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Violinist has a dream in 'Together'

Friday, June 27, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Liu Cheng may be a peasant from a small Chinese city who wears mismatched shirts and ties, but he has big-city ambitions and dreams for his son. Plus more devotion than anyone could imagine.


RATING: PG for mild language and thematic elements

STARRING: Tang Yun, Liu Peiqi, Wang Zhiwen

DIRECTOR: Chen Kaige


His 13-year-old boy, Xiaochun, is a violin prodigy but to succeed in the music world, he must go to Beijing and find a teacher who can help him advance. In the subtitled "Together," director and co-writer Chen Kaige explores the themes of family, sacrifice, what it means to play from the heart and the angelic sounds that can be coaxed from a delicate instrument of wood and strings.

Xiaochun is a normal teen, mesmerized by basketball on TV and a comely woman's legs, but he is also a formidable violinist. An audition for a prestigious Beijing music school, however, is tainted by behind-the-scenes contributions from competitors' families.

Liu Cheng, armed with sheer doggedness and the force of Xiaochun's talent, is able to convince an instructor to accept the teen as a student. The middle-aged professor lives in a dusty, disorganized apartment with his cats and memories of a missed opportunity for love.

When the father stumbles into a concert hall, however, he encounters another kind of teacher who has rocketed a former student into the spotlight. Liu Cheng and, later, his son must weigh what sort of instructor is best and whether the new trumps the old. The father-son bond is tested by a rash transaction and a couple of revelations are wielded as emotional weapons.

The director ("Farewell My Concubine," "The Emperor and the Assassin") uses the two professors as examples of music for art's sake and music as a vehicle for commercial success. It's a debate that likely means far more in China, given the Cultural Revolution and now universal pursuit of fame.

The few women in "Together" seem to double as symbols or comic relief, and the young violinist (Tang Yun, discovered at a violin competition) is perhaps a little too insightful and wise for a boy his age, although he hasn't lost his impulsive nature. At a time when this country is enthralled with stardom, as demonstrated by "American Idol," "American Juniors" and other copycat programs, "Together" poses some timely and thought-provoking questions.

Chief among them and transcending any language barrier: What price family? What price fame?

Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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