Directed by Chen Kaige, starring Yun Tang, Peiqi Liu, Hong Chen, Zhiwen Wang, Kaige Chen, Qiang Chen, Qing Zhang, Hye-ri Kim and Bing Liu.
Thirteen-year-old Xiaochun (Tang) is a violin prodigy from the countryside who goes to Beijing with his father Cheng (Liu) to enter a competition. He doesn't win. It seems who you know is every bit as important as how well you can play the violin in the ruthless world of music politics. They go in search of a teacher for the self-learned virtuoso and come across Professor Jiang (Wang), who is tired of tutoring the brat children of yuppies with more money than soul. Upon hearing the young Xiaochun perform, the old-school teacher agrees to take him on, though not without a lot of badgering from the two.
The reclusive Jiang cuts a sorry figure: weary-looking and cardigan-wearing, with a tiny run-down house full of stray cats. When asked by his inquisitive student if he ever gets lonely, he replies: "I have my music to warm my heart". He lost his one true love to a more confident, worldly type and the wound has never fully healed.
Meanwhile, Xiaochun's father gets a labouring job to finance the lessons and the pair's temporary accommodation. His devotion to his son's talent is quite astounding. But unlike David Helfgott's father in 1996's 'Shine', this is not driven by cruelty or obsession. It is only later in the film that we discover his selfless motivation.
Xiaochun befriends beautiful high-class call girl Lili, played by Chen, who fills her days chatting seductively to her various clients on the phone and shopping like there's no tomorrow. However, her existence is an empty one. There is a poignant moment where she arranges a birthday party at her flat for the man she loves, a married business executive. He fails to show up and her vulnerability is evident as she sits, eyes lowered, stuffing birthday cake into her lipsticked mouth, with only a child and his violin for company.
'Together With You' is a well-observed and heart-warming exploration of art versus money and a father's complex relationship with his son in China's bustling capital. While the young Tang is cute in his first film role, the part calls for a little more feeling. But overall, Chen Kaige draws excellent performances from his actors, particularly Chen and Wang.
The music throughout forms a stirring backdrop with an interesting juxtaposition as Eastern visuals meet Western sounds. Though it loses momentum in the second half, as Xiaochun relocates to the sterile environs of a more conventional teacher, and despite a somewhat contrived ending, 'Together With You' is thoroughly watchable throughout.