of person you are and are not and what kind of person I am and am not, and yet these words write themselves like children who insist on picking the clothes they will wear to bury their loved ones.
Always picking badly, inappropriately.
I think I sleep with this friend from Hong Kong eventually. Certainly we will have no meaningful conversations, but when Maggie Cheung insists with uncharacteristic breeziness that we have dinner together at a nearby Chinese restaurant, which has played an important role in the film so far, we will glance at each other in conspiracy.
The friend from Hong Kong and I will sleep with each other that night and never again, and in the next scene I will run away from Paris to find my father who is me in me who is.
I do not think the friend leaves Paris to chase after me. But I expected this and do not consider it an indication of cowardice or deficiency of passion. Though in one scene I am weeping for no obvious reason.
The questions arrive with or after their answers or never do. Whose name shall I call? How many maladies have made their home here? Where are your hands? Love, why do you work within me this way? I don’t know who plays the friend from Hong Kong. The film goes on after that.