Together (2003)

Reviewed By David Cornelius
Posted 02/15/07 00:37:07

4 stars (Worth A Look)

“Together” is a drama of exceptional, elegant beauty, with a story that unfolds at its own pace. Nothing is rushed here, and yet it’s never slow. The film takes its time in letting us get to know its characters, making sure that these are people we want to know, that we’d like to meet. There is heartbreak, and sadness, and anger, and great joy, and the movie provides all the ups and downs of great melodrama without sinking into phoniness.

The story follows Liu Cheng (Liu Peiqi) and his thirteen-year-old son, Xiaochun (Tang Yun), a violin prodigy, as they move from their small village to Beijing, where Cheng hopes he can find the education his son deserves. Cheng is willing to do anything for the boy, and while he’s determined for Xiaochun to be nothing less than rich and famous, it’s not a desire from his own interests. He’s no pushy stage parent, but a loving, if overbearing, father who’s convinced his child deserves great success.

The trouble, then, is that the only teacher he can find is Prof. Jiang (Wang Zhiwen), a poor, lonely sort who lives, like Cheng and his son, in a rundown corner of old Beijing. Jiang remains single, his only love long gone, his only companionship now being a houseful of stray cats that leave the house a stinking mess. Still, “I have my music to warm my heart,” he tells Xiaochun, and the two form a powerful friendship held together by a love of music and a sense of belonging.

But all Jiang can give the boy is a life as a gifted but unsuccessful musician, and Cheng would rather his son become the pupil of Prof. Yu (Chen Kaige), whom Cheng saw being introduced by a celebrity violinist at a local concert. Surely, Yu’s the man to turn Xiaochun into a superstar. That Yu lives in a posh, modern apartment and is able to take Xiaochun in, providing all the finer things, helps the father with is decision. But will Xiaochun agree?

While all of this is unfolding, the boy is also developing his first crush. Lili (Chen Hong) is a twentysomething neighbor who makes just enough money to buy clothes and depends on an army of boyfriends to supply the rest. She hires Xiaochun for a few errands and a serenade one day, and soon the two become friends. I will not say where this relationship goes, although I will say that since this is a PG movie, it doesn’t go there.

“Together” plays as a touching coming-of-age story that doesn’t feel like your typical coming-of-age story. Through a few carefully placed complications and a well-rounded cast of supporting characters (marvelously acted, by the way), the film works to show Xiaochun at his turning point, at the moment that will define his future. Directed by Chen Kaige (“Farewell My Concubine,” “The Emperor and the Assassin”) and written by Kaige and Xue Xiao Lu, “Together” is a wonderful little film about a wonderful person. Focusing on themes of unconditional love and newfound friendship, it’s the kind of movie that makes you smile and breaks your heart.

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