The Asian-American Committee sponsored a screening and follow-up Q&A of director Chen Kaige's film Together on May 12 in DGA. Asian-American Committee Co-chair Henry Chan moderated the discussion.
Kaige was born in Beijing, China, in 1952 to a renowned filmmaker father and screenwriter mother. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution of the mid 1960s, Kaige became a member of the Red Guard and was forced to publicly denounce his father, and his work. After studying at the Beijing Film Academy in the late '70s along with fellow filmmakers Zhang Yimou (Raise the Red Lantern) and Tian Zhuangzhaung (The Blue Kite), this talented new group of young Chinese filmmakers became known as China's "Fifth Generation."
Kaige's most renowned film to date, Farewell My Concubine, won the 1993 Palm D'Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and the epic adventure The Emperor and the Assassin (1999) was an international hit with audiences and critics alike.
Together, an intimate, character-driven drama about a violin prodigy from rural China who travels with his simple, sweet-natured father to Beijing in hopes of studying at a renowned music school, is both a coming-of-age story and a subtle socio-political critique of contemporary China. For his work on this film, Kaige was awarded the Silver Seashell as Best Director at last year's San Sebastian Film Festival.
Kaige explained that the genesis of the project came from a television program he saw. "It was a story about a father who came from a remote area with his only boy. He was sitting on some steps in the city of Beijing. Off the frame, I could hear the boy playing the violin. The father started telling all the passersby, 'That's my son. One day, he'll be the greatest violinist in the world.' At the end of the program, the son told his father he wanted to quit, so he could become a businessman instead.
"For a long time, this story stayed with me. Later I learned that more than one million children a year come to Beijing to try and study an instrument because their parents all have this dream of making their children something. And that's the very beginning of how we start our story."
Chan focused on the father-son theme running throughout the film, and asked if Kaige found it cathartic to deal with such themes, after the painful incident with his own father.
"I never knew that this story was really about me and my own father until after we had finished," Kaige explained. "I think that was something that I tried to repress from my memory because it was so painful. For most people who know me in China, the fact that I was forced to denounce my father is a very well-guarded secret. Before the Cultural Revolution was over, I asked his forgiveness for the horrible things I did to him. It was 1969. I was being shipped off to the countryside to do labor for the army. My father went with me to the train station to see me off. It was awkward, because neither one of us knew how to deal with the other at that point. We started to shake hands, and we said something not very important like, 'Take care of yourself.' I got on the train, feeling very sad and depressed, and started to light a cigarette as the train started to move. I looked out the window, and there was my father, running after the train. And at that moment I realized how much he was in love with me. So the father and son in this movie are much luckier than we were. They live in a much more peaceful time."