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Together With You
cast: Tang Yun, Liu Peiqi, Chen Hong, Wang Zhiwen, and Chen Kaige

director: Chen Kaige

114 minutes (PG) 2002 widescreen ratio 1.85:1
Momentum DVD Region 2 retail
[released 12 April]

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Paul Higson
What too many critics want of Chinese film is the political subtext, the more blatant the subversion the more merit stars they will give it. They forget that in China you don't need to think the politics into the tale, all you have to do is tell the story and the political issues reside there naturally. An initially simple tale, Together With You (aka: He ni zai yi qi) is endearing, sensitive, and rich with smartly deposited motions, behaviour and revelations that turn the screw on viewer emotions. For a director with a reputation so recently defiled by his responsibility for Killing Me Softly, this film is an urgent response to any further question as to his abilities. It would be terrible to suggest that he might have more control over home territory product, though, wouldn't it?
   Tang Yun gives a charming performance as Liu Xiaochun, a violin prodigy from the sticks who is boated into the city by and with his father, Cheng, (Peiqu Liu) to find a tutor to take him through to the big time. They are poor, the mother a deserter when Xiaochun was a newborn and the father all over the place with his buckshot attempts at raising the money and producing the opportunities for his son. Buckshot but well aimed nonetheless in the period covered by the story, virtually every direction in which he strives is met. They find accommodation that coincidently brings them into contact with Lili (Hong Chen), first met by the boy on their first night in the city. The boy is taken by her; she could have been any girl, but she is a city girl and very different from those in the country. Lili is a lively young women of mystery income, her current boyfriend is a moneyless stinker, her bed-sit mirror is a lipstick telephone book, the presumed numbers of as many sugar daddies as she can balance at any one time, numbers passed on to her by a network of pretty young friends with the same rules of get by.
   Persistence brings them the tutelage of Professor Jiang, a delightful performance by Wang Zhiwen, spray haired, expressions of distant mild shock and distraction, broken by bursts of crossness, born of his own frustration, the predicament he has left himself in. The disdainful look on his face as a butterball pupil scratches an instrument tortuously while the boys mother answers an equally terrible mobile ring-tone, and the ultimate dismissal of the hopeless two, speaks of Dylan Moran's Bernard in Black Books, the high comedy removed. Well, Chen did visit! He shuffles around in his own debris, down to his last couple of socks, mind wandering back to the AWOL article of clothing or accusing the neighbour of stealing his coal. Odorama is not necessary in his hovel. Xiaochun dutifully assists with any number of minor incidents giving his tutor ample opportunity to reward him by doing the job he is being paid for, but it doesn't happen and he walks out. You just know that Professor Jiang has reasons for being dysfunctional and also something important to teach the boy, both come and they are back on course.
   The father's work sees him deliver to a concert hall where performs Tang Rong (Li Chuanyun), a top violinist, who, despite his success, is still berated in the washrooms by his former tutor, Professor Yu, a role taken by the director himself. Professor Yu, is the film's villain, though a very human one, a subtly performed and cold figure, whose manipulations are proven guarantees of producing successful students, with a programme and dress code, a control and demand in the name of nothing more sinister than achievement. And Cheng wants his son to become his next student, which brings about the rebellious sale of the 'family' violin, the monies from which are spent on a coat Lili had been seen adoring. Professor Yu takes on the boy, moving him in with him and a young girl student, dismissing the father, both men in agreement that with a competition upcoming it is better the father return to the country and cause them no distraction. But deceitfulness and belonging and a cruel revelation collude to bring in a heart-storming finale.
   There is more, much more, like the clever flips along the way. Such as the failure to win the competition place by the female student, Hui (Chen Qiang), inciting in her the passion to play the music as her tutor demands. The cinematography by Kim Hyungkoo is superfluous throughout. The details are great, as is the sound, the young actors violin-playing never put into question. It should be noted that all of the violin music heard on the soundtrack is the work of Li Chuanyun, aforementioned for his guest appearance.
   It may be accused of using many old mawkish tricks but they are found a place in a winding plot delicately played around a small cast in a big city and it is of beautiful execution. All of the central performances are deserving of their own superlative. Tang Yun's clockwork trots and small expressions are delivered with a benign intelligence. Lui Peiqi's body speaks of a constant battle between subservience and daring, anticipated apologies and desperate hope. Chen Hong's Lili is almost as tragic a figure as is Cheng, her fizzing youthfulness and its sale more honest here perhaps than was that of her American film counterpart Holly Golightly. She clearly has no plans other than to luck into marriage, believes that she is in love but does not understand the concept, crashing into her future, living for now, unsure as to how long she may be able to live off it. She is not as rotten as she tries to convince herself that she is, and is unable to convince anyone truly interested in her of it also. With Professor Jiang they are four and you want to know how their story continues from here. Magic!
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