A father's love.
He ni zai yi qi, Together in English, is an amazing film from director Chen Kaige (Farewell My Concubine). It's a simple tale of love and talent that will surprise and delight you.
Facts of the Case
Xiaochun is a violin prodigy. Now 13, he's been playing since he was five, and he's won just about every local competition around his small, country town. Liu Cheng, Chun's devoted father, wants more for his child—he wants him to experience fame and fortune. For in a country of a billion where space is at a premium, how does one succeed? In China, musical prodigies are adored, and Cheng knows that his son has the talent and the heart to go far. His talent will give him the fame he needs to succeed.
The two travel to Beijing to enter Chun into a competition whose winner will be enrolled in a prestigious music academy. Chun plays magnificently, but doesn't win. While Cheng is using the bathroom, he overhears a conversation and learns a hard lesson: the most talented never gets in, unless he or she happens to "donate" the most to the school. Crushed but undaunted, Cheng follows one of the men, Professor Jiang. Jiang recognized Chun's talent during the competition and dreams of having an honestly talented student to teach, not the untalented children of the rich. Though he doesn't want to go against tradition, Jiang is convinced by a very assertive Cheng to take Chun on as his student. Jiang and Chun develop a unique and different relationship, fostering Chun's skills.
To afford their tiny home in the city, Cheng takes any job he can to support his son, who practices often. During one practice, Chun makes the acquaintance of Lili, a young woman who dates rich, older men. The two develop an odd friendship, one that makes Cheng nervous. But other complications arise that take precedent and make Cheng wonder if Jiang is the right man to teach his son.
Will Chun achieve the fame and fortune his father so desires?
Together is not a unique tale and, in all honesty, does not break any new ground in telling its story. You won't find anything that hasn't been tried and done in many other movies before it. But the movie works incredibly, and when I was done watching it, I sat for a few moments in amazement, and the first word that came to my mind was "brilliant." That's something I rarely ever think when I've just finished a movie.
The core of Together is the heartwarming story of the deep love between a father and his son. In struggling to survive over the years, they've learned to rely heavily on one another. There is nothing they wouldn't do for each other, and that is all the more obvious as Cheng breaks Chinese tradition to find fame and fortune for his son. Cheng is not the stereotypical Chinese man. While exceptionally polite, he is also unsuspectingly brazen and aggressive. He has no problem simply talking to strangers and convincing them to give his son a chance. Cheng is a bold and daring man, working at whatever it takes to give his boy a chance to succeed in life.
This non-traditional approach to the characters resonates across the board: Chun is a wonderful boy, but he skitters on the edge of rebellion; Lili is best described as a gold-digger with a heart of gold; and Professor Jiang is a sorrowful, morose man who has untouched passion and potential. It's how the film takes all of its characters and has them break the boundaries of Chinese tradition. (I guess I should qualify this: these characters seem to lie outside traditional definitions as I understand them, which may not be absolutely correct.)
As our movie slowly progressed, I discovered myself drawn to these characters. It wasn't something that happened right away, but by the end of the film, I found myself enmeshed in their turmoil. This is only possible with gifted actors under excellent direction. Though I am completely unfamiliar with everyone associated with this film, I have to say they all did a phenomenal job. Each actor became his or her part: Cheng is the outspoken yet childish father, Chun is the shy but brilliant violinist, Lili is the trampy yet caring "older sister," and Jiang is the sorrowful and quirky but stoic teacher. The actors, the direction, and the story all come together and become more than the individual parts should be.
This is not the finest release from our friends over at MGM. A barebones disc (aside from the theatrical trailer), Together's video transfer is lacking the polish I come to expect from newer films on DVD. The anamorphic transfer has no serious problems, but the print does show some random flecks of dirt on top of a flat, soft palette. At times, some scenes are washed out and too bright. Overall, the print is lacking any bold colors or crisp details. Faring much better is the Dolby Digital 5.1 mix. This Mandarin track uses all of the channels very well, creating crisp, hiss-free dialogue and subtle but appropriate use of the surrounds. As music is a key figure in the film, it is beautifully rendered and sounds great.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
In what is perhaps the finest and most ironic moment of the movie, we find Cheng and Chun in their apartment. Each is getting ready to do "something" the next day, a "something" that is far along the path to fame and fortune. While the two do their thing, they talk and say, "Aren't we lucky?" They may be close to achieving their goal, but as they talk, the two of them cry, emotionally drained from everything they've had to do to get to this point. It's a stunning and captivating moment.
Though Cheng is more focused on his son achieving fame and fortune over musical perfection, he is an amazing man. He's dedicated his life to his son, and it's a magical tale that is told as we see what he will do to give his son a better life. The love and heart that is shown in this film warmed even my cold spirit. If it can do this for me, imagine what it can do for you.
Together is a movie for a select audience. You have to be open to such a tale as I've loosely described, enjoy music, and be willing to read subtitles for two hours. If you put in some effort, I believe you will be richly rewarded by this movie, which doesn't appear to be much but has a great deal to offer. While the movie surprised me and is now part of my collection, I'm not certain I can recommend it for a purchase. The MSRP is a bit high, the disc is practically bare bones, and the video isn't as pristine as I'd like. However, if you are looking for a change of pace at your video store, then Together would be a great choice.
Together is hereby found not guilty on all charges. All parties are free to go.
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