A review of “Together” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ** 1/2

Rating: PG for mildly adult situations

Run Time: 2 hours, 4 minutes. In Mandarin with English subtitles

 

 

 “Together” is a cinematic departure for cultural epic-monger Chen Kaige (“Farwell my Concubine”), illuminating a more personal and playful side of the diffident director. But without the strictures of history, Chen’s story meanders in fragmented harmony until its semi-stirring musical climax.

Thirteen-year old violin prodigy Liu Xiaochun (played by real-life prodigy Tang Yun) lives with his single father Liu Cheng (Liu Peiqi) in a remote Chinese village.  Determined to fulfill the promise of his son’s gifts, Cheng takes Xiaochun to live in Beijing, home to the country’s most esteemed music teachers. 

Not to be deterred by the unfamiliar mores of the big city, Cheng relentlessly pursues the famous masters at their prestigious schools, doggedly insisting that his only child is a musical genius.  Through a neighborly contact, Xiaochun wins an audience with hermit-like has-been Professor Jiang (Wang Zhwen), whose eccentricities offer little in the way of musical inspiration for the gifted boy. Once enveloped by the hustle and bustle of modern Beijing, father and son encounter a score of quirky characters, each bearing his/her own peculiar history.

“Together” could have been the perfect coming-of-age tale, ripe with transition and underscored by the haunting strains of violins. The clash of old China and new is the ideal foundation of conflict for a story of struggling emotion and determination.  But a smattering of incomprehensible twists interrupts the narrative flow, throwing off the timing and layering on unwelcome subplots.

Sluggish pacing is enhanced by a handful of richly-observed characters, among them Lili the kind-hearted call girl (played by Chen’s wife Chen Hong), and surly violin master Professor Yu, played by the director himself.  Hearts-and-flowers finale punctuates this shamelessly sentimental outing, for better or for worse.