The first time I learnt about this film, was through its promotional flyer at Tokyo International Film Festival, but somehow back then, orchestra music didn't appeal, though I know that this documentary has gained some traction in recent months. In addition, my interest in watching classical music performed by orchestras got piqued thanks to films such as Nodame Cantabile and The Concert, and what more when a friend had accidentally bought tickets for me already, that I didn't have much of an option but to sit through this one.
KJ: Music and Life documents over a period of 6 to 7 years, the life of and introduces us to Wong Ka Jeng (hence KJ), a musical prodigy who by the age of 7 had picked up music, and got coached by his dad as well as a certain Miss Nancy Loo, to international acclaim, having been invited to perform at European events, and trusted enough in his teens to be helming the musical co-curricular activity for a school. Directed by Cheung King-wai, he splits the narrative into two halves, one where KJ is still a kid, and the other contemporary timeline where he's a teenager already.
Filled with enough talking head segments, we slowly learn KJ's philosophy behind his music, that it must be something worthwhile doing, and never be felt like a chore but something which he hoped to inspire others to lead a more fulfilling life. In some ways, that echoes his own sentiments of wanting a life filled and led by humanity, but just what and why this is so, remained to be revealed only in the film's finale, which honestly lifted this film from its rather straightforward plateau of what you would normally expect from a biography.
What I thought director Cheung did in peculiar terms, was the fact that we're never really introduced to KJ properly, and neither are the clueless aware of his accomplishments. After all, why make a film about someone if he/she doesn't stand out and is just one of the many musicians or prodigies even, out there? We're neither given timeline, nor a proper wrap up as to how much more has the narrative progressed after the last frame. We get glimpses of how talented he is when we witness him play the piano as a kid, and in his teens, and being equally adapt at using the violin. Then there's this whole issue about him conducting a bunch of schoolkids, which reinforces his musical abilities to an entirely different level in coordinating people to deliver their very best in an ensemble.
I felt he is a likeable chap, though some may disagree based on how comfortable one is with the display of self-confidence that he shows. I guess when you're a genius you're accorded some leeway in eccentricities, and there were some moments where even religion got a little jab at, though it wasn't pushing it a lot further than stating his disbelief in the power of prayer, other than to unite the performers, since confidence comes from an individual's self-belief. I'm sure he has a lot of successes under his belt, and while those in the loop / industry will know of his presence and what he stands for (just like how a female fan recognized him after a performance), some of the transition scenes could have been used to insert some factual intertitles that may help us appreciate the person a lot more.
Still, the film paints a fairly positive portrait of KJ, and then the real narrative that got contained under wraps, provided that final emotional push that felt a little too late, though it did just enough, for the first time for an audience probably, to identify and connect with a prodigy, that even he can feel emotional betrayal that called for drastic action to be taken, and thanks to the crafting of the story at this juncture, made everything else after a little poignant. It may be a bit disturbing to hear him talk about deliberate death, but you may just agree with his beliefs about doing things one's passionate about, rather than to embark on something without putting your heart and soul in.
I think it'll be a thrill one of these days, to be in Hong Kong and actually listen to him play, or conduct a musical storm with an orchestra.