VIFF 2012 Review: TOGETHER Is Frothy Fun

A fresh blend of romantic comedy and fluffy drama, Rox Hsu's intrinsically constructed Together makes for some serious carefree viewing. Channeled through the eyes, and occasionally the will, of 17 year-old Xiao Yang, the film leapfrogs through a neighborhood of Taipei and the pockets of interpersonal fracases and blossoms. Xiao Yang's friends and family all seem to be caught up in the mire of mildly unpleasant relationships, including his amiable but distant parents. His father holds solitary court in his print shop, entertaining the local dog or practicing his skills on the accordion or cultivating an attraction to a recently engaged woman across the street. Likewise, his mother tends to people's needs at her juice and noodle stand while being distracted and wooed by the man next door selling cosplay costumes.

Xiao Yang himself is a harmless ne'er-do-well, a butterfly of the hood engaging in harmless shenanigans and playing perfect host to the narrative at hand. Despite his youth, he seems to be the one person who clearly sees the affairs of the heart when it come to his friend's trivial courtships, his sister's destructive behaviors, and even his parent's own unhappy drifting. He freely occupies his time riding around on his scooter and sustaining himself on instant noodles while subtly trying to make everything right in his world. In one instance, this includes coming up with a pathetic makeshift gang to punish the playboy who dumped his sister. (Needless to say, the punishment does not proceed as planned.)

Consciously or not, Together's Mandarin title, Tian Mi Mi, is a homonym with the title of Peter Chan's 1996 Comrades, Almost a Love Story. Although both the literal and thematic meanings of the two films are far from similar, they both tackle the latent possibilities of love among the chaos of contemporary urban living. Hsu's film seems to want to underscore a more carpe diem approach to looking for happiness, to the point of being over-optimistic. It's not often that you witness an amicable dissolution of a marriage in the movies, and it tips the narrative into something near fantasy--but it's a fantasy we are willing to entertain for the sake of this good-natured film.   

Together stands out as a debut feature, but falls right in line with what you might expect after looking at Hsu's credentials. He has worked on films with veteran film directors Edward Yang and Chang Tso-chi as well as indie innovators Wu Mi-sen, Lee Kang-sheng, and Takahisa Zeze. The film's breezy palette and carefully fabricate plot reflects the qualities of his resume, but the balance created between the carefully composed shots and the vivid portrayal of life in Taiwan are skills that Hsu can trademark as his own in what will no doubt be a long and interesting career.   

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  • Teresa Nieman

    Agree! I thought it was a really lovely, charming film and a nice break from all the heavy fare this year at VIFF.

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