This is different from what I usually write so I’m not going to pull any punches about it. My name is Harris Dang. And I used to be a homophobe. You’re probably wondering why I would be declaring such a controversial fact about myself at this time but seeing how we’re living in a time where political correctness has become a blessing and a curse for many of us, I thought it would be the right time to talk about parts from my past that had changed my life, opened my eyes and had made me a better person, thanks to a single film.
It is often said that people fear what they don’t understand, and in my case, it wasn’t just fear, but often denial and even outright anger. I remember at an early age, my friends (who shall remain nameless) and I had watched the Robin Williams film called The Birdcage, which many film-goers know, is a story about a gay couple who have to help their son and his fiance get the approval of the fiance’s conservative parents of marriage.
Right after watching it on VHS, we were impersonating as well as ridiculing the gay characters on-screen to the point that we were calling each other gay, as if it was the biggest insult that we’ve ever heard. Now this is where it gets controversial as one of my friends had mentioned a pact that during our friendship, if one of us outs himself and the others would know, they have the privilege to beat him to death. And to my great and long-lasting shame, regardless of whether it was seen a joke, I agreed to it in less than a second.
The pact was always brought up whenever we saw something that had a gay person in it, and it just made me angrier and angrier. Even without the mention of the pact, noticing any sense of what I perceived as “gay” had a hold on me. Like times when I was seeing an episode of The Simpsons or noticing any sense of supposed flamboyancy, it really got on my nerves. I’ve gotten into arguments over family members, friends and even made bad impressions to people on the street.
It was then, through high school, where I had reached breaking point. It was when the Ang Lee film Brokeback Mountain had came out and people were raving about it and I had an argument with my then-girlfriend about whether I wanted to see it. I had said incredibly stupid and hateful things like seeing two men together is just plain wrong and worst of all, any one who likes gay people are fucking idiots. Just typing it out leaves me in disbelief. I had become poisonous to everyone around me and I finally became incredibly tired and alone.
My only solace was watching movies. Lots and lots of them. I had barely gone out with my friends; just going to school and then straight home. I watched lots of foreign movies and had particularly gained an interest in Japanese cinema (thanks to Hana and Alice). It was one time when my then-girlfriend had brought me a CD with a movie in it and she told me to watch it, without saying anything about it.
I started watching it, and it featured two of my favourite Hong Kong actors in a setting that was different that I expected from a Hong Kong film. The soundtrack was alluring, the cinematography was rich in colour and the acting was realistic that I started relating to them quite easily. And by the end of the film, without any restraint, I burst into tears. And that film was Wong Kar-wai’s Happy Together.
Throughout the film, we see the relationship between the characters, played by Tony Leung Chiu-wai and Leslie Cheung, fall in and out of love, and I started to think that the characters are just like people in the real world; people with wants and needs, fortunes and misfortunes and flaws. The way that Wong shows the passage of time in the film (the jump-cuts, the slow-motion, the changes in frame rate, the long takes) is so well-done, that I honestly felt the film was the longest film experience I’ve witnessed. And I mean it in the best possible way. The scene where Fai and Wing are dancing in the kitchen is a perfect example of love and tenderness that you wish that it’ll never end.
I learned from the film that if one person can have a relationship with another with this much brimming emotion and heart, that it cannot possibly be bad. It was a bit tough going from then on, handling a few misunderstandings, mending relationships and also losing a few friends in the process. People had asked Wong Kar-wai about the meaning of the title and he had said that the title can be related to one’s self and his/her past. And that is definitely how I feel. I am happy about myself and I am definitely happy about my past because without it, I can’t be the more enlightened person that I am today.
On another note that isn’t about me, it really is amazing to see films of similar thematic power to Happy Together like Moonlight, The Handmaiden and Call Me by Your Name coming out in cinemas this year and to sound really preachy, I really hope that those films will have an impact on cinema-goers who are going through what I have gone through. It’s time to hang up the hate, people. It’s incredibly exhausting.