When orchestra conductor Kim Jae-chang first arrived in Mumbai in India, his hair was still black. Several years later, it has shades of white. The children in Kim Jae-chang's choir have nicknamed him Angry Bird, on account of his round head and also because he gives them loud loving instructions in broken English spoken via an Italian accent. Once "Singing with Angry Bird" gets Kim Jae-chang's background out of the way, it's on to the children's choir itself.
The Banana Children's Choir is not named after a fruit. Rather, the title is aspirational, referring to a local word for change. It wasn't clear to me what language this word is from, that's never really explained. Indeed, there are lots of things "Singing with Angry Bird" does not explain- like the choir's relationship to missionary work. While the documentary was produced by the Christian Broadcasting Service, prominent use of the hymn Amazing Grace in the Banana Choir's repertoire is the only obvious clue we have to their involvement.
So what does "Singing with Angry Bird" talk about? Mostly just slum life in India, and how the children Kim Jae-chang teaches are inspired to do greater things. We get less information about the choir itself as we do Kim Jae-chang's quest to get the children's parents to come rehearse for a special parent/child performance. The purpose, while textually vague, is eventually shown to be about proving to the parents and the wider community the power of music. Many close-ups are provided of parents and children alike crying while singing.
This is all standard inspirational story fluff. Personally I was more intrigued by the exposition of daily life outside the choir. The family of one child takes their fishmongering work very seriously, although the hot Mumbai weather insures that flies are a constant presence. The point is, this is the main conflict they have with the parent/child performance. How many days of work can either parent take off to go rehearse?
A far darker setpiece involves the sister of another choir member giving birth to a sick baby girl. The father would have been interested in a boy, but is unwilling to help with a girl. So the rest of the family is forced to weigh the baby's life versus the prospect of renewed poverty, as medical treatment would cost nearly everything they own. This is pretty brutal stuff. Although I had to muffle an inappropriate laugh during the segment where we can prominently see an advertisement for an International Women's Day promotion at a fitness center.
It's easy to see why the families in "Singing with Angry Bird" would be cynical when it comes to highbrow culture when those are the main examples they see of it on a daily basis. Yet we can also see that whatever their circumstances, these are good, respectable people who just want the best for their children. While not a particularly innovative story, "Singing with Angry Bird" gets a lot of credit simply for being a sincere travelogue about Mumbai that treats its people, neither as being exotic or backwards but just as normal people.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Film Review] "Singing with Angry Bird""
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