House of Hummingbird finds beauty and hope in life’s smallest moments, telling an endearing coming of age tale that viewers will reflect on for a long time.
An essential part of adolescence is feeling lost. You feel as though you have no one, and that nobody can possibly know what it’s like to be you. Growing up seemingly comes too quickly: it’s like nothing you’ve ever experienced before, and you have no idea how to even begin to handle it. All these new emotions. All these new people that you think will be in your life forever. While none of these things are brand new ideas in the world of film, Bora Kim finds a way to weave them together in a way that feels fresh and painfully poignant with her debut House of Hummingbird.
House of Hummingbird is set in 1994 and chronicles the realizations, heartache, and love that this fourteen year old finds herself faced with. The film is mesmerizing from its very first scene, which ends with the camera zooming out from the door in which the main character, Eun-Hee (Park Ji-hu) just walked into with her mother. It’s so simple yet so effective, and a perfect taste of what’s to come, and telling of the film’s themes.
Kim’s writing of this young girl’s struggles in House of Hummingbird feel like a reflection of memories that were buried deep. Her despair, her child-like intimacy, her heartbreak, her longing, it all reflects wonderfully the anguish that comes with being a fourteen year old and trying to find yourself when your life hasn’t even really begun yet. The realism in this drama demands the viewer to reflect on their own childhood, and realize that there is some of this young girl in all of us.
What’s interesting about the main character especially is the emphasis on her just being an average girl. Teen movies often want to make their characters as interesting as possible, causing some disconnect, because it is often some sort of fantastical representation of being a teen that is blown out of proportion. The director here decides to focus on realism, the slow moments as well as the life-changing ones, and still manages to make it endearing. Despite everything that makes Eun-hee outwardly unique, on the inside, she is just like any other teenager. Even the film describes its own events as a “seemingly regular summer that leaves nothing unchanged”, which adds to the authenticity portrayed within the film.
A large part of Eun-hee’s struggle in House of Hummingbird is her need for approval. At home, her life is rough. At school, it’s just as bad with kids tormenting her daily. She needs someone, anyone, to pay attention to her, and make her feel valid. She finds this with one of her teachers, and while this teacher doesn’t take away all she deals with, she offers hope for the future, and this simplicity is what makes this film as gorgeous as it is. It’s such a simple relationship: many of us have had this sort of dynamic with a teacher we especially liked at some point, but here we’re shown just how much that can be sort of life changing, no matter how small it may seem.
The story isn’t just Eun-hee’s, either. Her growth seems to parallel that of the world around her, a world that is rapidly changing at a rapid pace, just like she is. The film being set against the backdrop of the Seongsua bridge collapse adds new layer that normally would not work and might feel jumbled if handled incorrectly, but here, they come together so seamlessly that one does not overshadow the other. Instead, they blend together.
There is so much about this debut that sticks out, making Bora Kim a director to keep an eye out for. Every aspect of House of Hummingbird works in perfect synchrony, making this a coming-of-age film that really seeps into your mind, in a way that only the most beloved films of this genre manage to do.
House of Hummingbird opened in virtual cinemas on June 26, 2020, and will be available to buy on August 4.