Guaranteed at the very least to put a lump in your throat, TOGETHER is a very tender, sentimental movie about the conflict which arises when a child approaching pubescence is suddenly faced with making tough choices between the tug of his immature heart, and the alluring promises of great fame and fortune. On another level, it can also be interpreted as either a political statement condemning the corrupt values of the Western World which elevates crass materialism over purity and love, or the results of leaving common sense behind and following the dictates of an immature, unbridled heart.
Young Xiaochun (Tang Yun) is a child prodigy. His fingers glide smoothly over the violin his mother left him before she died, and the music emanating from it is nothing short of glorious. His father Liu Cheng (Liu Peiqi) is steadfastly attempting to develop his son’s career, and the break he had been hoping for has just arrived in the form of an invitation to compete at a prestigious Beijing conservatory. Father and son pack all their belongings and are soon on their way to the big city. Xiaochun does well in the competition, but, to their chagrin, they soon find out that it takes more than talent to break onto the world stage, it also takes bribes and connections, and even an official permit to just live in Beijing. The road to success is going to take longer than they had hoped, but Cheng is not discouraged. He retains the services of Professor Jiang (Wang Zhwen), an eccentric, grubby music teacher who has also noticed Xiaochun’s talents.
Father and son find a very modest place to live, and things begin to look up. Eventually, Cheng’s dogged determination hits paydirt when he is able to arrange an interview with a famous, but manipulative music teacher with the right contacts (the director himself, Chen Kaige) who can take Xiaochun all the way to the top. Unfortunately, Xiaochun turns it all upside down by bemoaning the loss of his relationship to Professor Jiang and even selling his violin to purchase an expensive coat for Lili (Hong Chen), the beautiful, warm-hearted woman next door with whom he has developed a puppy love infatuation. The new teacher takes him in anyway, and it now appears that Xiaochun may have finally gotten on the right track to become the world class violin virtuoso his father has worked so long and so hard for. The downside is that for Xiaochun the road seems to be a cold, hard-edged and very lonely one, with all the people he loves slowly falling away from his life. What will Xiaochun do?
As the first 30 minutes of TOGETHER unfolded, it seemed that this was going to be yet another variation on the peasant from a small village who comes to the big city to be both exhilarated and overwhelmed, and finally chooses to return realizing how much better life in the country was after all. In this case, the story has a very interesting twist, and it is truly enjoyable because it is able to move its audience without resorting to the usual devices of foul language, sex, nudity, and violence. On the other hand, the director presents a simplistic picture of innocence and love versus materialism and greed, all seen through the eyes of a child whose intellectual discernment has yet fully matched the size of his heart.
Except for a few misses, such as letting young Xiaochun’s role be too sullen and withdrawn for his age, director Chen Kaige manages to play his audience’s heart strings as well as Xiaochun plays his violin, even for a materialistic Western one. As a state sanctioned production it is also truly remarkable that an acknowledgment, if muddled, of a heaven and angels is made in the middle of the movie, and the cast is just about perfect in their respective roles. For all the importance that the heart is given in the decision making process in this movie, it would be wise to keep in mind the Scripture verse which clearly states that “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) Director Chen Kaige would have been well advised to meditate on these words as he set out to bring forth TOGETHER.
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(Ro, B, Acap, V, D, M) Light Romantic worldview about a father and son with a nod to the existence of Heaven and angels, but also with an anti-materialism theme; no obscene language; brief violence, scuffle and breaking things; no sex scenes but young materialistic woman has a rich lover and young boy develops a crush on her; no nudity but scantily dressed female hidden behind translucent curtain; no alcohol use; profuse smoking by many characters; and, miscellaneous immorality such as bribery.