If you've ever watched a variety talk show or gone to a local festival, chances are you've seen a small child play a musical instrument with unimaginable talent. Ye-eun was one such little girl, and her case was a particularly inspiring one because Ye-eun lacks eyeballs. Key word there being "was". It's one thing to be a local talented child musician- to be a genuine prodigy, one who could play on the international level, well, Ye-eun hasn't reached that yet. And that's the subject matter of "The Piano"- a documentary about one of those kids you saw once in a revue format and then promptly forgot about.
What makes "The Piano" interesting is less Ye-eun's disability but actually just how normal her life is, all things considered. Ye-eun has a loving mother and father who are proud of her musical abilities, and they push Ye-eun to do her best, but not excessively so. One surprisingly touching scene is when Ye-eun first gets a lesson from a high grade professional instructor- and the sensitive little girl is quite clearly heartbroken to discover that her piano-playing skills are flawed.
While this may seem like the perfect set-up for a tragic story about hope gained and lost again, director Lim Seong-goo wisely avoids focusing on the emotional downs of Ye-eun's experience. From Ye-eun's vantage point the world is already an overly frightening place. She can't see and knows this is a major disability. Ye-eun is hesitant to try anything on her own. Take special note of a late scene where Ye-eun, in a walk that's supposed to teach her how to be self-mobile, panics when her partner tries to briefly disappear.
Consider that Ye-eun is just a little blind girl. Even so, Ye-eun was able to have the confidence to perform on national television, compete in major competitions, and ultimately confront the fact that she is not a prodigy, early signs of talent notwithstanding. Taken in sum this is actually even more impressive than Ye-eun's musical ability. Fully capable of adults are frightened of being exposed like that in public, while Ye-eun seems to feel at ease even having her tears caught on film.
"The Piano" is not what would be called a filmic documentary. There's no shock value, and no attempt is made at answering the deep questions about life posed by the prompt. The reason for this is that Ye-eun's story doesn't fit into that rubric very well. Think about it. What if Ye-eun really was a miraculous blind virtuoso? In some sense, wouldn't that debase her humanity, because the implication would be that Ye-eun only has value because of peculiar piano-playing talent?
By contrast, director Lim Seong-goo lets us see Ye-eun as the little girl with no hope or prospects, and shows us how through the help of strong family support she's able to inch closer to her dreams step by step. It's still too early to tell how Ye-eun's career as a pianist will end up panning out. All we know for sure is that she has a solid foundation. With that love, Ye-eun has a decent shot at her dreams. And even if she fails, Ye-eun will know that she tried her best. In the end isn't that the best any of us could hope for?
Review by William Schwartz
Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via email@example.com.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "The Piano""
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