Denouncing Capitalism Together

Lee Stablein

Chinese cinema is a diverse media. There are discussions of philosophy, justice, economics, and comparisons between tradition and modernity, whatever modernity means at the time. What never fails to appear in nearly every film, though, is an underlying resentment of capitalism and the Western ethos, and to this rule Chen Kaige's film Together is no exception. Though the film seems poised at points to make the opposite statement, Mr. Chen swings it back into what is now the established tradition of criticising the China's new liberal economy.

Chen Kaige isn't explicit about his economic stance in the film. In fact, it seems to be almost a side-effect of the narrative, and that's probably for the best - if it was any more prominent, it would weigh the plot down, and hurt the flow of the story. Still, from the moment the Lius arrive in Beijing, there is an obvious clash between them and the capitalists of the city.
When we first see Lili and her "boyfriend" (if he can really be called that), they are fooling around in the lobby of the train station. Their general manner is one that can best be described as flippant, and the fact that they are dressed like the nouveau riche, and that they are so different from Xiaochun in both manner and appearance suggests that we are supposed to associate this sort of shallowness with the rising Chinese middle-class, particularly the upper-middle class. This is a connection that is reinforced throughout the film: when Xiaochun doesn't win the national competition because the other contestants have paid the judges; when the fat mother interrupts her son's violin lesson with Professor Jiang by talking loudly on her cell phone; when Lili pays Xiaochun for playing without batting an eye; the several occasions when Lin Yu treats Xiaochun with contempt ("that's my sink"). It is clear by the end of the film that Xiaochun is set up as a sympathetic character who is rural, and has similarly lower-class allies, while his "enemies" are all upper-crust.

The climax of the film comes when Xiaochun is chosen for the international competition and Lin Yu reveals that Professor Yu has had his violin stashed away practically since Xiaochun sold it. Suddenly Xiaochun has to decide between the fame and fortune that will almost certainly follow the competition or returning to his father, who is leaving for the country again. Naturally, Xiaochun runs after his father, and in doing so, finishes the line that was started when Professor Jiang said that he had no future because he was not from the city. Chen Kaige has successfully engineered the film so that the characters we are supposed to like - the ones who love music for its own sake like Xiaochun and Professor Jiang - are clearly distinguished from the characters like Lin Yu and Lili's boyfriend, who are selfish, backstabbing materialists.

It could be argued that Chen Kaige's anti-capitalist tones are just a part of modernist art, which is generally characterised by a revocation of traditional values, and in a country where obvious support of change and the system in place, such a reaction would certainly fit the bill. However, it is ironic, to say the least, that a film that focuses as intently as this one does on doing art for art's sake should be guilty of following a trend. Art is generally regarded as being a boundary breaker, but where socio-economic issues are concerned, Chen Kaige is not forging any new paths.

Sacrifice and Hope

Dana Bustamante

"Together" is the story of love between father and son conquering obstacles of the modern world. The story recalls the importance of human relationships in a patriarchal society. The film places traditional beliefs into an urban setting that challenges these beliefs, similar to many other Chinese films. The difference here is the role of art in the film, and the differing attitudes towards music held by the various characters. Chen Kaige paints a picture of a world in which talent does not necessarily mean success, money does not mean happiness, and father-son love does not require a biological connection. The characters display complete dedication by sacrificing huge opportunities for one another. The father sacrificed his personal life to adopt the abandoned Xiaochun, and to ensure he excelled at violin, going far out of his way to secure the best professor for his son. Although he was a chef in the small town, Liu Cheng (the father) sacrificed this profession to be a delivery worker at a restaurant in the city for his son. Liu Cheng sacrificed many things in order to achieve success for a son who was not even his. In the end, Xiaochun returned this by sacrificing his chance to play in the international competition in order to play just for his father in the train station. Their relationship transcended any superficial conventions held by the urban population, because Liu Cheng was not even Xiaochun's biologicaly father, yet they had more of a connection than most people in the city.

Xiaochun is a young boy entering the city from a rural background. For him, music was sentimental, representing a connection to his past, since it was a gift from his mother (as he believed). In this sense, the music was beautiful just in itself. It was not good because Xiaochun has a good reputation, like one of Professor Yu's students, or because it earned him money, as it did several times in the city, when the payer did not even listen to his music. In the country, his playing did not earn him fame or fortune, which were his father's goals in bringing Xiaochun to the city. In the beginning of the film, Xiao Chun plays his violin to comfort a woman in labor, a practical, simple and beautiful purpose. Xiaochun is challenged in the city to retain these pure purposes for music given by the rural setting. He stumbles several times in Beijing, often being offset by his care for other individuals. In one instance, he sells his violin, the one possession important to him which represents both his past, present, and future as a violinist, to buy a coat for Lili, a material girl to whom he becomes attracted. The coat is a material possession that fills a void in Lili's life caused by the lack of a meaningful relationship. This act of great personal sacrifice on Xiaochun's part is characteristic of the kind of devotion that he and his father feel to one another. Deeply moved by such a great affection, Lili reciprocates by talking Professor Yu into taking Xiaochun as one of his proteges. This act shows that Lili is not just a materialistic, shallow city girl, but is capable of real human feeling, and in fact needs a meaningful human relationship in order to have a fuller life. The city is portrayed as full of corruption, as in the violin competition; shallowness, frivolousness, and cheap affection. There is a strong emphasis on money and consumerism. Lili's apartment is full of new, stylish clothing, accessories, and furniture. Professor Jiang states that "even is he [Xiaochun] plays great, he won't succeed," revealing that a country bumpkin cannot find success in an urban setting. Despite all these negative aspects of modernity, Chen Kaige gives the viewer a sense of hope that people caught up in the modern urban life are not completely lost to a corrupt, consumerist society through the change in Lili as well as Xiaochun's rejection of the urban in exchange for his father and the rural life.

Together: Dedication as a Primary Theme

Erin Palombi

In Chen Kaige's inspiring and heart-warming film Together, he tells the story of a young boy and his father who travel to Beijing from their country home to make something of the boy's musical talent. Though this young boy, Liu Xiaochun, is an exceptionally good violinist, he and his father, Liu Cheng, find that it is more difficult to find a reputable, willing teacher than they had ever imagined. Nonetheless, by the film's conclusion they have found what they came for, not to mention something much more important. The story's primary theme, dedication, manifests itself in the relationships Liu Xiaochun realizes he has both with his father and his music, which occurs, appropriately, during the course of his violin lessons.

Xiaochun's dedication to his music, although not consistent throughout the film, plays a large role as an overall theme of the movie. At first the viewer comes to understand, by listening to Liu Cheng��s stories, that his son began playing the violin at the age of three when his mother left him. He played (her violin) because he missed her, and from that time on, played whenever he thought about her. This in itself sounds like a story of dedication, but as the film progresses, Xiaochun becomes what some viewers might argue to be even more dedicated; he begins to play all the time, and not only when he thinks of his mother. This is according to his first teacher, Teacher Jiang's, orders. Xiaochun learns a great deal from Teacher Jiang, who loves music for music's sake, and often makes the distinction between "fame and fortune" and "consummate musicianship." When he makes the statement to Xiaochun that "I can teach you violin but not lead you to acclaim," the boy's father, who has his heart set on stardom for his son, decides that it is time to change teachers.

It is at this time that Xiaochun's dedication to his music begins to slip. Partly out of spite (he does not want to leave Teacher Jiang), and partly out of adoration for the woman (Li Li) in a neighboring apartment, Xiaochun sells his precious violin and uses the money to purchase Li Li an expensive coat. This act illustrates the fact that Xiaochun is questioning his dedication to music. Soon after this fiasco, however, he begins to study violin under, and thus live with, Professor Yu, who sees the boy's talent and dedication and tells him that he plays "from the heart." It is only when Xiaochun recovers his mother's violin, which he had sold, that he realizes the true depth of his dedication to music, and what this means for him.
Xiaochun��s dedication to his father, despite suffering a minor lapse, is obvious throughout the film. For the most part, the father-son relationship in this movie is extremely happy and healthy, which the viewer sees during moments such as when Xiaochun comforts his father after he loses all his money. The only point in the film in which the viewer might question Xiaochun's dedication occurs at the same time he sells his mother's violin. There is a direct connection between the lapse in dedication Xiaochun shows towards his music and his father, and though neither are intentional, both evoke powerful emotions from the viewer. It is heart-wrenching to see Liu Cheng discover the loss of his son's violin, and just as heart-wrenching to watch him scold his son for selling it and disregarding his musical talent.

After this fiasco is cleared up, Liu Cheng informs his son that he will be returning to the country, which causes Xiaochun to begin considering his dedication to his father. By the time he retrieves his mother's violin (through the unexpected kindness of Lin Yu, another of Professor Yu's students whom Xiaochun beats out of a solo spot in an important musical competition), and thus also considers his dedication to music, he is ready to take action. By leaving Professor Yu to follow his father home, Xiaochung proves both his dedication to his father and his dedication to music; he leaves not only the instruction of Professor Yu, who was equally concerned with his musicianship and his social success, but also his opportunity to perform in an important competition which would have led to a future career, fame, and fortune. It is presumably acceptable for the viewer to assume that Xiaochung will return home with his father, to whom he is devoted, to play music for music's sake.

Problems That Do Not Exist

Nick Robison

Similar to other movies this class has watched, "Together" is a critique on the lifestyle of urban culture. With hopes of becoming a famous musician, Liu Cheng pushes his son Xiaochun to become one of the greatest violinists in the world. To become a violinist of such skill and reputation, Xiaochun must live in a city full of corruption, and people with no morals. It is no longer shocking to me how these movies we have watched portray the city as an evil place with people who lack compassion and emotion. This is portrayed through the character Lin Yu. Although Lin Yu has a superior technical ability to Xiaochun, she lacks what the teacher calls "emotion" that makes her playing hollow much like a person without a soul. This is the common perception of people who live in the city; although they are alive and go through a daily routine of working and pleasure, they lack emotion and empathy for their fellow man. The director does not believe that all is lost; he believes that it is the rural man that can save the urban man from a meaningless life.

Recently, China has left the path of communism to embrace a more capitalistic way of life. With capitalism comes new cities and suburban life. These changes are seen as efforts to westernize and as a threat to the traditional way of life. China's rural community has shrunk as millions have flooded into the urban area the way Xiao Chun and his father do. Although the living standard of the average Chinese has been improved, the Chinese film industry still produces movies such as "together" that show the beauty and serenity of rural life. These films, even though they are purely fiction, offer an alternative view of change that is critical of China's social transformation into a capitalist country.

Although some aspects of the urban life are true, they are taken to new extremes and create an unfair image of city life. The fact is, despite the lesson of "together," rural living is no more honorable and pure as city life. Both come with their own sets of complications. It is amazing how the relationship between a rural boy and an older woman who lives in the city allows the woman to experience true love for the first time. For the first time in Li Li's life, she has encountered a person who cares for her so much that he is willing to sell his most prized possession and arguably his childhood just to make her happy. Professor Jiang was an old, unkempt man who had appeared to lose purpose in his life turns into a relatively well-dressed and enlightened individual. All these changes and improvements are made because of coming in contact with Liu Xiaochun, a simple boy from the rural area of China.
What makes rural life so honorable? Is it the apparent simplicity of the way of life? Why is it held in such a high regard? Although the standard of living has generally improved, that does not mean that there are still many problems that need to be solved. The fact is that it is easier to criticize than to agree; the logic being that anyone content with his or her own life is ignorant. Talking about the injustices in society makes a person sound smart and educated because it would be too easy to be happy with the way things are now. I propose that it is instead harder to be content with life for the simple fact that it will be met with skepticism and arguments from those wishing to appear to be educated in the matter. This is not to say that one should ignore the obvious issues that are in fact present, but rather, one should not try to find a problem where there is none.

Once More with Feeling

Tiffany Speegle

Chen Kaige's heart-warming film Together focuses on the constant conflict between talented musicians�� desires for fame and fortune against the desire for consummate musicianship. This conflict bubbles to the surface of many main characters in the film - all the way from Chun, the young prodigy violinist, to his father Liu Cheng and his professors Jiang and Yu. The film not only deals with modern Chinese attitudes towards music and artistic culture, but it also confronts the very nature of music and musicianship.
Like many other Chinese films, Together chronicles China's "descent" into urbanization and capitalism. Young Chun and his father leave the countryside to pursue Chun's musical success in the big city of Beijing. Here, at the very start of the film, the director shows us the drastic differences between life in the countryside and life in the city. When Chun lived in the country, people asked him to play his violin to create a calm and peaceful atmosphere for the audience to enjoy; but when Chun arrives in the city, he and his father find that "successful" violinists play in opulent concert halls for large amounts of money. In the country, Chun��s audience saw his music as a fine art that helped remind them of the most enjoyable sensations of life. However, the people of Beijing would only seek Chun out for his reputation rather than his extraordinary talent.

Director Chen Kaige implies that the people of Beijing would not truly see Chun's talent because they have been blinded by capital. Professor Yu is a prime example. Professor Yu lives in a luxurious house in Beijing that is far too big for him and his wife. To fill the emptiness of his home, Professor Yu invites his best students to live with him there. But even then, his home remains empty. He constantly scolds his prized student Lin Yu for not putting enough feeling into her music. Although the music of a skilled violinist always resonates through his home, it lacks the most special ingredient: emotion. Instead of teaching his students to play with emotion, he trains his students to "succeed" in an urban, capitalist world of fame and fortune so that they might please their parents and his colleagues. This leaves his lavish home always feeling cold and empty.

On the other hand, Chun's first professor, Professor Jiang, emphasizes the importance of playing music with plenty of emotion. Professor Jiang lives a much simpler life than Professor Yu. Although he lives in the city of Beijing, he does not seem to care about money. He lives alone in a small house, never bothering to clean up or change his clothes but always making sure to take good care of his cats, his only companions. Nevertheless, his meager surroundings do not bother him. He tells Chun, "I have my music to warm my heart." Professor Jiang might not own much, but he possesses something very important that Professor Yu lacks. He understands the purity of music itself and the nobility in playing music for music's sake.
Professor Jiang's attitude towards his music inspires Chun to leave behind his chance for fame and fortune in Beijing and return to the countryside with his beloved father. Chun realizes that if he returns to the country, his audience there will truly enjoy and appreciate his music and his musical talent. He might end up living as a poor boy on the outside, but his heart will be rich with love, music, and passion.

The Passionate Violinist

Lucy Zhang

The passion for something is a trait that any human has. Whether it is the passion for music, art, love, movies, clothing, animals or learning, everyone experiences that same intense feeling of happiness, emotional attachment and that feeling of euphoria when they are expressing their passion. As is often the case, passion in life can be an escape from societal pressure for conformity. Once a human being had a passion, that passion may turn into a talent and that talent can be a representation of that person's expression and identity. Passion should be treasured because it is a personal enjoyment not because it can be used as a means for gaining material things or fame. Passion is personal as is happiness and should not be talked about in the same breath as social ethics. In the film, Together, directed by Chen Kaige, the main character, Liu Xiaochun, is extremely gifted in playing the violin. Violin is his passion and whenever and wherever he plays; he becomes a part of the music and feels the different highs and lows of the musical piece. He dives into the music and integrates his emotion into the different notes that make up the piece as a whole, he plays what he feels. Sadly, his passion for the violin was manipulated and turned into a means of gaining fame, recognition and profit. He soon realizes that he will not trade his passion for music for wealth and fame.

Xiaochun is a talented, caring, and bright boy. His love for the violin is his true passion and when he plays, he enjoys music for he sake of music. Music was written for the sake of enjoyment and for the sake of escaping reality to enter a world of sounds and emotion. He practices the violin because he enjoys practicing, he enjoys becoming better in order to make even more beautiful music. Most people that think that they have a passion in music play the music solely for completion and advancement to the next level. They see the music as a bunch of black dots and lines. A true musician sees that the dots and lines all tell a story and that story must be told accordingly to what the notes entail. They can practice for amount of time and as long as they are interpreting the music and learning how the different notes and dynamics are intertwined. In the movie, Xiaochun has two different teachers, who are as different as two people can be but have one similar goal: to play music as a self-expression. Teacher Jiang is a musician that is completely engulfed by his passion for music and says that he doesn't need anything but music. He is a poor man living with several cats. He missed his chance on love due to the intense love that he has for music. He tells Chun to play whenever he feels like it, to play whatever he wants. He is passionate about music and treats it as what it is, which is more than just sounds, dots and lines on paper but his life. Yu Shifeng, on the other hand, is a professor at a prestigious music conservatory, wealthy and reputable. He sees music as means of achieving fame and attention; talent is, therefore, capital and way to success. He wants Chun to succeed and be the best and favors competition and fame but does indeed tell Chun to play music for himself. Both teachers have a passion for music, but those different passions can result to different things. Chun had a special connection to Jiang because they share a similar passion for music. He was devastated when his father forced him to switch teachers.

At the end, Chun discovered that his passion for music cannot be used as a tool for gaining fame and fortune. Music should be appreciated for personal enjoyment and for the enjoyment of people that he loves and cares about. Music should be a form of escape from the real world and an art form for personal growth. His passion is what gives him happiness and a sense of self importance. A passion for something is what keeps people human and at peace. That common love for something is what everyone needs.

Relationships More Valuable Than Success

Matt Kirk

When thinking about the meaning of the word success, many people tend to think of having lots of money and fancy possessions. This kind of success is valued very highly in modern society and particularly in the emerging ��new�� China. The film Together directed by Chen Kaige questions the real value of this kind of success. Perhaps other things that today's societies do not value as much can lead to a more fulfilling life than simply ��being successful.�� Together forces the notion of ��being successful�� to become kind of ironic in the sense that the characters modeling successful lives were not actually happy.
The film centers on Xiaochun, a child prodigy who excels at playing the violin. Xiaochun and his father, Liu Cheng, leave their rural home to compete in contests in order to find a teacher. Up until the end of the film the father's goal in supporting Xiaochun is to help him use his gift to become successful in the more common sense. During his studies with his teachers, Xiaochun proves that he cannot fulfill his dad's quest to make him successful. By nature, Xiaochun is a caring person who cannot live a life in which he is the only person that matters. When he is away from his father, Xiaochun feels isolated and unloved, especially when he is studying with Professor Yu, a person he is unable to connect with. Professor Yu tells Xiaochun the truth about how Liu Cheng is not really his father. This leads to a heightening of the relationship between Xiaochun and Liu Cheng. Even though he is not Xiaochun's real father, Liu Cheng has acted like a father figure towards him. He is the only person that cared for Xiaochun and when Xiaochun realizes this he is deeply grateful and also realizes that his relationship with Liu Cheng is much more important than the quest to become famous.
Xiaochun's teachers also portray the question of the value of success over other values. Xiaochun studies first with a man named Jiang. Jiang is a caring man whose only companion is his music. Jaing is able to teach Xiaochun that learning how to play well and being successful are not the same thing and that Jiang can only teach him to play well. Jiang is a foil to Xiaochun's other teacher, Professor Yu. Professor Yu seems to be a very impersonal man who is solely dedicated to his work. Teacher Jiang and Professor Yu to share this dedication, but teacher Jiang transforms into a new person at the end of the film. Jiang learns from his relationship with Xiaochun and Xiaochun��s relationship with his father that connections with other people are what really add meaning in life. At the final scene in the airport, it is Liu Cheng, not Professor Yu who is closer to Xiaochun because of the lifestyle he chose to live.
A last example of how the characters in Together find that relationships are more valuable than being successful is Li Li. At the beginning of the movie, Li Li only cares about having a relationship with a wealthy man. Love is not a concern because she has the telephone numbers of many different suitors written on her mirror. Li Li changes completely after experiencing a caring relationship with Xiaochun, who cares about who she is as a person. She offers 50,000 yuan to Liu Cheng to buy back Xiaochun's violin that he sold to a music store. Li Li's life changed from being greedy to giving.
Together is a film about how people change when they experience a caring relationship with somebody. Each of the characters except perhaps Professor Yu go through a journey of self transformation in which they discover that being successful has nothing to do with being happy. Chen Kaige obviously feels that success as a guide to happiness is misleading. If people would just stop caring about themselves only, they will be much happier with their lives. Together is trying to show its audience that success is not what we should value most in society, but rather, love.

Who Brought Them Together?

Jose Hasemann

In a town somewhere in southern China, a child prodigy (Xiaochun) is about to get his first big break spurred by his father's (Liu Cheng) dreams of grandeur. Already a local celebrity they decide to move and try their luck in the Beijing Music Academy competition. Chun delivers a stunning performance and is aknowledge [acknowledge] to be the best in the show by teacher Jiang who expresses his discontent at the judge's pick. Liu Cheng over hears this conversation and decides to act on it, hounding Jiang until he agrees to tutor Chun. Liu Cheng begins to work in Beijing to pay for expenses and Chun goes to work with Jiang and Lili, until his father believes it appropriate to switch teachers (Professor Yu), a decision that Chun ultimately contests because of his desire to remain with his father.
The film itself deals with passion; passion for music, success, flesh, and kin. The passion for music is seen clearly in Chun's interpretation of the violin and Jiang's obsession for the arts that led him to a solitary life. It is also in Chun and Jiang that we see a passion for flesh, although Chun's is an innocent crush on an older woman (Lili) and Jiang lives a self imposed life of celibacy which he vents through his cats, always wondering what might have happened had he grown a pair.
Lili, Chun, and Liu Cheng I see as being a family unit. Eventhough that's not what Chun would have wanted he becomes a little brother. At first Liu Cheng disapproves of Lili as any mother would disaprove [disapprove] of the people her offspring are dating but then includes her in his close circle through necessity. All three of these characters display an affective relationship, which is obviouslsy stronger between Chun and Liu Cheng, but all three are fictive and as such go together.
In the end the only dangerous passion in the film is that for succcess. Liu Cheng was willing to abandon Chun because he believed it was best for him. It is Professor Yu's need for success we come to despise, he wants to take advantage of Chun so he can brag about another star pupil. Professor Yu attempts to trick Chun into staying but his plan is undone by his previous student Lin Yu whose own desire for success drives her to unmask Professor Yu's true intentions to Chun.
In truth the film deals with over-hyped drama complemented by decent acting, for the most part. The characters are all stereotypical and romanticized. It is easy to see Chen Kaige need for drama in the end when Chun is playing his violin. The music itself is beautiful and might move you to tears, but the director sees it as necessary to make Chun cry. It ultimately overplays the emotion and makes it look silly, as most of the movie.

Growing Pains: from Child to Father and Father to Child

Derick Florian

Together, directed by Chen Kaige, describes the ambiguousness of relationships. In the beginning, the story takes place in a small town in southern China. In this setting, the father, Liu Cheng, provides and serves as a mentor for his son, Liu Xiaochun. The greatest display of his command over his life is his very own restaurant, which bustles with customers. As a mentor and teacher, he declines pay on his son's behalf after his son played the violin to ease a woman's birthing of a child. Although Liu Xiaochun excels at playing the violin, placing first in a local competition five years straight, he remains immature when it comes to other dealings. A striking example of this occurred when Liu Xiaochun gets a haircut. Logically, a payment is due at the time the service is rendered. However, Liu Xiaochun runs off as soon as someone calls his name without paying the barber, asserting that his father will pay for his haircut later. In that scene, Liu Xiaochun demonstrated his dependence on his father and inability to deal with even the smallest of transactions. In a small southern town, Liu Cheng exercises control as head of house and watches over his son, Liu Xiaochun. This ends, however, as Liu Cheng travels with Liu Xiaochun to Beijing.
On their journey from south to north, from rural to urban, the abrupt change modifies the role of both father and son. In the fast pace urban world, Liu Cheng is unable to hold his own. A simple trip to the market turns disastrous when Liu Cheng barters with two different vendors. All seems well when he receives a lower price each time he goes back and forth. Soon, though, a fight erupts and Liu Chen loses his favorite hat that held all of their money. At the same time in the movie, Liu Xiaochun plays violin for Miss Li Li, earning a sizable amount that will ensure financial stability for the two. These sum of these two scenes signify a transfer of power. Liu Xiaochun becomes the provider as Liu Cheng adopts a Liu Xiaochun's former ineptitude. This role change reinforces itself in many other instances. In one of the more subtle and lengthy examples, Liu Cheng makes Liu Xiaochun switch teachers. Teacher Jiang, represents purity and the other teacher, Professor Yu, a conniving individual who is not above manipulating children's emotions, represents a person who remains in spiritual infancy. The somewhat altruistic Teacher Jiang, whose companions are cats, cannot mold Liu Xiaochun into a star, so Professor Yu became the only outlet for fame on the violin. Fame had a crippling effect. The more Liu Xiaochun departed from enjoying the violin and he was pushed towards achieving stardom, the less passionate he became when playing the violin. The father also became less happy the when he pushed his son further toward fame. The father, now the child in Beijing, resorted to his childhood, southern China. As soon as Liu Xiaochun was guaranteed fame, he planned to depart by train. At the end of the movie, Liu Xiaochun ended the growing pains by forsaking fame and fortune for family. He pulled his family back together, reaffirming his new role as patriarch. The scene in which all this happened showed a flash back to where Liu Xiaochun was first found by Liu Cheng. Liu Xiaochun's birth parents left him at a train station, and Liu Cheng discover baby Liu Xiaochun on a bench. After a failed search for his parents, Liu Chen took in Liu Xiaochun as his own, and raised him well. As the flashback ends, Liu Xiaochun finds his father in the train station, and symbolically adopts him. There the story ends, but more importantly spiritual maturity is found, and the family is not only restructured, but reunited.

Dad, Just Shut Up, You're Embarrassing

Joe Besl

Eventually everyone hits the age where Mom doesn't need to be at the mall just to check if your pants fit or Dad's music no longer seems tolerable when your friends are in the car. There's a certain age where the parents we once loved become the embarrassments we can't tolerate. Together's main character, Xiaochun, suffers this typical pain of transitioning from parents to peers when he finally becomes his own person capable of making his own decisions, a fact his father Cheng can't admit.
Xiaochun hits the awkward age of transition in Beijing on his first trip out of his small town. Throughout his whole life, Xiaochun has been a violin prodigy who plays simply for the enjoyment it brings to him and his neighbors. However, his dad constantly drags him to competitions because he realizes the possible celebrity and fortune that coincides with his son's gift. Throughout the movie, it is clear that Cheng is a nobody: he doesn't fit in anywhere, the residents of Beijing use and mistreat him, and he lowers his standards to help his son. Cheng has good intentions for Xiaochun but he just doesn't understand parenting He grovels to Professor Yu for Xiaochun's lessons and he takes odd jobs to pay for them without ever thinking about what his son wants for himself. Xiaochun offers constant hints to his father that he would rather play violin for passion rather than profit, but Cheng is too blinded by his own pathetic goals to notice. Upon arrival in Beijing, Cheng realized that his entire life was meaningless and all his subsequent bad decisions regarding his son were only made to push him to the best of his abilities. Cheng essentially views his son as the man he wishes he could have been, and he often lives his life through his son without ever noticing how badly he is affecting him.
For a straightforward example of Cheng's sub-par parenting skills, look at his selections of violin teachers for his son. First, Cheng hunts down teacher Jiang, a character whose only difference from Cheng is his acknowledgement of his miserable life. Jiang lives with the companionship of countless cats in his ramshackle house but his wisdom remarkably shines through the dirt and clutter of his life. Jiang tells Xiaochun only to play violin when we feels compelled to, therefore reassuring Xiaochun's belief that music is for fun and not always fame. Although Cheng is typically clueless, he notices that Jiang's lax teaching skills aren't providing the desired results and he decides to move Xiaochun to the home of Professor Yu, an emotionless but successful violin teacher who looks for both profit and passion.
All three father figures in the movie, Cheng, Jiang, and Yu, offer markedly different views on violin. Xiaochun finds a way to balance out Jiang and Yu's suggestions but talking back to his father for the first time proves too hard of a task. Liu Cheng's good intentions made it even harder for Xiaochun to explain his feelings, but a number of influences from a number of characters finally gave him the courage to speak out. Xiaochun leaves his big show behind, chases his father, and at a loss for words, he communicates his feelings via violin. The last scene takes place at a crowded train station where Xiaochun plays an intensely emotional piece to convince his father that leaving him at Professor Yu's house may bolster his music but murder his dreams. Finally, as his son is in tears before him, Cheng realizes the message of the film: that family is far more significant than fame.

Life without Love Is No Life At All

Kara Gongaware

Chen Kaige's film, Together, is a beautiful story about a boy searching for his path in life. It is obvious in this movie that Xiaochun, the boy, is trying to figure out what he wants to be in his life: a famous violinist or violinist who plays out of passion and not out of duty. To be famous would require leaving his father, whereas if he gives up the path of fame he will be able to stay with his father, Cheng. At the end of the film, Xiaochun decides to go with his father. This is a story about a boy who decides to follow the same path that his first teacher, Jiang, followed; the path of love and passion. (known as ��humanity.��)
Xiaochun's first teacher, Jiang, embodies the symbol of ��humanity�� because he has a good heart and is true to his feelings. Jiang cares for Xiaochun enough to let him go --without much of an argument-- to study with a teacher who can make him famous. Jiang plays his emotions on an instrument because music releases his emotions. In Jiang's opinion, music is a personal thing that should remain personal. He believes that music is an extension of personality and identity and should be kept private. Besides, once a person becomes famous, creating music becomes a duty and loses all of its enjoyment for the one making it. There should be an intimate relationship between the music created and the events happening in a person's life.
Xiaochun's second teacher, Professor Yu, embodies an outlook that sees life as monetary success, fame, and corruption (known as ��inhumanity��). Professor Yu believes that music needs emotion and passion, but that the music created with emotion should be played for all to listen. Music forms the creator's emotions into a beautiful sound that all should hear (to understand the creator and life). Music must be heard by many to be remembered.
Professor Yu also uses music as a way to conquer and control the people around him. He buys a train ticket for Cheng to make him miss the concert and to get him out of the way. Cheng is a reminder for Xiaochun of the old life and of love, but Cheng also symbolizes failure, and Yu does not want Xiaochun to become side-tracked by his father. Xiaochun tries both ways of life, but after watching Lili become unhappy because she has no love in her life, despite the fact that she has all the money and possessions she could want. Xiaochun watches Lili, a neighbor girl Xiaochun likes, chase after wealthy men to date and become even more unhappy and lonely. Xiaochun concludes that monetary success does not result in happiness; instead, a life with his loved ones as well as friends would have a better outcome.
This is a wonderful movie. It has a well developed plot and beautiful music as well as interesting characters. The scenery is also beautiful. Xiaochun's choice to go with his father in the concluding scene makes a great ending. The movie proved many times that a person cannot have both monetary success and love at the same time. Life without love is no life at all.

The Emotions of "Success"

Jonathan Brumbaugh

The movie Together directed by Chen Kaige was a beautiful movie in many ways. The emotion conveyed in the movie to me was extremely moving and meaningful. I believe what Kaige was trying to show in his film was the importance of having an emotion-filled life, even if that means lack of monetary success. I believe Chen Kaige clearly defines the difference between success in wealth and success in heart, and the viewer is pulled in by the emotional aspect of success.
I believe the most important aspect of Chen Kaige's work is the character of Liu Xiaochun. The progression made in his character throughout the film shows what the director is trying to convey in his work. Liu starts out as an innocent young boy full of passion when he is suddenly thrust into the busy life of the city and the pressure to perform becomes immense. As Liu works with Teacher Jiang, he still holds his emotional side and plays well, but the work ethic that he would have if he were with another teacher is not there. He enjoys and begins to love Teacher Jiang as a man even though he does not agree with how he lives his life. When Liu is forced to change teachers to Professor Yu the viewer notices a change in his mannerisms. His appearance becomes more mechanical and clean, as does his playing. However, the emotion of his playing starts to dwindle. We see while he practices his piece for the competition that the emotion has been sucked out of him, and his mechanics have greatly improved. In the end of the movie Liu Xiaochun realizes that in exchange for a chance at success in the monetary sense, he has lost his father, Teacher Jiang, and Li Li who were the most important people in his life. He makes a sacrifice at the end of the movie to save the relationship he has with his father and the others and we see his emotion come back to him. In the train station the perfect mechanics he learns from Professor Yu and the emotion that he had lost with him comes together and we see a performance unlike any other. I love that Chen Kaige lets the audience imagine that the part that Liu Xiaochun is playing can be imagined while the part that Lin Yu is playing is heard. To me it almost makes Liu Xiaochun look like a God in his musical ability compared to Lin Yu.
The two other extremely important characters that portray the emotional aspect of the movie are the characters of Teacher Jiang and Professor Yu. These two characters seem to be complete opposites in their teaching style and purpose for teaching music. Teacher Jiang loves music and teaches it because he has a passion for it. He is not as concerned with helping his clients be hugely successful, but rather to understand the music for what it is and appreciate it. Professor Yu has a totally different approach in his teaching methods. He teaches the player to become technical and methodical in their playing, in turn pushing them to the next level of performance on their way to a successful career. I believe Chen Kaige presents two people who are rich in two different ways. Teacher Jiang is emotionally rich in the music, whereas Professor Yu is rich in the success and money sense. Professor Yu pushes his students to be technically savvy, but the emotional part of the music is left out. Chen Kaige shows that success in emotion and appreciation for an art is more important than success and money in his depiction of both characters. In the end of the film Teacher Jiang is shown as more of a protagonist who actually genuinely cares about Liu Xiaochun, whereas Professor Yu is merely using Liu Xiaochun as a pawn to further his own success.
Chen Kaige presents a very emotionally sound piece of artwork in this movie. I particularly enjoyed this film for what it gave to me, and the lesson it taught me about emotional success.

Human or Ambitious?

Akhil Banthia

Chen Kaige's Together (1997) is a touching tale that portrays the opposition of two conflicting values, namely ambition and devotion. Liu Xiaochun, the principle character, is a 13 year old music prodigy who is taken to Beijing with his father in search of fame and fortune. This journey leads Liu Xiaochun to make a choice between (the rustic value of) devotion to his music, and (the urban value of) ambition to succeed. There are multiple pairs of characters that represent this dichotomy of ambition and devotion: Lin Yu (ambition) and Liu Xiaochun (devotion), Professor Yu (ambition) and teacher Jiang (devotion).
Director Chen uses the student-teacher pairings to get his message to the audience. Liu Xiaochun has been taught by teacher Jiang, to play the violin with passion. In fact, one of the first things that he tells Xiaochun is that he must not play only when he thinks of his mother, and that he must never play when he doesn't want to. Teacher Jiang teaches Xiaochun to actually feel the music when he plays, something that cannot be taught by textbooks. Professor Yu (ambition) tells Lin Yu that she knows all about the techniques of playing the violin, but she lacks feeling; and that is the one thing that he cannot teach her.
The teaching and learning is not a one way enterprise since, Xiaochun also teaches teacher Jiang a few things before he leaves. Jiang lives his life as a social outcast, running away from his problems. This is metaphorically presented in the way he avoids the puddle before the entrance of his home by jumping around it, never once attempting to fix it or clean it up. His house and personal appearance are always unkempt as well. Xiaochun teaches him to confront his problems and not to avoid them. While Jiang argues with his neighbor about her coal bricks that are delivered outside his home Xiaochun starts to move the bricks, without even being asked to. On Xiaochun's last day we see a transformed Jiang, an indication that he had been touched by Xiaochun's devotion.
Another interesting pair is that of Li Li and Liu Cheng. Both of them are seen as ambitious characters in the beginning. Liu Cheng's ambition is actually not ambition but devotion and we find this out towards the end of the movie. The reason Cheng pushes Xiaochun is because he thinks that is what Xiaochun's mother would have wanted. Li Li is also seen as an ambitious woman, going after men only for their money, but as the story progresses we see that she is actually very devoted to the man, and is hurt to find out that he did not really love her.
In the end the ambitious people (Professor Yu and Lin Yu) are left unhappy, as neither of them actually gets what they want. The devoted people (Li Li, Xiaochun, teacher Jiang and Cheng) on the other hand, still have each other. Director Chen places the quality of devotion far above the quality of ambition, viewing ambition as almost dehumanizing. In fact, by the end of the movie it seems clear that he is asking a question to every citizen in the audience. Are you human or ambitious?

The Power of Music

Greg DeCarolis

Together by Chen Kaige might just be my favorite movie of the ones that we have watched so far. The central theme is music, so that could have something to do with it. OK, so it definitely has something to do with it. Still, the story and the characters are well-crafted, and it comes across as a good all-around movie. But let's get back to the central theme. The film draws the line between the worlds of being a professional musician and being truly passionate about music. These worlds are represented by different characters in the movie, but are not necessarily mutually exclusive. All in all, it is an homage to music and its power to bring people together in its appreciation.
The stratum of professional music is represented most clearly by Professor Yu. He is strict and business-like in his manner of teaching, emphasizing regimented practice over playing for enjoyment. Someone who is truly passionate about music would not espouse such a philosophy; music is pleasure above all else. He is not completely detached, however, as he can still determine that Lin Yu's playing lacks the feeling of Xiaochun's. Like I said before, the space between the two worlds is navigable. I suppose Lin Yu also represents professional music, but there is not much to talk about with her. That brings us to Cheng, whose interest in music seems to revolve almost completely around his adopted son. He is not passionate about music, at least not on nearly the same level as Xiaochun. Cheng is really only interested in seeing his son become a successful violinist, but that is not such a bad thing. It could be argued that perhaps he is trying to live through Xiaochun, but it cannot be denied that he cares immensely about his son.
While we're on the topic of Xiaochun, let's discuss those who are truly passionate about music. He certainly has the technical skill and knowledge to become a professional musician, but his passion for music shines through as well. He recognizes that music is about feeling; if the right emotion is not connected, the music will suffer. This is why he refuses to play for Professor Yu the first time they meet. In the end, his choice to be with his father over playing in the concert is the clearest indication of his feeling on the subject. He is a good match for Teacher Jiang, who technically makes his living from music but injects his passion into his instruction. Jiang is a good example of someone who has experienced both worlds, for better or for worse. His eccentricity is a result of being socially crippled by his passion for music, but it also brings him closer to Xiaochun eventually. The two really connect in their final lesson when they play together.
Chen Kaige must be a big music fan. The way music is incorporated into the film, both as the story and as the background, is evidence of this. It comes across to the viewer that he feels it is better to be passionate about music than to make money doing it. If you can do both, that's fine. However, the prospect of making money comes in between Xiaochun and the rest of his life in Together. If that is the case, you have a choice to make. You can play at the concert hall to impress some judges, or you can turn around and go perform your symphony in the train station for your father.


Hernan Amaya

For the last two decades China has been undergoing a massive modernization process. This process has redefined ideas of success and happiness. The movie, Together, demonstrates how the people of China are seeking for happiness that at times is right in front of there face.
In Together we see China embodied by the Liu family in a journey from their rural state to an urban one. Cheng Liu wants Xiaochun his son, to become a great violinist so that he can have fame, and fortune which Cheng believes will make Xiaochun happy. During the course of the movie he falls in love with Li Li and has to choose between loving music or Li Li. Xiaochun's time with Li Li is a growing process in which he realizes that she has everything that his father wants for him. Li Li has money, nice clothes, good contacts, but notices that she is ultimately not happy. Xiaochun does not understand why or what brings her happiness but he tries to make her happy by buying her a coat. With this act we see him give up his love for music for that of a woman.
As Xiaochun matures, he finds out what is most important in his life. He realizes that his father is what brings him true happiness. Xiaochun is not ready to trade in his father love for society's ideas of success: fame, fortune, and material wealth. So instead of playing in the concert that might have brought him everything he decides go to the train station and play the concert for is father.
Xiaochun and Cheng both went to the city looking for happiness when all along it was right there when they were together. Like millions of people flooding Chinese cities looking for happiness, this film by Chen Kaige reminds us that sometimes happiness is not materialistic goods but time spent with other people.

The True Source of Passion

Sul Ali

Director Chen Kaige, in his movie, 'Together' follows the lives of father (Liu Cheng) and son (Liu Xiaochun), who migrate from a small village to the city in order for Xiaochun to have an oppurtunity to practice violin and make a living out of it. This develops a conflict among the interest of father and son as Xiaochun did not want to play the violin for money but because he obtained a sense of joy from playing it. He was very devoted in his interest and would never value it in terms of money. Director Kaige employs this difference, along with few other characters, to develop two types of devotion: personal devotion (father and teacher Jiang) and devotion for self-profit (Lin Yu).
In order to clearly understand the meaning of personal devotion, we have to look more closely into the lives of Liu Cheng and Teacher Jiang. Liu Cheng is obsessed with the dream to make Xiaochun one of the best and well-known violinists in the city. He is ready to make every sacrifice to make sure this happens. Teacher Jiang's is as devoted as Liu Cheng in his personal interest of music. He is so absorbed in it, that he doesn't want to change his clothes or even take a bath. He doesn't believe music is about money or something that can be utilized for personal profit. Director Kaige, by including such inspirational characters in his movie wants the viewer to understand the importance of passion in achieving a particular goal. It is this passion that makes the goal worth achieving and ensures satisfaction.
This theme of passion and personal devotion is well expressed in the competition between Xioachun and Professor Yu's other student Lin Yu. Lin Yu's passion in music derives from the fact that she wants to enter international competition. Getting a shot to fame and fortune is all that she cares about. In that sense she is utilizing the art of music for her personal benefit. On the other hand is her competitor Xiaochun who doesn't care about personal benefits and plays music for the pleasure he obtains by playing it. In the end Xiaochun, undoubtedly, wins the competition. Here, again, Director Kaige makes the viewer observe the importance of the 'natural passion' which drives a person to better ends.
This movie is not only suppose [supposed] to be a lesson for individuals, but also for an entire nation. He believes that if the Chinese nation really want to move forward in this world, it should not work only for the consequences or it could be mislead. Instead, they should show true devotion for the cause they are working on and the consequences will automatically turn out to be positive.
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