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With: Tang Yun, Liu Peiqi, Wang Zhiwen, Chen Hong, Chen Kaige
Written by: Chen Kaige, Xue Xiaolu
Directed by: Chen Kaige
MPAA Rating: PG for mild language and thematic elements
Language: Mandarin with English subtitles
Running Time: 116
Date: 09/10/2002

Together (2003)

2 Stars (out of 4)

Strung Out

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

"Every note is in place," the violin teacher tells his student, "but there's no feeling." That statement perfectly sums up Chen Kaige's new film Together, so much so that it's surprising the line was allowed to remain, calling attention to itself.

With Together, Chen mines a new kind of market. He once blew the lid off of the Chinese film industry with his realistic Yellow Earth, and impressed American audiences with his epics Farewell My Concubine and The Emperor and the Assassin.

Together falls in line with some of the more Miramax-ed foreign imports of recent years, the ones that make all the money, from Cinema Paradiso to Like Water for Chocolate to Shall We Dance? It's polite, non-threatening, cuddly, easy to comprehend and features an obligatory happy ending.

Xiaochun (Tang Yun) is a talented 13-year-old violinist living with his father, Lui Cheng (Liu Peiqi), in provincial China. Father and son travel to Beijing in an attempt to get Xiaochun a proper teacher, but big city teachers are reserved for rich kids.

Fortunately, one hangdog teacher, Professor Jiang (Wang Zhiwen), who sleeps through recitals, has an opening and takes on the talented youngster.

During his initial lessons, Xiaochun develops a schoolboy crush on a much older local woman Lili (Chen Hong, the director's wife), a gold-digger who dates men for their money, and conspires to hang around with her as often as possible.

Xiaochun eventually moves on to a more acceptable teacher (Chen) and prepares to launch into the big time. Meanwhile, his hick father decides that he's not needed anymore and decides to go back to the country, bringing on the expected tear-stained ending.

Ordinarily in violin movies (The Red Violin), the music comes to the rescue. But in Together, the music feels just like the movie itself -- properly recorded with everything perfectly in place, and utterly safe and conventional.

The same goes for the rest of the movie.

For one thing, the father and the eccentric professor show up scene after scene wearing the same shabby costumes, obviously very carefully selected by wardrobe people; the actors seem afraid to really move within their clothes, as if wary of tearing a fragile stitch.

Indeed, not one moment feels authentic or spontaneous.

Chen restrains his movie; he polishes it to the point of a high glossy shine -- but it emerges with no imperfections to look at. There's nothing to make it human.

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