(Han ni zai yiki)

Directed by Chen Kaige. China. 2003.

Talking Pictures alias







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"People everywhere in China are becoming more defined by material things and status. The fear of being censored by the government under the old regime is being replaced with the fear of being poor."- Chen Kaige

In Together, a film by Chen Kaige (Yellow Earth, Farewell My Concubine), a shabbily-dressed cook Lui Cheng (Lui Peiqi) arrives in Beijing with his talented 13-year old son Xiaochun (Tang Yun), a violin prodigy, to look for a proper teacher to nurture his son's career. The beleaguered father soon discovers, after his son places fifth in a competition to enter a prestigious music school, that the top prizes only go to the wealthiest students. After much bargaining, Cheng finally secures the services of a music teacher, Professor Jiang (Wang Ziwen). Jiang, however, is a reclusive eccentric who lives by himself with only his stray cats for companionship and is unconcerned with preparing his students for international competition.

Xiaochun becomes infatuated with Lili (Chen Hong), a good-natured prostitute he met at the train station. She pays him to play the violin for her but the relationship only leads to a family crisis that further complicates things for Xiaochun and his dad. At a Beijing concert hall, Cheng watches a young violin student trained by Professor Yu (Chen Kaige) gain the approval of the audience, prompting him to think he has finally found a teacher who can make his son a star. The two music teachers represent perhaps the growing dichotomy in China between classical Chinese tradition and Western values and, if this is the case, it is obvious which side the film is on. Ultimately, Xiaochun must choose between being true to his best instincts or disappointing his father, a choice that is made more poignant by a stunning disclosure late in the film. 

While it is true that parents in China are increasingly coming to the cities to seek a way out of rural poverty, the premise is not translated into a film that is very persuasive, floundering in a sea of sentimentality without any historical context or authenticity of time and place. The boy plays the violin with deep emotion but otherwise walks through the film with the same blank expression, and the father can charitably be described as a Chinese version of Roberto Begnini. Although Together is about playing the violin, there is no trial and error, any long hours of practice or insight into the ups and downs of what it takes to learn to play an instrument. Xiaochun talents are fully formed and he performs each bravura solo as if he was ready for Carnegie Hall. Beyond that however, the director seems to be saying that for an artist to succeed in modern China, he must relinquish his integrity. Mr. Kaige should look in the mirror. For a film that emphasizes the choice one has to make between art and commerce, he has made the wrong one, producing a slick, glossy product that will have wide audience appeal but lacks the ring of truth.

Howard Schumann
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