This time I’m going to eschew the usual review format, because this documentary made me close to emotional, and I wouldn’t want the rigidity of a proper review to stop my flow of thoughts. I’m not going to discuss the merits of the film – except that it is well-made and very personal – but rather want to disclose what it made me think and feel.
I rarely talk about anything personal on this blog, but this film has put me in the mood for some soul-baring.
First of all, the film struck a chord with me because I went to the same school as KJ – DBS.
DBS has a strange environment that I have only observed in a few other schools: it nurtures excessive ego and an intense desire to win competitions. School pride – or “school spirit", a word I dreaded back then – was, and still is, a big thing. The jingoistic chants still make me cringe: apparently the students chant 音樂王國 (Kingdom of Music) now after winning Music Festival competitions: at least I don’t recall making that ridiculous claim. As described accurately by KJ, the focus is often placed on winning awards, and music is often sacrificed as a result. To see him, at such a young age, pursue music for its own sake with such fervour, was inspiring. This kid is so damn precocious: he was asking questions about existence, origin and purpose of life, and death – more articulately than the average HK university student, I dare say – at the age of 11. And at 17, his goal in life is “to be a human being" – and I felt such a resonance with him. To find the humanity in oneself, that is a real goal. Not the pursuit of transient material wealth, or some lofty political ambition. What I regret to say is that I am still far from achieving that goal.
Watching KJ grow from a young boy going on a concert tour in Europe, to a young man leading a school orchestra, I reflected upon my own childhood. Whilst I do feel a tinge of envy for his talent, I do wonder if there are blessings in being mediocre after all. Being the centre of attention at such a young age might not have been the best thing to happen to a child. The documentary went so far as to imply that the Pandora’s box – of KJ’s personality problems, tantrums, etc. – was opened when he started playing the piano. I do not remember myself as a particularly precocious child: my childhood was relatively innocent, spent in my own imaginary world of friends, teachers and students (I wasn’t deluded though: I was fully aware that they were figments of my imagination). I had no obvious talent other than my memory: I was no sportsman, played the piano passably and only because I was told, and couldn’t really sing before my voice broke. I did well in class but was no genius, and most of the time I was a conformer. I spent most of my time reading or watching TV, not unlike a lot of kids my age. Would I trade this kind of nice but boring childhood for that of KJ? I don’t think I would.
Another transformation during the course of the documentary was that of the relationship between KJ and his father. KJ’s dad seemed loving and caring, and obviously doted on him when he was 11. He followed KJ everywhere when he was on tour, attending to his needs and chatting with him, and it was clear that KJ was very close to his Dad. Some would call him the perfect father. However, in six years’ time, they almost never spoke to each other. KJ resented his father for being competitive and forcing him to compete in piano competitions, and for his extramarital affair which eventually led to divorce with KJ’s mother. I’ve always known that parenting is a daunting task: it is an art that needs to be tailored for any particular child. Even if you think that you’ve done all you can for your children, it doesn’t mean that you’ve done the right thing for them, and they might end up hating you. Again, I reflected on how my parents raised me and how that might have affected me as a person. My parents, especially my mother, were strict disciplinarians: I never dared misbehave for fear of serious retribution. I wasn’t really allowed toys growing up – or was I not interested in them? I don’t know. I was expected to do well in school: praise was hard to come by, and I remember having to hide my sub-standard results (<90%). For all I know, this might have helped in ensuring that I did well throughout my academic career, but I don't think it's healthy. There are many things I should thank them for though: for example, they never told me that I should do anything for money, for which I'm most grateful.
What inspired me most was KJ's love of music: his desire to have music as his life. While I don't feel such an avidity to music, I too want to find something that I want to dedicate all my life and soul to. Regrettably, science is not it. I don't feel it in my blood, in my bones. I would never want to be defined by science. It is an interest, and I do like logical thinking, but practising science in a laboratory is not my strength nor my passion.
But I think I know what my equivalent to KJ's music is: words. Literature. Languages. Things I prefer a lot more in comparison to working at the bench. And right here, right now, I vow to myself: I shall live a life of words, and through them, perhaps, I can one day be a human being.