Shout-out to Su San, who was the one who’d put this movie on my radar; I’m pretty sure that without her enthusiastic recommendation, I would’ve missed this one completely.
And that would’ve been a pity, because now that I’ve checked out the movie for myself, I must concur that this one is quite excellent indeed.
It wasn’t always an easy watch, but it was absolutely a worthwhile one.
Psst: Links to watch are at the end of the review!
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
After Lt. Han (Im Si Wan) completes his tour of duty on the frontline during the Korean War, he gets assigned to manage an orphanage within a military base. Together with Teacher Joo Mi (Go Ah Sung), he teaches the children to sing, and form a children’s choir.
This movie is based on a true story.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Here are a few things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, in order to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. It’s not rainbows and warm fuzzies.
The choir stuff is meaningful and affecting, but this really isn’t your typical heartwarming movie.
In fact, it’s only about 30 minutes into the movie, before Lt. Han gets assigned to the orphanage. What this means, is that we get to see him in active duty, on the frontline, and as war scenes often are, it’s not easy to watch.
Thinking of it as necessary context helps.
2. Show’s lens is pretty unrelenting.
Show doesn’t shy away from illustrating just how devastating war is, not only for the soldiers on the frontline, but for regular commonfolk, and for children, in particular.
On the upside, it’s all very thought-provoking, and really helps us to put things in perspective.
3. Show is hopeful, at its heart.
If you find the war scenes, or the scenes of people struggling, hard to watch, I think it’s helpful to know that Show is hopeful, at its heart.
It doesn’t shy away from painting a painful picture, but it’s not all gloom and doom, either. Show’s mission seems to be about bringing forth light in the darkness, and that’s definitely something I can get behind.
4. This is not a romance.
There are some hints of potential attraction between Lt. Han and Teacher Joo Mi, but Show does not explore it.
I thought that would be helpful to know upfront, so that you’d be better able to manage your expectations.
STUFF I LIKED
Im Si Wan as Lt. Han
I think Im Si Wan is perfectly cast as Lt. Han, a music student who suddenly finds himself thrust into the midst of a brutal war.
He looks fantastic as a rugged soldier, but at the same time, he projects a gentle soul that I find very aligned to his music background.
The things that we see Lt. Han go through are pretty awful, so I can only imagine how overwhelming and painful it must be for him, particularly given his gentle spirit. At the same time, I admire him for showing resilience through it all, even when it’s really tough.
It was easy to root for Lt. Han, and he had me in his corner, pretty much from the get-go.
Go Ah Sung as Teacher Joo Mi
Teacher Joo Mi doesn’t have as much screen time as one might expect, but I felt that Go Ah Sung did excellently, with whatever screen time that she was given.
She gives Teacher Joo Mi a sense of brightness, cheer and gentleness that I found believable, despite her war-torn surroundings.
I think part of what keeps Teacher Joo Mi’s brightness believable, is that moment when she admits to Lt. Han, that she’s actually exhausted on the inside; she just doesn’t want to let the kids know, because she wants to be strong for them.
That helped to ground her cheerfulness, I felt.
Our sibling pair
Dong Goo (Jung Joon Won) and Soon Yi (Lee Re) make up our central pair of siblings, and man, these two stole my heart in no small way.
I found it touching to witness how fiercely these two clung to each other, and how much they fought to protect each other, when they all they had left in the world, was each other.
Mad props to both Jung Joon Won and Lee Re (who are both so tiny here!), who give their performances such emotional depth, despite their young age. That’s seriously impressive, and I’m thinking that they must both be naturals, in the acting department.
The choir coming together
Show does give this a somewhat highlight reel sort of treatment, but I still very much appreciated being able to witness the various milestones of the choir coming together.
Not only are the songs lilting and the harmonies sweet, the growing joy and satisfaction of everyone involved, from Lt. Han, to Teacher Joo Mi, to the kids themselves, is really gratifying to see.
And then of course, it’s quite a thrill to watch them perform, and see them do well. 🤩
Spotting familiar faces
It gave me a bit of rush, to recognize familiar faces among our cast.
Of course, there’s Lee Joon Hyuk, who’s always a fun sidekick sort of character to have around.
Mainly, though, I was intrigued by the fact that enough time has passed this movie was filmed, that some of these kids have already grown significantly, and taken on more grown-up roles (relatively speaking) since.
It was quite mind-bendy to me, to see them in this movie, in their tiny munchkin states.
I could barely place Tang Joon Sang as Choon Sik (the boy in the green striped T-shirt in the picture above!), and I literally only realized that Soon Yi was played by Lee Re, after finishing the movie, while looking up the cast list. 😅 Fun!
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
Right at about the point where Colonel Park (Park Soo Young) decides that it would be a good idea to send the choir to comfort the troops on the frontline, I kinda got a sinking feeling in my stomach.
I mean, Lt. Han has a point; it’s just not safe to send kids into a war zone like that.
At the same time, I found it touching to hear the kids say that this choir has become family to them.
Given that these are all orphans who have lost their families because of the war, that’s a huge statement, and not to be ignored.
I can understand why they’d be so reluctant to disband the choir, even though that is the safest thing to do.
Put into perspective, it’s really quite momentous, that the kids are all willing to risk their lives, in order to keep singing together, so that they can hold onto this found family. And, it is admittedly gratifying, to see them so well-received by all their various audiences.
I’m gutted, though, that we end up losing Dong Goo, due to what starts out as Soon Yi’s innocuous need to go pee in the forest.
I kept hoping against hope that they’d be able to save Dong Goo, and when Lt. Han started donating his own blood, I honestly thought that Dong Goo would have a chance of survival. But – ack – it was not to be.
It’s so heartbreaking, that a kid so young, would have a death scene. And it’s even more tragic, when you consider that this is based on a true story.
Dong Goo’s words, that he feels he’d gain strength, if Soon Yi sang, are, I think, more for her than for himself.
How heartwrenching, that even on his death bed, Dong Goo would look for a way to encourage Soon Yi, and work to help her heal from her trauma, of thinking that she’d caused their dad’s death, with her singing.
I’m comforted, though, that Dong Goo does get to hear Soon Yi sing one last time, before he breathes his last.
I’m also glad that we get to see the war end, so that our characters are finally liberated. And I’m glad that Soon Yi continues to find healing, through singing, while thinking of her brother.
Augh. No wonder Show’s Korean title literally translates as “Thinking Of My Older Brother.” 😭💔
Everything is so full of pathos, but through it all, I’m consoled by the fact that Lt. Han, Teacher Joo Mi and the kids all found comfort and hope in music, and in one another.
Truly, a little light in the darkness, can mean so much.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Bittersweet, stirring and hopeful. Very worthwhile.
FINAL GRADE: A
WHERE TO WATCH:
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