Wong Kar-wai’s celebrated romantic comedy follows two gay men from Hong Kong, Ho Po-wing and Lai Yiu-fai, as they move to Argentina to try and save their ailing relationship. The film won wide critical acclaim when it was first seen at the 1997 Cannes Film Festival. Wong won the award for Best Director and the film narrowly missed out on the prestigious Palme D’Or, which was eventually split between two films, Iran’s A Taste Of Cherry and The Eel from Japan.
The film’s positive critical reception resulted in the film being picked up for distribution in many territories and it was submitted to the BBFC for classification in January 1998. The classification issues were strong language and sex, both of which were felt to be acceptable at the 15 category.
With several uses of the word ‘f**K’ in the English subtitles, the film fell within BBFC Guidelines at 15 which state that ‘There may be frequent use of strong language.’
Happy Together contains two gay sex scenes, one of which occurs right at the very beginning of the film. In this scene, we see the two main characters, naked except for their underpants, beginning to kiss passionately on a bed. One man then slides down the other's body out of sight, implying fellatio. The man then moves underneath him, suggesting that he wants to be penetrated and the other spits in his hand. The rest of the scene is filmed only at head and shoulders level. As one of the examiners’ reports noted at the time, ‘There is a certain fiery passion about the sex, but it remains discreet, rather brief and clearly establishes the loving nature of the relationship.’
The other sex scene takes place in a porn cinema, with an out-of-focus sex scene on screen in the background. One of the characters, Lai, sits next to a stranger, who moves over and buries his head in his lap, suggesting fellatio. The scene then cuts away and there is no further detail of the sexual act.
Happy Together was released before the BBFC published any sort of Guidelines as to what was deemed acceptable at the different classification categories. However, in terms of the portrayal of sexual activity, public opinion (and therefore the position of the BBFC) has not changed much. Today, the Guidelines at 15 state that, ‘Sexual activity may be portrayed but without strong detail’ and similar criteria applied at that category in 1997. Both the sex scenes in Happy Together are discreet and there is no genital nudity at all. The sexual activity takes place below the frame of the picture and thrusting is kept to a minimum.
The fact that these are gay sex scenes did not affect the classification decision, as the BBFC Guidelines apply the same standards to homosexual as to heterosexual activity. No complaints were received regarding the classification decision.
Happy Together was also passed 15 on video and the BBFCinsight reads 'Contains strong language and sex'.