World of Wong Kar Wai
With his lush and sensual visuals, pitch-perfect soundtracks, and soulful romanticism, Wong Kar Wai has established himself as one of the defining auteurs of contemporary cinema. Joined by such key collaborators as cinematographer Christopher Doyle; editor and production and costume designer William Chang Suk Ping; and actors Tony Leung Chiu Wai and Maggie Cheung Man Yuk, Wong (or WKW, as he is often known) has written and directed films that have enraptured audiences and critics worldwide and inspired countless other filmmakers with their poetic moods and music, narrative and stylistic daring, and potent themes of alienation and memory. Whether they’re tragically romantic, soaked in blood, or quirkily comedic, the seven films collected here are an invitation into the unique and wistful world of a deeply influential artist.
Disc 5 of Criterion’s World of Wong Kar Wai box set presents 1997’s Happy Together in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1 on a dual-layer disc. The 1080p/24hz high-definition encode is sourced from a new 4K restoration, which was scanned from the 35mm original negative.
As with other films in the set there have been alterations to this one, though in this case it sounds as though they came about due to unfortunate circumstances: according to Wong, portions of the original negative were lost in a fire in 2019. He claims that while a lot of the footage could be saved, he had to shorten some of the monologues spoken by Leung’s character due to the audio missing. I'll take his word for it, but I’m not sure why Wong and crew couldn’t go to another source for any other missing footage or even an older DVD or Blu-ray for the audio.
I hadn’t seen this film prior to going through this set, so I can’t speak as to how the changes impact the film itself, but at the very least it doesn't appear to impact the disc's presentation directly. It does have a nice photographic look most of the time, rendering grain remarkably well during its best moments, allowing it to cleanly deliver the finer details with little effort. There are a number of rather breathtaking shots in the film, like those around Iguazu falls, and they’re rendered gorgeously with a wonderful film texture. The restoration work has also cleaned things up spectacularly, nothing all that notable ever popping up in relation to damage.
There are moments throughout the film that can have a more processed look, most of which seem to be centralized around sequences in the apartment of the two characters. Grain looks to have been managed a bit more and these sequences end having a waxier texture compared to how a majority of the film looks. The green tint is there, though it’s pretty mild compared something like the new restoration of Days of Being Wild. It can vary from scene to scene, with some having a heavier monochromatic look compared to others, but I have no doubt this is all intentional. The tint, at the very least, doesn’t impact black levels, and the black-and-white sequences never take on the tint. Contrast and grayscale are also clean in the black-and-white sequences, the grays blending nicely.
Some questionable things scattered about but I was pleased with the results.
The sound design to the film has some great surprises and it’s all rendered beautifully in the included DTS-HD MA 5.1 surround soundtrack. Dialogue sounds clear and sharp while street effects nicely envelope the viewer, as do the screaming crowds at the horse races. The film's music is very dynamic and fills out the environment wonderfully. Even the scenes in the apartment have a nice, natural-sounding echo at times. But the sequences around Iguazu falls are absolute knockouts, placing the viewer squarely there. You can hear the water rushing by and crashing below, the bass from the lower frequency completing the illusion without over doing it. It’s an absolutely wonderful audio track that has moments that I would consider demo-worthy for a sound system. Not something I would have expected for what feels like a very quiet, reflective film.
The set's supplements are really leaving a lot to be desired as I go through it, but thankfully Happy Together provides one of the set's strongest features: the 61-minute “making-of” documentary Buenos Aires Zero Degree, which looks to be available on most previous releases for the film. Calling it a “making-of” doesn’t really do it justice, though. Yes, it covers the things you’d expect from a general making-of through interviews with cast and crew members all recalling the production, but this makes up a very tiny portion of it. A lot of the documentary is made up of deleted footage (and there is a lot) and it gives a preview around the various different iterations of the film. There’s an early note from Wong that he had his characters and location planned out, but didn’t really know where to take the story. Through this deleted footage we see a few alternate storylines (like Leung going to Argentina to find his late father’s lover), entirely new characters (Shirley Kwan had a big part at one point, though she was eventually cut out), and additional subplots. It also looks like the film could have taken a path similar to Wong’s previous two films, where we would have had two entirely different plots running through the film (Chen Chang’s character has a whole other storyline). Through all of this we get to see Wong’s thought process and how he shapes and plans his films, literally making them up as he goes. In this case, it also seems the longer they stayed in Argentina and the more familiar they became with the people and the location, the more it all changed the film.
It’s an absolutely incredible and fascinating documentary, which I wholly recommend watching if you haven’t seen it yet. And it's a good thing it's such a strong feature all on its own: a trailer for the new restoration is the only other supplement to be found on this disc.
The disc features a solid presentation for the film and one of the set’s strongest supplements.