Photo courtesy of VIFF 2012
DIR: Rox Hsu | Dragons & Tigers | Taiwan | 2012 | 114 mins | Mandarin
Wed, Oct 10th 11:30 am | Empire Granville 5
I didn't quite know what to expect entering the screening of Together, but in the end I found myself pleasantly surprised. Together is lively and humorous, but perhaps even more so, heart-felt and thoughtful.
The film is the directional debut of Taiwanese director Rox Hsu—and an impressive one at that. Having worked under both Chang Tso-Chi and Edward Yang, two of Taiwan's leading filmmakers, it is no surprise that Hsu's first film is as memorable as it is. He brings together a big talented cast including Lee Lieh, veteran producer and actress, Kenny Bee, Hong-Kong singer-songwriter and actor, as well as Sonia Sui, well-known fashion model and actress, among many others.
The story takes place in a small neighborhood in Taiwan and revolves around the love lives of its inhabitants. Through the eyes of teenage student Yang Zhi-Hao (Huang Shao-yang), we observe the falling in and out of the relationships around him. Whether it is breaking up or getting together, Xiao Yang seems to witness it all. His mother (Lee Lieh) owns a small fruit juice stand beside the overly-friendly well-intentioned cosplay costume shop owner (Ma Chih-hsiang). Xiao Yang's father Ah Bin (Kenny Bee) runs a small printing shop a business beside Lily (Sonia Sui) and her fiancée Kitamura. In the midst of his parents' obviously deteriorating marriage, his sister's unfortunate break-up and the ups and downs of his classmates' relationships, the only person who is not in a relationship is Yang Zhi-Hao himself. Although I was satisfied and content with how each of their stories resolved, I was never quite happy that our main character had no love interest!
The challenge, as always, with such a big cast, is to showcase each character's individuality while trying not to undermine the central storyline. Hsu overcomes this hurdle brilliantly: his characters' lives grow easily into and out of each other's, and I was never confused or bewildered by any of their choices or decisions. Hsu draws out believable characters like Xiao Yang's mother. Although she is bitter and angry through most of the film at her husband and kids, I could still understand the frustration this woman felt and the reasons behind it. As the film progressed, I grew attached to not just one of the couples but to the whole cast of characters. Hsu has a real talent of making his characters come to life on screen. With such a talented group of actors and actresses, perhaps this shouldn't be so surprising.
One of the most interesting things this film has to offer is the running theme of love letters and songs. In Taiwan, particularly in the school environment, confession letters are common. In Together, the love letters are sweet and sappy, perhaps excessively so, but they are also humorous and comical. The film's Mandarin title, Tian Mi Mi, means sweet and loving, and it makes sense that each character is tied to another via this kind of thread.
The filming of Together is also done exceptionally well. Hsu captures Taiwan's quiet neighborhood feel: he presents the hardships of those who work all day and night at their stalls and the busy lives of students running around with utter ease. Taiwan is painted with abundant motorcycles and scooters on the street and sporadic rainy-sunny weather. The film is not at all showy in presenting Taiwan, yet you get a sense that Hsu really appreciates Taiwan and that this place is his home.
Rox Hsu's beautifully unique voice comes through in Together. His narrative style mixed with comical humor brings the film to life. At times the theatre would roar up in wholehearted laughter at some funny joke or ridiculous scene. His film doesn't just work to bring his characters' lives together but also seems to bring his audience closer together too.
Annie is studying English at UBC and enjoys reading, writing, blogging and watching movies in her spare time. You can follow her musings on Twitter @missanniechung.