The Recorder Exam 2011 (Movie Review)

I seldom feel overwhelmed by the ending of the short story. It is the beauty of the short stories I suppose to convey some sort of emotions to ponder and think about what it is that surrounds us but we rarely acknowledge it.

“The Recorder Exam” takes us on an emotional journey through the eyes of nine-year-old Eunhee, capturing a slice of life during Korea’s transformative industrial revolution in 1988.

Directed by Kangyu Ga-ram, Kim Bora and starring Jeong In-gi, Park Myung-shin and Jeongone Hwang. This 2011 arthouse short story beautifully delves into the complex dynamics of family, societal shifts, and personal growth from the point of a ten year old girl.

The scene starts with a Nine year old Eunhee calling her mom to bring her recorder to school following a denial as the expression on her face confirms that.

From the very beginning, we’re drawn into Eunhee’s world, feeling her longing to be heard and acknowledged. The symbolism of the recorder, a seemingly simple instrument, mirrors Eunhee’s own struggles.

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She has to hold up both her arms in the class as she fails to keep up with her classmates.

Her attempts to keep up with her classmates’ melodies reflect the challenges of keeping pace in a changing world.

As the Korean economy evolves, so do the family dynamics, portraying a stark reality where parents’ emotional turmoil often goes unnoticed by their children.

The usual, parents fail to sympathise with their children as depression starts to linger over mother and father cheats on his family.

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Eunhee is big enough to know everything but shows no remorse which slowly and gradually turns into anger. The movie captures the agitation of fulfillment, both monetary and spirituality.

Eunhee fails to understand her position in the family but get some freedom to express her gratitude to her fairly rich friend in school she practices recorder with.

Despite her family’s troubles and her own feelings of inadequacy, she discovers an unexpected ally in her friend at school.

The recorder becomes a vessel of expression, enabling her to connect with her friend and offer gratitude in a world that often feels overwhelming.

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The turning point arrives when Eunhee, recognizing her own worth, musters the courage to ask for a new recorder, much better and expensive one.

This request symbolizes her desire for a better life and a belief that she deserves more.

With all the family drama and frustration she finally appears for the recorder exam, anxiously waiting for her turn.

She gets up on stage and to much of anyone’s surprise the recorder exam becomes a metaphorical stage where her newfound confidence shines.

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The crescendo of emotions builds as Eunhee plays flawlessly, mirroring her realization that she, like the recorder, was never broken or replaceable.

Eunhee’s journey embodies the universal theme of seeking validation and the quest for self-worth.

The closing shot, capturing Eunhee’s gaze of realization, becomes a poignant reminder that each of us carries value, even when the world around us seems chaotic.

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“The Recorder Exam” is a touching portrayal of a young girl’s journey to discover her own strength amidst the turmoil of change, family secrets, and the quest for identity.

It leaves us pondering the significance of hope, belief, and the transformative power of self-acceptance.

Ending notes

“The Recorder Exam” paints a touching picture of Eunhee’s growing up. We see her learning about friendship while practicing the recorder with her school friend—a small moment that blossoms into something special.

Her innocent questions about being her mother’s favorite and if she looks pretty reveal her desire for love and validation, like any child. Even money becomes a tricky subject for her, as she’s hesitant to ask her father for a new recorder due to its cost.

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Eunhee’s sense of fairness emerges when she’s upset by her father treating her brother differently after a fight. She’s starting to understand what’s right and wrong.

The film also shows the tough side of growing up, with Eunhee keeping her father’s affair a secret and witnessing her mother’s depression and her sister’s complicated relationship. All of this happens at an age when life should be simpler.

“The Recorder Exam” isn’t just a story; it’s a snapshot of real moments we all face while growing up—finding friends, seeking love, grappling with money’s meaning, learning about fairness, and even glimpsing the harsh realities adults deal with.

These pieces of Eunhee’s life feel like fragments of our own, making the film hit home in the most heartfelt way.

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