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Thirteen year old Xiaochun (Tang Yun) is a gifted violinist brought up by his hard-working father Cheng (Liu Peiqi) in a small country town. In order to further Xiaochun’s music studies, Cheng takes his son to Beijing, and the search begins to find the right teacher. He convinces Professor Jiang (Wang Zhiwen) to take him as a student, but his teaching is influenced by the many distractions such as his squabbling neighbours, the messy apartment and stray cats who he rescues from the streets. Meanwhile, Xiaochun meets his neighbour Lili (Chen Hong), a pretty young woman besotted by rich men and fashion. His father then believes that Professor Yu Shifent (Chen Kaige) should tutor his son, and goes about trying to convince him to take him on as a student. 

Review by Louise Keller:
A boy, a violin and a symphony of emotions, Together is a beautiful coming of age film exploring issues of family, ambition and happiness. Chen Kaige has written and created an overtly moving film whose emotional impact is compounded by the exquisite music from the violin. We first meet Xiaochun living a simple life in the country with his father in whose kitchen, chasing chickens for the hotpot is part of everyday life. When father and son reach Beijing, we begin to understand Chen Kaige’s commitment and love for Xiaochun, as he struggles valiantly to find the best teacher available. When he learns the hard way that talent does not necessarily guarantee first prize, Chen Kaige bullies eccentric Professor Jiang into teaching his son. This is no ordinary teacher, as we quickly learn: lessons take place in a pigsty of an apartment and Jiang, who wears the same old dirty clothes every day, continues to adopt all the neighbourhood stray cats, who miaow and yowl throughout the lessons. Jiang even compares Xiaochun to his stray cats, claiming that he rescued him from the streets. But teacher and student have a great impact on each other, and Jiang confides his past secrets. Similarly, the relationship that is established between Lili (Hong Chen) and Xiaochun, is equally strong, Xiaochun bewitched by her beauty and lively flirtatious nature. He first goes to her apartment to play the violin, but ends up drying her toe-nail polish with a hairdryer, helping her decide what to wear and becoming her confidante. What memorable scenes there are as Jiang tries to convince Professor Yu to hear his son play the violin – humour and pathos as wonderfully intertwined as circumstances prevent Xiaochun from displaying his musical talents. Together is a story of relationships. It canvasses the moving relationship between a father and son, a young boy with his first adolescent infatuation, and that of a musician and his teacher. There’s a great sense of place, and I especially like the way the early scenes are shot. All the performances are terrific, while superb editing accelerates the pace and builds up tension as the opportunities for the young prodigy avail themselves. And of course there’s the music – glorious soulful music from the violin that connects us with our emotions. It’s an emotionally satisfying film, and my tears flowed as soulfully as the sounds of the violin. Delightful, engaging and sublimely profound, Together is a heartfelt success story that weaves the complicated tapestry of life with a thread of musical gold.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Have no doubt that when you’re watching this film, you’re watching a political statement as well as a human interest story. Chen Kaige builds a story of his own from the fragments of reality about a violin prodigy. And it makes you realise (again) what a great backward step was the so called Cultural Revolution, stunting the world’s most populous nation, a nation of immense talent and intelligence. And it makes you wonder (well, it makes me wonder) how could it have happened to China. But then it happened to other civilisations, too, the brutalisation of culture and the arts – and the spirit of humanity. But I don’t want to get carried away with this line of thought because Together is really a sensitive journey of characters, which is set against the backdrop of contemporary China. It’s just that Chen Kaige pushes the right buttons. Anyway, take a look at the vast differences in lifestyle between comfortable city professor Yu (Kaige himself in the role) and village life. Take a look, too, at the corruption he presents as a part of everyday life. It happens everywhere, but it just seems so hypocritical in a political system which professes to foster comradeship and equality for all. Bulldust. Apart from the political issues, though, Together is an emotional story which grows more intense as it unfolds. Chen Kaige tells the story in a fitful fashion, sometimes jumping ahead of his audience and expecting us to build the bridges. I don’t mind that, but it takes a few scenes to get used to it. The two central characters, the 13 year old virtuoso violinist and his father, are total opposites, and the youngster (Tang Yun, a real young violin virtuoso) is given very few lines, while Liu Cheng (Liu Peiqi) talks almost non stop. Peiqi is superb; his ability to convey shades of emotion is touching and it is ultimately he who moves us most. Satisfying but also unusual, Together offers many small cinematic pleasures that add up to a memorable and satisfying whole.

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TOGETHER (2003) (PG)

Han ni zai yiki

CAST: Tang Yun, Liu Peiqi, Chen Hong, Wang Zhiwen, Chen Kaige, Cheng Qian, Zhang Qing, Kim Hairi, Liu Bing

PRODUCER: Ton Gang, Chen Hong

DIRECTOR: Chen Kaige

SCRIPT: Chen Kaige, Xue Xiaolu


EDITOR: Zhou Ying

MUSIC: Zhou Ying, China Symphony Orchestra

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Cao Jiuping, Liu Luyi

OTHER: Best Director, Best Editing, Best Supporting Actor - Golden Rooster Awards

RUNNING TIME: 118 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: September 18, 2003

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