Help Us Keep Reporting. Donate to Detroit Metro Times.

Wednesday, June 11, 2003


Posted By on Wed, Jun 11, 2003 at 12:00 AM

China has long been known as a breeding ground for musical prodigies, a fact that Chen Kaige takes as the basis for Together. The movie explores the bond between motherless violin phenom Xiaochun and his instrument, and by extension (and more importantly) his father, Cheng, with an eye on adolescence and a sonata’s worth of schmaltz.

Country bumpkin Cheng (Peiqi Liu) is a typical stage parent, truly convinced that his 13-year-old is better than his peers and just needs a chance to shine in the national spotlight. The two travel to Beijing for a violin competition, and though Xiaochun (Yun Tang) finishes a lowly fifth, Cheng’s hope is only refreshed. Cheng’s luck is good; his persistence and flies-on-honey need for his son’s success land the two in the dirty apartment of the perpetually mussed Professor Jiang, whose main attribute beyond sharing lovelorn life lessons with Xiaochun is an unbelievable sweep of hair that is half-Einstein, half-Lynch.

Kaige’s intent is that we appreciate the relationship between Xiaochun and his hired mentor, but when Jiang sends his pupil off to study with a teacher who can better bring the boy fame and fortune, and excuses it by saying that he’s taught Xiaochun all he can, it’s confusing, since we never see the teacher actually teach. (At least from a musical standpoint. Yes, music is three parts emotion and one part technique, but surely he must have imparted something to Xiaochun other than hair-care tips.)

It’s just a distraction tactic, though. The nut of Kaige’s story is not Xiaochun’s transformation from hick to maestro, but his father’s slow heartbreak as he watches his son enter a world too sophisticated for Cheng to be a part of. Played with a tender goofiness by Liu (in the American version of Together, this role would go to Mos Def), Cheng can only stand by as his son’s talent takes him such places as the apartment of a gorgeous gold-digger and the antiseptic home of the best violin teacher in the city.

Cheng belongs in the noisy, dirty stalls of the farmers market and the steamy kitchens of mediocre restaurants. The look of self-conscious horror that crosses his face whenever he realizes he’s overstepped his class bounds is painfully funny.

Predictably, just when it seems Xiaochun is really slipping out of his grasp, Cheng’s love for his son is reflected back at him in the movie’s superficially pedestrian finale. Xiaochun makes the necessary choice between duty and feeling (and conveniently ties up the film’s title), and all obvious signs point to this being a movie about a boy and his music. But that’s not how it is, no matter what Kaige thinks he wants you to believe. Things are so rarely what they seem: Xiaochun’s love may be music, but Cheng’s is musical.


Opens Friday exclusively at the Main Art Theatre (118 N. Main, Royal Oak). Call 248-542-0180.

Erin Podolsky writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail


We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Detroit Metro Times. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Detroit Metro Times, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at

Detroit Metro Times works for you, and your support is essential.

Our small but mighty local team works tirelessly to bring you high-quality, uncensored news and cultural coverage of Detroit and beyond.

Unlike many newspapers, ours is free – and we'd like to keep it that way, because we believe, now more than ever, everyone deserves access to accurate, independent coverage of their community.

Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing pledge, your support helps keep Detroit's true free press free.

More by Erin Podolsky

Read the Digital Print Issue

July 1, 2020

View more issues


Never miss a beat

Sign Up Now

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.

Best Things to Do In Detroit

© 2020 Detroit Metro Times - Contact Us

Website powered by Foundation