HKMDB Daily News

February 12, 2010

Apart Together (Tuan Yuan)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 11:17 am

Apart Together
(Shanghainese, Mandarin dialogue) A Lightshades Film Prods., Xi’an Movie & TV Prod., Jiuzhou Audio Publishing Co., Western Movie Group Co. production. (International sales: Celluloid Dreams, Paris.) Produced by Wang Quanan, Wang Le, Du Daning, Wang Zhanliang, Ou Wen, Ruan Yusheng. Directed by Wang Quanan. Executive director, Li Qi. Screenplay, Wang, Na Jin.

With: Lisa Lu, Ling Feng, Xu Caigen, Monica Mok, Ma Xiaoqing, Jin Na, Yu Baiyang, Xue Guoping, Leila Wei.

A well-played, light family drama that references major historical and political issues beneath a low-key front, “Apart Together” continues a quality career course for mainland Chinese writer-director Wang Quanan (”Weaving Girl,” Berlin Golden Bear winner “Tuya’s Marriage”) without significantly advancing it or springing any surprises. Certainly the most modest Berlinale opener in recent memory, Wang’s fifth feature looks set for a solid fest run and some upscale niche business in Asian-friendly salles.
Referred to in the pic’s English title, but not in its original Chinese one (literally, “The Delegation Member”), the underlying Big Issue here is China-Taiwan reunification, over which the two sides have been squabbling for 60 years. Though politics are never referenced even through the allegory of divided lovers trying to reunite after more than half a century, Wang and co-writer Na Jin are already walking on eggshells.

While many nuances may escape most Western viewers (but not Chinese auds), the general story is easily accessible. It’s a tribute to present-day Chinese filmmaking that “Apart Together” managed to get made at all; the subject has been referenced in other productions but never as directly as it has here.

In 1987, some 20 years after the civil war won by the communists that sent the nationalists fleeing to Taiwan, an agreement was finally reached that allowed veterans to return to China once a year to visit relatives.

In the early 21st century (the exact time is never specified), Shanghaier Qiao Yu’e (Lisa Lu) receives a letter from the one-time love of her life, Liu Yansheng (Ling Feng), who half a century earlier had left her stranded when he fled as a nationalist soldier to Taiwan.

While apologizing for never contacting her in that time, Yan-sheng’s letter announces that, as his wife died three years ago and he’s now in the late autumn of his life, he is coming back to Shanghai as a member of a veterans delegation and hopes to see her.

The letter is read in front of the whole of Yu’e’s family, including her husband, Lu Shenmin (Xu Caigen), son Jianguo (Yu Baiyang), elder daughter Aihua (Ma Xiaoqing), younger daughter Xinhua (Jin Na) and granddaughter Nana (Monica Mok). Yansheng’s existence is no secret to the family, but initial reaction to his visit is mixed. Yu’e’s husband is surprisingly relaxed, whereas the children are more unsettled. “What if his wife hadn’t died?” asks one daughter.

After an uneasy welcoming meal at the family’s modest backstreet home, Yansheng is invited to stay at their house rather than in a hotel. He, Yu’e and Nana spend time seeing the modern sights of Shanghai, now virtually unrecognizable to Liu. He then privately reveals to Yu’e his true agenda: to take her with him back to Taiwan so they can enjoy the last years of their lives together in a house in Hualien.

To this point, there’s been a barely visible strain of humor in the nervous family relations and the whole shebang of “welcoming back” to the city he once fled. His proposal is hardly even questioned by Yu’e, and some Western auds may have an initial problem accepting the very practical way in which the proposition is discussed by them — and by the family as a whole — and is supported by, of all people, Yu’e’s husband.

The humor becomes briefly more explicit as unforeseen bureaucratic complications arise — already treated more satirically in Huang Jianxin’s 2001 “The Marriage Certificate” — before the initial low-key atmosphere returns.

Plot resolves itself in a way that’s both 100% Chinese and has resonances that could continue into the future, as young Nana (in a barely developed plot thread) also makes a major personal decision.

Though there are deep emotional currents supporting the central story, Wang adopts a typically restrained approach emphasized by regular German d.p. Lutz Reit-e-meier’s cool, late-winter lensing of steely Shanghai. Formal family meetings (largely shot in group master shots) stress the communal basis on which decisions have to be reached, and also the social formalities hiding personal feelings that rarely surface.

Though the story is, on the face of it, centered on Yansheng and Yu’e, both Ling and Chinese-American actress Lu are given the most emotionally closeted roles, with Ling’s Yansheng remaining pretty much an enigma until the very end. Despite its content, “Apart Together” is most definitely not a romantic/divided-country meller, offering few direct emotional hooks for viewers.

It’s actually character actor Xu, as Yu’e’s easygoing, practical husband, who mirrors the movie’s essential soul of tolerance and practicality in a performance that turns into the pic’s one likable, showpiece role. He’s mirrored on a younger level, repping China’s younger, free-minded generation, by Mok (”Ocean Flame”), who registers a strong physical presence.

Tech package is simple and unvarnished, with the cool lensing and bare-bones editing neither glamorizing nor exoticizing Shanghai. Majority of the dialogue is in the Shanghainese dialect, with Ling’s character speaking in Mandarin.

Camera (color), Lutz Reitemeier; editor, Wu Yixiang; music, Ma Peng; production designers, Yu Baiyang, He Xufeng; supervising art director, Wang Zhijian; costumes, Zhang Min; makeup, Xu Guangrui; sound (Dolby Digital), Li Shuo, Shen Jianqin; assistant director, Zhang Chong. Reviewed at Berlin Film Festival (opener, competing), Feb. 11, 2010. Running time: 96 MIN.

Apart Together (Tuan Yuan) (Screen Daily review)

Filed under: Reprints — Tags: , — dleedlee @ 11:07 am

By Dan Fainaru

Dir: Wang Quan’an. China. 2010. 93mins.

An original choice to open Berlin on its 60th anniversary, this modest family melodrama turns out to be a thin – if kindly – bittersweet autumnal romance. Whatever political intentions may have been buried in Apart Together’s script, which follows a Kuomintang solder’s attempted reunion with the woman he left behind in Shanghai forty years previously, there is little trace of them left onscreen.

KMT soldier Liu Yangsheng (Ling Feng), retreated with the Nationalists to Taiwan – temporarily, they thought – as the Communists marched across China, leaving his pregnant lover, Yu-e, behind in Shanghai. Now, as played by Ling Feng, comes back to his native city to find her (Lisa Lu).

It turns out that after he left, she married another man, Lu Shenmin (Xu Caigen), who willingly adopted her baby, and is now a grandmother, surrounded by an affectionate family. They all welcome the visitor, not realising that he intends to ask Yu-e to leave everything behind and join him in Taiwan. But she turns out to be willing to make the jump, saying the passion went out of her life when he left.

Lu, when told about it, agrees to let her go in an amazing act of kindness which in other films would have generated satirical hints (could he have had enough of her?) but here is taken at face value. Her children, however, are less accommodating, whether because they fear losing face or because they are dissatisfied with the financial arrangements Liu proposes in order to placate them.

But the major obstacle is Chinese bureaucracy: it seems that Lu and Yu-e never took out an official marriage licence, so how can they divorce if they have never been legally married?

The plot moves easily from one classic cliché to the next, at a leisurely pace that belies the 93-minute running time. Carefully avoiding the political arena, Apart Together is awash with nostalgia from both the Taiwanese and mainland perspective, coupled with a sense of loss over warm old Shanghai which has been replaced with a cold new skyline. Though the subject almost begs for it, no attempt has been made to turn Apart Together into a travelogue – to the point where a tourist bus trip across Shanghai is shot entirely inside the bus.

Setting the story in early spring allows DoP Lutz Reitemeier to bathe the images in an unflattering grey, murky light, as if to underline the impending gloom of old age. The entire picture consists mostly of intimate shots of the family and its guests, often sitting at a table covered with Chinese delicacies.

The principals’ combined age is an impressive 230 years. Lisa Lu, 82, is a legend of the glory days of Shanghai’s cinema. Here she plays a woman who expects, after a lifetime devoted to her family, to be granted the last years of her life to live as she pleases. 72-year-old Ling Feng gets a chance to display his singing gifts towards the end, but Xu Caigen, 76, turns in a boisterous performance, stealing scenes from both of them.

Production company
Lightshades Film Production

Wang Quan’an
Wang Le
Du Daning
Wang Zhangliang
Ruan Yusheng

International sales
Celluloid Dreams
(33) 1 49 70 03 70

Wang Quan’an
Na Jin

Lutz Reitemeier

Production design
Yu Baiyang
He Xufeng

Wu Yuxiang

Na Peng

Lisa Lu
Ling Feng
Xu Caigen
Monica Mo
Ma Xiaoqing
Jin Na
Xue Guoping
Screen Daily

February 12, 2010

Filed under: News — Tags: , , , , , — dleedlee @ 11:00 am

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In this film we see geographical distance but there’s also the question of time, a temporal distance, which gives rise to a rift between people,” he told reporters.

“Family unification is something that everybody in China really yearns for. These people are caught up in the flux of history and telling those stories is extremely important.”

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Lu said on his blog that there were two seldom-mentioned theories about why Tang was slapped with a media ban. The first is that the 30-year-old star had failed to attend a function by someone related to the political elite. The second is that another well-connected actress had turned party officials against Tang and engineered her ban.

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Director Wang Quan’an, Lisa Lu, Monica Mok, Jin Na

Apart Together Red Carpet (Sina)

Yu Nan - Berlin Film Festival, Apart Together premiere

Yu Nan - actress, jury member

(Zimbio) Zimbio - premiere

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Monica Mok - Opening party


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