Together
Han ni zai yiki
review by Gregory Avery, 20 June 2003

Seattle International Film Festival 2003

In Together, the latest film from Chinese director Chen Kaige, a father (Liu Peiqi) takes his son, Xiaochun (Tang Yun), a gifted violinist, to Beijing, where he will be tutored and have a chance to participate in string competitions. Xiaochun at first receives instruction from Professor Jiang (Wang Zhiwen), who has a flowing mane of black hair and, while listening to Xiaochun play for the first time, sits back, eyes closed, listening while the thumbs of his folded hands vibrate in time with the music he's hearing. Jiang lives with many cats in comfortable neo-squalor, but that is not the reason why the father eventually maneuvers Xiaochun to the attention of the more high-powered, empirical Professor Yu (played by the film's director, Chen) -- Yu can build a career for the boy and get him into international competitions. He insists, however, that the boy live at his place, with his family, full-time, meaning that Xiaochun and his father will have to be separated.

One gets the distinct impression that Chen is trying for something more slight and disarming, here, after two serious misfires, the huge Emperor and the Assassin and Killing Me Softly, the latter Chen's would-be English-language film debut (which, to paraphrase one of Chen's own comments, did not turn out as expected). Together takes an overtly sentimental tack towards the end, and its simple -- rather too simple -- message is: people must be sincere and maintain their emotional ties. Xiaochun plays difficult pieces (Paganini, Vivaldi, and a Tchaikovsky violin concerto, among others) with virtuotic ease, but Jiang tells him he must learn to "play from the heart". Problem is, we never find out how Xiaochun feels about playing music or about the violin (except that the instrument is a legacy from his mother). Xiaochun is a cipher, and he's pretty much kept that way, a blank slate onto which we can read any feelings. When he has to choose between remaining in the city or going back to the country, it doesn't seem to make much difference, and the choice, for a child with musical gifts, seems bizarre -- does his father want him to stay in the sticks and play for the cows? (Unless it's to make the cows contented, but, the last time I looked, Borden did not have any dairies in China.)

Chen may be trying to get back to his (rather than Xiaochun's) roots, which may be why the film has a Western-versus-home country motif running through it: Western buildings, products, and ways-of-living figure decidedly in almost every scene, from Prof. Yu's Modernist apartment and choice in clothing to a plot turn where Xiaochun sells his violin (!) to buy a fancy coat for Lilli (Chen Hong), a woman he's taken a fancy to (she happens to live right across from the flophouse the father and son reside in), and a model who openly takes money from men so she can splurge on clothes. (Images of mid-1950s Marilyn Monroe are displayed, prominently, in her apartment.) Lilli comes to her senses by the end of the movie; Chen, I'm afraid, does not.


Seattle International Film Festival:

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Directed by:
Chen Kaige

Starring:
Tang Yun
Liu Peiqi
Wang Zhiwen
Chen Kaige 
Chen Hong

Written by:
Chen Kaige
Xue Xiaolu

Rated:
PG - Parental
Guidance Suggested.
Some material may
not be appropriate
for children.

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