Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

As China moves ever closer to capitalist business practices are their filmmakers picking up tips from Hollywood? It happened in Eastern Europe after Communist subsidy was stifled by a free market. It hasn't happened in Iran for reverse reasons and it shouldn't be happening in China where some of the best films of the last decade have been made.

Judging by Chen Kaige's latest, the commercial enticements of the feelgood factor have well and truely taken root. This tale of a violin prodigy's struggles in Beijing follows the well known stereotype of country boy makes good in the big bad city. Franka Capra would be proud.

Thirteen-year-old Xiaochun (Tang Yun) started playing in memory of his dead mother. His father Liu Cheng, an illiterate cook, recognises the boy's potential and, despite having no money or connections, travels to the capital and sets about finding a teacher, but comes up against snobbery, corruption and cynicism. The concept of talent-will-out appears as old fashioned as Mao's little red book.

Xiaochun makes friends with Lili (Chen Hong), a very modern girl, who lives in an apartment close by. She is the classic kooky chick, spending what money she earns on clothes and cosmetics, who would not look out of place as one of Reese Witherspoon's mall babes in Legally Blonde.

The best part of this sentimental slush bucket is Xiaochun's rites of passage from shy country boy to sex-starved teenager. The worst part is Liu Cheng's cack-handed gauchness, not helped by outrageous overacting from Liu Peiqi. And, of course, there is the music, which is treated as much as a political weapon as an artistic endevour.

The realities of modern Beijing are integrated into a plot that might have been pitched at a Warner Bros executive and bring to the film a glimpse of social inequality that is refreshingly honest. Like everywhere else, it's who you know, not what you know, that makes the difference between winning and almost winning. As JFK said, coming second is the same as coming last.

Together comes half way down the field.

Reviewed on: 11 Dec 2003
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Chinese violin prodigy is brought to Beijing by his ambitious, illiterate father.
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Director: Chen Kaige

Writer: Chen Kaige, Xiao Lu Xue

Starring: Tang Yun, Liu Peiqi, Chen Hong, Wang Zhiwen, Chen Kaige, Chen Qiang, Zhang Qing, Kim Hye-ri, Liu Bing

Year: 2002

Runtime: 116 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: China/South Korea


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