(PG) 4 stars

(PG) 4 stars
As an avid moviegoer, I often dread this time of year, when theaters are glutted with boorish, mindless summer blockbusters, and films actually worth watching are few and far between. Together, the latest from Chinese director Chen Kaige, is that rare summer movie that is both intellectually rewarding and wholly entertaining (and best of all, suitable fare for kids 10 and up). Thirteen-year-old Xiaochun (Tang Yun), a quiet, sad-eyed boy, is a budding violin prodigy who lives in a small country town with his father, Liu Cheng (Liu Peiqi), a humble cook. Determined that his son should have a better life than he, Liu Cheng stuffs his life savings into his bright orange sock hat and takes Xiaochun to Beijing to audition for China’s most prestigious music academy. Though Xiaochun plays better than the other students, Cheng is not savvy enough to know that he must bribe his son’s way into the academy. Instead, he badgers one of the teachers, the eccentric and reclusive professor Jiang (Wang Zhiwen), into taking Xiaochun as his private pupil. To fund the lessons, Cheng takes on odd jobs, slaving away by day, and knitting his son a warm sweater at night. While he’s supposed to be practicing, Xiaochun is hanging out with his beguiling neighbor Lili (Chen Hong), a lonely high-class call girl who pays him to play violin for her. Xiaochun learns a great deal from the curmudgeonly professor Jiang, but after sneaking into a performance by a famous young violinist, Cheng decides his son should switch teachers to study with the wealthy star-maker, professor Yu (played by Chen Kaige himself). Xiaochun is sent to live in Yu’s gleaming Western-style apartment and study for a prestigious international competition that will launch his career. Catapulted into this unfamiliar world, Xiaochun becomes complacent and derides his father’s provinciality. Although Cheng is overjoyed at his son’s success, the alienation growing between them devastates him, and he decides to leave Beijing. Xiaochun faces an impossible choice when he learns his true identity on the eve of his debut concert. Together takes on the universal themes of family, sacrifice, fate and the struggle for individuality, made all the more potent by Chen Kaige’s own experiences growing up during the Cultural Revolution, when he was forced by Chinese authorities to denounce his own father (also a filmmaker), and secretly listened to contraband records of Western classical music. Together is a not-so-subtle sociopolitical critique of materialism in the New China, but at heart, the film is an elegant and affecting meditation on the tremendous power of human creativity, second only to the ineffable, inescapable force which binds parents and children together.

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