Apart Together "Tuan Yuan" (2010) dir. Wang Quan'an
Starring: Lisa Lu, Ling Feng and Monica Mo
by Blair Stewart
The 2010 Berlinale opens with a sublime look at the seeds sown from the division between China and Taiwan and the old world and the new.
Elderly grandmother Qiao Yu'e(Lisa Lu) remembers well the final days of the National People's Party in the Shanghai of 1949 and the last time she saw her lover Lui Yangsheng (Ling Feng). The soldier Lui fled for Taiwan over a half-century ago, leaving Yu'e with a cracked heart, a baby on the way and the Cultural Revolution around the corner.
Fifty years on as tensions relax between the nations the door opens for a still-spry Lui to return to Yu'e side, upsetting the applecart of her new family as around them the glass-and-metal smokestacks of New Shanghai bares down on what is left of the old city quarters.
A small film on the big subject of modern China shedding dying skin that's been depicted in Jia Zhang-Ke's "Still Life" and "The World", Wang Quan'an's "Apart Together" won't blow down your door but sneaks up on you with wry observations visualized by excellent long-takes. Lu and Feng certainly have a chemistry as two wrinkled old farts raising each others' pulses but it's the performance of Xui Caigen as Lu's hilariously windbaggy husband Lao (who happens to be a former Mao-era army officer) that pushes the film from 'decent' to a 'memorable'. It's worth seeing alone for the unexpected songs that made this reviewer's head and heart all soft.