After a disastrous English language debut that didn't make it to theaters (Killing Me Softly) domestically, writer/director Chen Kaige returns to a more familiar form with Together, a Chinese movie with a very old-fashioned and earnest feel to it. Chen (The Emperor and the Assassin) seems, at times, to want to please his audience so much that the emotions feel cloying, but for the most part, he stays on the proper side between genuine and cheesy. The title refers to a tight-knit group of people who rally for the success of violin prodigy Xiaochun Liu (Tang Yun), who is traveling to Beijing to seek a professor. His father, Cheng Liu (Liu Peiqi, Shadow Magic, Ermo) scraped together all his money to get them there. They are poor, and come from a small rural town.

Cheng's dream is to see Xiaochun famous. In order to do this, they to place highly in a competition and then get a good professor. However, both learn that things in Beijing are much more cutthroat then things back at home. Politics and backstabbing play a huge part in moving ahead, and Cheng needs to try to seek balance between what he is and what he is willing to do. The first professor they find is Prof. Jiang (Superconductor, The Emperor and the Assassin), a frumpy old man who lives in a cluttered, stuffy apartment with a bunch of cats. Instead of teaching, he has Xiaochun clean his apartment, and clean sheets of music. Jiang wants to make Xiaochun a musician, which does not necessarily mean fame and fortune. This leads Cheng to forgo Jiang in favor of Prof. Shifeng (Kaige), a teacher who pushes his students towards fame.

Everything in Kaige and co-writer Lu Xue Xiao is pretty obvious. Each person has some sort of problem. They solve it not by working on it, but by working on someone else's problem. By thinking altruistically, they end up helping themselves. This is especially true for the Lili (Kaige's wife Chen Hong, Blush, Qing Die) character. She is a beautiful young woman who lives close to the Liu's. Xiaochun has a huge crush on her, and does all he can to spend time with her. The script is vague on specifics about what she does, but what's clear is that she dates men for money. She is using them for clothes and goodies, but is genuinely hurt when they cheat on her.

The Xiaochun character is the hardest to read, because Yun is so expressionless. Resultingly, he comes off as more of a jerk than is necessary. Does he want to be a musician or does he want to be famous? What Kaige makes clear is that he wants Lili, and this begins to encroach upon his violin practice, leading to an eventual showdown with his father. Cheng is the emotional core of the film. He is sacrificing everything he has to see his son succeed, and watching his son falter breaks his heart. Kaige isn't trying to do anything spectacular with Together, just to make a fun movie that will, most likely, bring some tears to some people's eyes. It's cute, but after movies like The Road Home and The Way Home, both, in a sense weepy movies about rurals, this formula is beginning to run its course.

Mongoose Rates It: Not Bad.
1 hour, 56 minutes, Rated PG for mild language and thematic elements.

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