The mother, Han Da-som, sits at a piano with her six-year-old daughter, Song Hye-Jin, pressing the keys with her index finger and motioning to her daughter to follow her example. The father, Song Seul-ki, stands to the right of the piano with another daughter, Song Ha-neul, aged sixteen. They are both holding violins, Seul-ki mechanically plucking at the strings and tuning his, while Ha-neul glides the bow gently downward across the strings of her violin with her eyes closed, focused on the heavenly hum it's producing.
"Want to try a tune?" Seul-ki says, looking at his wife.
"Sure yeobo," Da-som replies, then turns towards her youngest. "Want to play a song Hye-jina?" she asks in babytalk.
"Ha-neula, what shall we play?" Seul-ki asks the sixteen-year-old.
"Aegukga," she replies, her brown eyes now open and gleaming.
"The national anthem?" Seul-ki says, pouting. "We play that every day."
"The older version," Ha-neul replies, her cheeks hiding her eyes this time, revealing an exuberant smile.
"Mm, I see," he says, his eyebrows perking up. "I think I know what you mean." Seul-ki starts to play an old tune, which was both the national anthem of the united Korean government in exile before the North/South split, and the familiar western tune, "Auld Lang Syne."
He leads alone with his violin, the notes sounding crisp. Ha-neul joins in, sliding her bow more slowly to back up the melody of her father. Then the piano starts, providing a rich harmony and a steady tempo. Hye-jin tries her best to mimic her mother's movements, but is too hesitant to press down on the keys.
They play on for a minute, blending together to produce a quaint sound, each member of the family finding their place in the song, adding to and complementing the unique sound of the others. For a brief moment, it seems like there is nothing else in the world but themselves and the music.
Then suddenly Seul-ki starts to improvise, his elegant playing now resembling a country fiddle with each bow stroke rather than the crisp sound just a moment before. He smiles at Ha-neul, encouraging her with his expression to go ahead and lead. Ha-neul takes over, her father playing back up. Taking a cue from her father, she adds more bow strokes to the main melody in the same country style, the sound distorting and resonating more wildly and freely with each stroke, the pitch rising and falling happily like a leaf caught up in the breeze.
Ha-neul rocks her bow elegantly with her eyes closed in meditation, feeling the music through the vibrations of her violin, unaware of her surroundings and completely ignoring the advice of her instructors who command her to play with inviting eyes at the audience. Her father watches her intently, the expression of paternal pride on his face. Her mother also glances over happily, content to see her eldest daughter carefree and at peace.
Just then the door opens with a loud creak and stops with a bang. The music abruptly ends. Administrator Ji Yong-bom peers in from the hallway, everyone's eyes fixated on him. He is wearing the uniform of a school administrator of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, a red star pin with the Great Leader's picture inside shining brightly on his lapel, a shadow seemingly surrounding him in an ominous aura.
There is an awkward silence for a moment, until Seul-ki finally speaks up with a firm, resolute voice. "It's the Aegukka."
"That's not the tune," Administrator Ji replies sternly. "You're supposed to be practicing for the welcoming ceremony. The education minister will be visiting next week."
The family lowers their eyes to the ground. No one replies.
Administrator Ji then gazes intently at Ha-neul, inspecting her slowly from head to toe. She stands hugging her violin coyly in her arms, her long black hair tied together in a girlish ponytail, her head bowed in nervous reverence, her bare shins tightly clutched together in fear. He catches a sliver of her brown eyes through her half-closed eyelids staring straight down in fright, her small eyes spaced slightly further apart and bisected by a cute, pointed nose. He admires her physique: tall, broad shoulders, thin build, athletic legs. Her white longsleeve shirt, red tie, and black school uniform give her an air of innocence. His gaze finally reaches the bottom of her skirt. He smirks, before noticing Seul-ki glaring at him menacingly. Shit, he thinks to himself.
"Ah, that must be the older tune, the one during the Japanese occupation, right?" Administrator Ji asks in a less authoritative tone, unsure if the scowling Seul-ki is crazy enough to try and attack him. He decides not to wait and find out. "Well, that version could be an interesting surprise for the minister," he adds hurriedly, "Try it! Carry on! Carry on!" He then closes the door as quickly and loudly as he opened it.
When the footsteps descend downstairs, the family looks at each other with relief. Hye-Jin then presses some keys, roughly following the tune of "Auld Lang Syne."
"Oh, Hye-jina!" Da-som exclaims. This time they exchange surprised glances percolating into nervous laughter, the tension finally broken.
When the laugher dies down, Ha-neul tries to continue with the song. She glides her bow across the strings but her key is off and she stops. She notices that her hands are trembling. She shakes it off and tries again, but this time her tempo fluctuates. She pauses, taking in a couple deep breaths, before she tries a third time. The sound is off-key. Frustrated, she hangs her head.
Seul-ki notices that Ha-neul is troubled. "Are you ... okay, Ha-neula?" Seul-ki asks, still irritated at the Administrator eyeing his daughter. He realizes his tone and instead tries to say more tenderly, "You did enough for today."
"I'm sorry father," she replies. "Please, don't be angry. I'll try to focus more." She thinks that her mistakes are the cause of his irritation.
"Well," Ha-neul replies, almost laughing, "Actually, I think I forgot to give him his new Respected Comrade pin. I had mail duty today. We got a delivery stating all school staff needs to stop wearing the Great Leader's pin immediately. I thought that's why he was here."
Seul-ki looks down at the Respected Comrade's pin on his shirt, then at Ha-neul with a subdued smile, his irritation dissipated. "Well, I guess it won't hurt him ... for now at least." The two of them share a small laugh together. "I'll give it to him later."