To watch Chen Kaige’s “Together” is like listening to Isaac Stern play “Feelings.” The film inspires a certain awe in simply providing the opportunity to observe how the masterly director of “Farewell My Concubine” and other major films plays every second of this shamelessly sentimental tale of love between father and son with flawless finesse. The result is a sure-fire crowd-pleaser that will strike Chen’s admirers as a heartfelt but decidedly minor effort.
Liu Cheng (Liu Peiqi) is a restaurant chef in a provincial city who accompanies his 13-year-old son, Xiaochun (Tang Yun), a violin prodigy, to Beijing for a competition for admission to a prestigious music academy. The son cannot possibly win because contributions by rich parents of other key competitors typically sway the judges. Nonetheless, Liu is determined to do whatever it takes to stay in the capital so that his son will receive the training he needs to fulfill his talent. Liu persuades the eccentric professor Jiang (Wang Zhwen) to take Xiaochun on as a pupil while he takes on a series of minimum-wage jobs.
Liu finds a tiny apartment in an ancient pocket of Beijing not far from the professor’s messy, cat-filled studio; hard by is a stark high-rise where Lili (Chen Hong, the director’s wife and co-producer) lives. She is a gorgeous young woman who spends all her money on clothes and worries about her rich lover being unfaithful. Xiaochun strikes up a friendship with Lili, who unsurprisingly proves to have a heart of gold beneath her flashy party-girl veneer.
Chen Kaige certainly knows how to draw out the very best from his cast, and Wang offers a delightful portrait of an unassertive man who has lost out on a lot in life, a man who can instill musicianship within Xiaochun but who yields to the smooth, highly successful professor Yu (played by Chen himself) when it comes to guiding the boy along the path to fame and fortune.
Chen shows some vague concern for values and priorities as Xiaochun begins pursuing his destiny at a time when China is becoming increasingly Westernized. Nonetheless, the film seems above all an unabashed heart-tugger as Xiaochun at last begins to comprehend the depth of his father’s love for him.
“Together” is not ambitious enough to be disappointing but it does seem beneath a filmmaker of the caliber of Chen Kaige.
MPAA rating: PG for mild language and thematic elements
Times guidelines: Suitable family fare
Liu Peiqi...Liu Cheng
Wang Zhwen...Professor Jiang
Chen Kaige...Professor Yu
A United Artists release of a Moonstone Entertainment presentation. Director Chen Kaige. Producers Ton Gang, Chen Hong. Executive producers Yang Buting, Yan Xiaoming, Li Bolun, Chen Kaige. Screenplay Chen Kaige, Xue Xiaolu. Cinematographer Kim Hyungkoo. Editor Zhou Ying. Music Zhao Lin. Costumes Hah Yongsoo. Production designer Cao Jiuping, Liu Luyi. In Mandarin, with English subtitles. Running time: 1 hour, 57 minutes.
Exclusively at the Royal Theater, 11523 Santa Monica Blvd., West Los Angeles, (310) 477-5581; the Cecchi Gori Fine Arts, 8556 Wilshire Blvd., Beverly Hills, (310) 652-1330; and the Playhouse 7, 673 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, (626) 844-6500.