Together, directed by Chen Kaige, 1997, China

Liu Xiaochun, a 13-year old boy very musically gifted; plays violin ever since a small child; destined to go far, away from the small southern town in which he grew up and in which he is more famous than his father; goes to Beijing with his father for a competition test to get into top music conservatory; without a Beijing resident card and from a humble and rural family background, encounters tutors who open him up to different values and paths; reaches puberty and becomes confused between love for music and love for one woman; finds out in the course of his music education what is most important in his life, and decides to return to his hometown with his father

Liu Cheng, a man in his 40s and a chef in a southern small town; very proud of his son “Chun” whom he calls a music genius or child prodigy; spends whatever he can on developing his son’s music talent and brings him to northern capital (Beijing) to make him a music star; loses his saving and does odd jobs to support son’s music education, becomes ambivalent towards Beijing, which promises success to his son but also steadily diminishes his son’s affection for him; decides to return home to spare further embarrassment for his son to whom he often appears more and more a country bumpkin in this metropolis
Teacher Jiang, one of the teachers in Beijing music conservatory in which he was trained; a single who lives in an apartment with a group of cats that substitute for companionship; in school days, did not heed women’s affection because of his love for and obsession with music; willing to teach Chun (even offers lessons for free) because of his passion for music and treats him as a pet; but tells him that playing music well and being socially successful are two different things, a view that makes Liu Cheng believe that his money may be better spent on others who can make his son a star and instant success
Professor Yu (Shi Feng), played by the director Chen Kaige himself; also teaches in the music conservatory; tutors talented students who he thinks will be successful, famous, and make himself look good; agrees to take on Chun and lets him move into his own house; believes that music is best played to conquer the audience and capture their hearts; to do so, the musician must put his feelings (especially the feeling of gratitude) into his or her performance in order to move the audience; plays favorites and dismisses those to whom music is more important than he is as their teacher; interested in Chun’s family background and explores it as an emotional leverage to better control him; cold and calculating, has very little to give in the way of feelings, yet demands nothing less than that from his students
Li Li, a young girl in Beijing in search of a rich and successful husband; mirror with men’s phone numbers written all over it; yet her criteria for a mate, like her pretty face, do not always bring her men who treat her well; men she attracts often want to use her the same way she objectify them; constantly in a trade situation between female beauty and male success; finds exception in Chun taking music lessons in her neighborhood and asks him to play for her; Chun’s affection for her is unconditional and authentic, even though it does become mediated by money when he buys her a fur coat with the money he gets by selling his violin; moved by such unselfish love, tries to buy back the violin and makes it her own business to help Chun succeed in his music education
Lin Yu, Professor Yu’s other student who also lives in his house; passionate about music but feels totally unemotional about Yu as her teacher; her music cannot “conquer” Yu because there is not gratitude in it; as soon as Chun comes onto the scene, she is no longer Yu’s favorite; resents and dispites Chun as a strong rival and competitor who obviously has much feeling for his mentor


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