After making a disastrous foray into the erotic thriller with the London-based flop KILLING ME SOFTLY (2001), Chen Kaige (FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE) returned to China for this far less torrid tale of a young violin virtuoso and his devoted father. It's shamelessly sentimental and hardly on a par with Chen's best work, but it does offer an interesting critique...read more
After making a disastrous foray into the erotic thriller with the London-based flop KILLING ME SOFTLY (2001), Chen Kaige (FAREWELL MY CONCUBINE) returned to China for this far less torrid tale of a young violin virtuoso and his devoted father. It's shamelessly sentimental and hardly on a par with Chen's best work, but it does offer an interesting critique of China's evolving economy and newly minted consumer class, which appears to be as shallow and image obsessed as its Western counterpart. The economy isn't the only aspect of Chinese life looking westward: With many of the Cultural Revolution's prohibitions now ancient history, Western classical music is once again being taught and performed throughout China. Thirteen-year-old Liu Xiaochun (Tang Yun) is a violin prodigy, and his father, Liu Cheng (Liu Peiqi), a humble cook in a southern restaurant, is determined to make the most of his son's talents. When Xiaochun is accepted into an important competition at a prestigious Beijing music academy, Cheng tucks his savings under his knit-cap and heads north, with Xiaochun at his side. Xiaochun places fifth (not surprisingly, the winners belong to families wealthy enough to make contributions to the school) but makes an impressive showing, and Cheng begs the renowned but cantankerous Master Jiang (Wang Zhiwen) to take the boy on as a student. Impressed by Xiaochun's obvious skill and tired of teaching the talentless children of Beijing's "cultured" nouveau riche, Jiang agrees. Xiaochun is soon spending afternoons in Jiang's filthy apartment, contending with his mentor's temper. Xiaochun, meanwhile, has become infatuated with his chic neighbor Lili (Chen Hong, Kaige's wife), a glamorous model who embodies all the skin-deep glamour of this shiny new China: designer clothes, cell phones, leisure time, sexual availability. What money she earns from modeling assignments or cadges from her wealthy gentleman companions, Lili blows on shopping sprees at Beijing's swanky new boutiques. Through Jiang, who once allowed the love of his life to slip through his fingers, Xiaochun learns an important lesson about missed opportunities and the way music can become a substitute for real human contact; through Lili he learns an even more important about friendship and sacrifice. As Xiaochun's star begins to rise, the film becomes as emotionally manipulative as STELLA DALLAS, but hardly as effective. Chen Hong, however, is wonderful, and casting an actual violin prodigy in the lead ensures that the performance sequences are thrilling displays of virtuosity, rather than the usual attempts to shoot around an actor who can't actually play a note.
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