Together With You

Director: Chen Kaige

China-South Korea| 2002. English subtitles. Colour. Dolby digital stereo. 116 mins.

Director Chen Kaige finds himself back on home ground in contemporary China with this touching story about a musical prodigy and his loving-but-pushy dad. Liu Cheng (Peiqi Liu) may be an uneducated cook in a provincial town, but he’s smart enough to know the raw talents of 13-year-old violinist Xiaochun (Yun Tang) will go to waste unless the boy receives expert coaching in Beijing. Paternal determination finds the lad a place with a respected, if somewhat reclusive tutor whose eccentric methods favour artistic integrity over career progress. In direct contrast is another teacher famed as the power behind several highly successful virtuosi, and as Liu Cheng seeks to curry the latter’s favour, his motivations come in for scrutiny. Are Xiaochun’s personal well-being and artistic development taking a back seat to parental hopes framed only in terms of financial gain?
It’s a film where the primary emotions of love and ambition are very much up-front, and as the apparently ruthless father channels his love into his aspirations for his son there are definite echoes of old-school Hollywood melodrama. Undeniably effective as a tearjerker, it’s also a pointed picture of China in transition, as we see Western classical music (banned during the Cultural Revolution) has become a lucrative commodity trading in the latest lightning-bowed discovery, and privileging superficial flash over individual expressiveness. With Chen himself taking the role of the slick professor milking the system, it’s tantalising to wonder how much of this is intended as comment on the arena of international cinema. Still, that’s a secondary consideration behind the big-hearted gestures of the grand finale, where young actor-musician Tang Yung shows his dazzling fingerwork and the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto carries all before it.-

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