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Tang Yun and Hong Chen are disappointed to find his new hand-held laser gun didn't even break the skin.

© 2002, MGM
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Xiaochun (Tang Yun) is an early-teen violin prodigy living with his hard-working but poor father Cheng (Liu Peiqi). The two decide to move from rural China to the big city of Beijing, in hopes of attracting a teacher for Xiaochun to study under. They soon find Professor Jiang (Wang Zhiwen), a lonely music teacher living in a run-down home filled with kittens. Xiaochun and Jiang match perfectly as student and teacher, but Cheng wants something more. He settles on a different, stricter teacher, Professor Shifeng (Chen Kaige). Professor Shifeng takes to Xiaochun's talents, but the feeling is not returned, and the conflict threatens to destroy the tight relationship Xiaochun and Cheng share.

Chinese director Chen Kaige is known worldwide for his reflective, metaphorical dramatic work ("Farewell My Concubine") and his breathtaking historical epics ("The Emperor and the Assassin"). But Kaige decided to take a holiday from his native land, and made the overheated, somewhat cockamamie kinky sex thriller, "Killing Me Softly," which was released last year to zero acclaim. After that debacle, Kaige has returned to China for the engaging, peaceful drama, "Together" (IMDb listing). Away from all the overflowing budgets and other Hollywood distractions, Kaige has created an intimate, character-driven motion picture that recharges his dramatic and emotional batteries to full capacity. "Together" is an ideal return to form for Kaige, reminding audiences just why most of his filmography is unrivaled in his homeland.

"Together" isn't easy to describe, as it takes the audience on a journey through love, desire, friendship, competition, loss, comedy, and music all at the same time. While not complicated in story or passions, the film does run the gamut of feelings, dangling narrowly on the edge of melodrama, but never succumbing. It is a tastefully written picture, and brilliantly acted by the principals. It is also a sweet valentine to the violin, and the artistry needed to bring the wood and strings to life. Clearly Kaige has a large amount of respect for the instrument and its students, and often lets the playing speak for the characters when words cannot.

The film also sneaks up on you, detailing character lives without much explosive drama, almost to a point where one wonders if there will be a point to all this. Then the emotion hits you just at the right time, without ever revealing the work Kaige and the performers have put into their respective roles. "Together" is a charming, lovely Chinese film about relationships, and, if you're a fan of the violin, this is a film you cannot miss.

Filmfodder Grade: A-

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