Film Reviews


By • Aug 24th, 2001 •

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United Artists
Run time: 116 minute

TOGETHER, directed by Chen Kaige, feels epic. What I mean to say is, it is extensive and involved, with several sub-plots within the overarching story of a young boy’s coming of age.

The highly abridged plot is this: Xiaochun (Tang Yun) is a 13-year-old violin prodigy who lives with his father in a small provincial Chinese city. Wanting only what is best for his son, his father (Liu Peiqi) decides to move to Beijing, where they can find an appropriate violin teacher for Xiaochun who will help catapult him into a life of fame and fortune. Xiaochun, at first, is not as intent on a career as a famous violinist as his father is. He is 13. He is distracted. He likes girls. He tapes magazine clippings of Western-looking Asian models into his music notebooks. He ogles at women with a dumb, hypnotized look on his face.

Finding a teacher in Beijing is hard. Xiaochun has “heart” but no professional connections. Xiaochun’s studies with his first teacher are short lived. Professor Jiang (Wang Zhiwen), while a talented classical music instructor, is also an idiosyncratic recluse. He lives with several cats in a traditional little wooden house filled with trinkets and mementos of his past. He doesn’t clean and he doesn’t shower. He shirks his duties as Xiaochun’s teacher. Ultimately, it is the student who instills some wisdom in the teacher. Only as Xiaochun is leaving to begin his studies with another, more acclaimed instructor does Professor Jiang realize the caliber of the pupil he is losing. Throughout the film, the people Xiaochun encounters become a sort of surrogate family to him. This is true of his teachers, Professor Jiang and Professor Yu (played by Chen Kaige himself) or Lili (Chan Hong, Kaige’s wife and a producer of this film), the pretty older woman he befriends, who takes him in as a sort of “house boy,” to run errands with and play the violin for her.

Director Chen Kaige does a good job of juxtaposing “old world” and “new world” China. The cinematography is dynamic and beautiful and you are given a sense of just how overtly modernized everything in Beijing is compared to the province where Xiaochun and his father have left. What’s more, the film is constantly examining socioeconomic distinctions between people and it seems all characters are a direct representation of a their larger class. However, the classes are highly stereotyped and those of wealth (Profesor Yu, Lili) are presented as manipulative, shallow and selfish while Xiaochun and his father are kind and generous to the point of inducing cavities. However, figuratively speaking, everything Xiaochun touches turn to gold and ultimately everyone in the film is positively influenced and somehow changed as a result of knowing him.

A surprising aspect of the movie is the character of Xiaochun’s father. As the story begins, he is presented as the clown. Dopey but lovable, he is constantly getting himself into little street brawls that play out in a slap-stick, 3 Stooges type manner. I found these little bits of comedy unfunny and incongruous with the rest of the movie. However, one thing that cannot be said of the film is that the characters do not evolve. As the story progresses and ends in an intriguing plot twist (which I will spare you), his father’s plight becomes clear. He is, at once, transformed into a complex, charming and admirable individual.

Music ties the film together, no pun intended. Thanks to the phenomena of surround-sound, no matter where in the theater you sit its like having front-row seats to a star performance. If the story doesn’t make you cry, the violin playing just might. When it comes down to it, this is a story about love and the importance of filial bonds. In the end, love and loyalty prevail over the temptations of fame and fortune and, despite the film’s often cheesy and cliché moments, surprisingly I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.

Directed by Chen Kaige
Written by Chen Kiage and Xue Xiao Lu
Produced by Ton Gang and Chen Hong
Music by Zhou Ying

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