Film

Prodigies and Patriarchs

Bemoaning the Collapse of Chinese Relationships

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by Shannon Gee

Together

dir. Kaige

Opens Fri June 13

Various Theaters

The conflicts at play in Chen Kaige's Together are less overtly historical and political than his past films (The Emperor and the Assassin, Yellow Earth), but like his most well-known film in the U.S., Farewell My Concubine, Together puts a talented artist--here a violin prodigy rather than a Chinese opera star--at the center of a changing world. Instead of civil war or the Cultural Revolution, however, the battle this time is growing up in modern China.

Young Xiaochun (newcomer Tang Yun) is the pride both of his small village and his cheerful father, Liu Cheng (Liu Peiqi), who has been squirreling away money from his job as a cook to take his son to Beijing. In the big city, it is hoped, Xiaochun will become a world-class violinist. With their knit hats and mismatched clothes, they arrive in a teeming, sparkling metropolis that could fulfill the father's dreams for his only son, and while Cheng takes a job as a restaurant delivery boy, Xiaochun begins lessons with an eccentric teacher. He also develops a crush on a glamorous neighbor named Lili (Chen Hong), whose gold-digging and poster of Marilyn Monroe hanging on her drab concrete wall hint at a desperate gravitation toward Western-style consumerism.

It isn't long before Xiaochun starts moving up in Beijing, and his father convinces a master teacher (played by Chen Kaige), who lives in a slick high-rise, to take Xiaochun under his tutelage. The price, however, is to leave his father behind.

In true movie fashion, the heart wins out in the end, but it's a happy ending that hasn't escaped the director's own scrutiny. "I even ask myself whether I'm being too optimistic at the end of the film," he revealed to me. Still, as much as Together can be read as a sentimentally heartwarming film about a father and son, it has subtle and sharp observations about China's changing landscape. "There's a big change going on there," Chen explained, but he was clear about what must remain. "Relationships. Nothing can replace them. They're one of the most important things we have."

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