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[HanCinema's Film Review] "Hello Orchestra"

2013/11/16 | 743 views | Permalink

Internationally renowned violinist Richard Yongjae O'Neill puts a lot of mental effort behind managing an international children's orchestra in South Korea. The kids all, through the various multiracial underpinnings of their births, have had to suffer some in life, but O'Neill believes firmly that through the power of music, they can heal past these problems, as did he. Although obviously there are some gaps that can never be fulfilled.

That's about as close as this documentary ever gets to a conflict. There are various little backstories, both with O'Neill and his various students, but the film never goes into particularly serious or deep territory about multiracial backgrounds or broad societal causes. All that ever happens in "Hello Orchestra" is that the kids learn how to play music, and have some fun, and O'Neill explains why.

While the material isn't very deep, it's certainly satisfying in terms of positive uplifting messaging. The classical music on display is lovely, even if the children have (as to be expected) a rather limited understanding of the full breadth of it. The beauty of the sound helps to underscore the general beauty of living and life in general- the message is clearly stated here that, even if life is difficult and fraught with challenges, or wounds that never heal, it's still worth living and joy can still be found.

It's corny, to be entirely honest. This is not a movie that can be enoyed by cynical jerks who insist that everything have some sort of deeper, more profound meaning, because there simply isn't any here. You can either accept O'Neill's vision of hope and optimism, and appreciate the documentary as cherishing that level of loving feeling, or you can choose not to. There's no ideology or agenda here- and while that helps make this film's appeal a universal one, it also makes for a somewhat strange documentary in that it doesn't actually inform the viewer of any particularly enlightening information.

This puts it in a very curious place as regards the genre of documentary film as a whole, because these films usually try to engage the audience intellectually, and challenge them with new ideas. "Hello Orchestra" doesn't do any of that, and is instead determined to be as friendly a film as possible, appealing to a broad audience with its simple concepts of love and harmony. The message is an overly simple one. Perhaps the documentary could have gone into riskier territory by deigning to tell the darker side of certain stories. The exact tale of Richard Yongjae O'Neill's father, for example, is not given much detail except to the extent it hurt O'Neill emotionally. The full story is rather dark, and by necessity includes villains.

But I can't begrudge the documentary too much for avoiding this. The general tone of "Hello Orchestra" is warm, fuzzy, feel-good optimism. Even in the more cathartic moments, when people talk about serious emotional heartbreak in their lives, this tone is managed quite consistently. There's always this emphasis on survival, friendship, and music, defining those as forces that transcend meanings of simple trauma. "Hello Orchestra" is, as a whole, extremely cute. It engages the viewer with light, happy, pleasant emotions and makes a successful effort to be a ray of sunshine. It may not be as informative as it could be, but the movie is nonetheless fun, and well-suited to the entire family.

Review by William Schwartz

"Hello Orchestra" is directed by Lee Cheol-ha

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