As many great coming-of-age films are, House of Hummingbird draws inspiration from the childhood of its filmmaker. This element of realism adds a layer of melancholy to the proceeding, often feeling as though we are spying on someone’s intimate memories, and not always the ones that we might fill a photo album with. It is a film filled with universal experiences of growing up, but framed within a specific cultural moment in Seoul, South Korea.
Though the movie written and directed by Kim Bora centers on a specific tragic moment in history, it simultaneously provides an allegorical theme for the narrative about a young girl looking for connections in an increasingly modern Korean city. This provides layers and a universality to the story of 14-year-old Eun-hee (Ji-hu Park), an otherwise average teenager living in a changing world and surviving a tumultuous home life. Uncertain who she is and what she will become, Eun-hee experiments with love and friendship with the guidance of a supportive teacher.
Observant and empathetic, Eun-hee’s new teacher Young-ji (Sae-byuk Kim) recognizes the difficulties of teenage years, as well as the unique troubles that come with a difficult home life. Beyond her abusive brother, Eun-hee is often neglected by her shop-owning parents, sent to the doctor on her own and left to navigate the difficulties of growing up without support or guidance. When even her closest friendship is in danger of being a casualty of teenage melodrama, Young-ji provides the stability and support needed.
Far more arthouse than crowd-pleaser, House of Hummingbird requires some patience in viewing. As beautiful as each camera set-up is, some viewers more accustomed to mainstream entertainment may find the pacing challenging. On the other hand, those with some familiarity with this style may find it much easier to get swept up in the atmosphere of storytelling. But even those who are used to watching slower narratives may find the bleakness of Eun-hee occasionally overwhelming, as I know I did. If comparing this to other coming-of-age tales, there seems to a lot less joy involved than some of the more popular entries. This is not to say that there aren’t moments of happiness within Eun-hee’s struggles, but merely that they often feel outnumbered and overshadowed.
Even with an arthouse approach to pacing and overwhelming bleak situations to place the protagonist in, there is something deeply affecting about House of Hummingbird. Individual scenes ring with absolute truth, to the point that it is easy to forget you are watching a movie and not living breathing people. Even with a script that may have benefited from some editing, this is easily forgivable because the individual sequences are so expertly acted and directed.
The Blu-ray release of House of Hummingbird comes with no special features or alternate viewing methods.
Entertainment Value: 6.5/10
Quality of Filmmaking: 8/10
Historical Significance: 6/10
Special Features: 0/10