HOUSE OF HUMMINGBIRD – Review by Diane Carson

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House of Hummingbird captures the struggle of Seoul teenager Eun-hee.

Accomplished character profiles with honesty and depth never fail to impress me. I now include South Korean Bora Kim’s House of Hummingbird as a sterling example, accomplishing exactly that. Writer and director Kim burrows convincingly and completely into the psychological and emotional world of lonely fourteen-year-old Eun-hee who, like the country, stands on the verge of change.

Set in 1994 Seoul, the title, House of Hummingbird suggests the importance of both the family life (the House) Eun-hee endures more than she enjoys and Eun-hee’s flitting about like a hummingbird in search of nourishment, that is, acceptance by others and of herself. She does not receive either from unsympathetic parents, rebellious sister Soo-hee, physically abusive brother Daehoon, indifferent girlfriends, or an apathetic boyfriend. Her mother and father scream at each other, Eun-hee needs medical attention that could leave her scarred and partially paralyzed and must deal with that trauma on her own, plus a ruptured eardrum and the deaths of two individuals close to her. It’s a very tough personal world to navigate at any age, made more difficult when public tragedies occur: North Korea’s ruler Kim Il-Sung dies and Seoul’s Seongsu Bridge collapses, an apt metaphor for Eun-hee’s life at that moment.

Eun-hee navigates all this with repressed emotions, receiving valuable advice and encouragement only from her Chinese teacher. Cinematographer Kuk-hyun Kang and director Kim have said they worked “to bring out the maximum emotional impact,” while avoiding portraying any character negatively. In fact, Kim achieves her desired, nuanced portrayals with each character through at least one illuminating scene, revealing that, in fact, “no one can win in a patriarchal system.” And yet Eun-hee has the resilience we all long for.

In every scene, Ji-hu Park observes, processes, and in what is the magic of cinema, reveals her deepest depths of thought and emotion through her eyes. She’s a wonder on screen for two and a third hours, segueing from one mood to another. Yes, the film could have been shortened slightly, but then we would have less time to relish Eun-hee who represents specific and universal truths of humanity.

In Korean with English subtitles. For more information, the official House of Hummingbird website link is https://www.wellgousa.com/films/house-of-hummingbird
For tickets and streaming, you may go to www.Kinomarquee.com

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.