There has been a surge of 90’s nostalgia lately that I don’t exactly feel comfortable with because that’s the decade which I came of age and I don’t want to believe that 1994 was 25 years ago. However, House of Hummingbird is forgiven for being set in the ’90s because of how brilliant it is. Taking place in Seoul, South Korea, the year that the Seongsu Bridge collapsed and the death of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-Il’s father; the film focuses on the life of one middle school girl named Eun-hee.
“Eun-hee doesn’t necessarily care for school, often falling asleep or drawing comics during class…”
Eun-hee doesn’t necessarily care for school, often falling asleep or drawing comics during class. She seems to be somewhat depressed, except for when she’s with her best friend or her boyfriend. We see why this is when we take a look at her home life. Her father is a relentless disciplinarian, while her mother is often in her own world, resenting the fact that she has to raise children and didn’t go to college and make her own life. Her brother often beats her with a bamboo sword. Her older sister is somewhat of an extension of Eun-hee and a projection of what she might become. She has to travel across town to go to a different school for underachieving students and often sneaks out at night or sneaks her boyfriend through the window.
Eun-hee wishes that she could escape her family and the mediocrity her life has set out before her, which exacerbates her depression and therefore her tendency to act out. She is nominated by her homeroom classmates as the “most delinquent” student. She proves this to be true by skipping class to smoke cigarettes and go to karaoke, as well as shoplifting with her best friend.
“…one of the more honest portrayals of growing up in less than idyllic circumstances with a less than perfect family…”
The one place where Eun-hee finally gets comfort is with her Chinese cram-school teacher Ms. Yong-Ji. The two form a bond one day when Eun-hee and Jae-Suk, her best friend, are in a fight. From that point on, Eun-hee relies on her for help when things go badly, which unfortunately is quite often. She keeps getting dumped by her boyfriend, she gets made fun of by girls at school, and when she finds a lump on the back of her ear, her parents don’t even accompany her to the doctor. Her mother tells her where a doctor is, and when a subsequent surgery occurs, they don’t stay with her for very long during her recovery.
House of Hummingbird, despite a somewhat joyful sounding title, is anything but. It is quite the depressing film, but it shows us that we as humans are masters of endurance. We can survive just about anything. My one complaint about the film is that it is probably about half an hour too long for my liking (it’s almost 2.5 hours long). Otherwise, I thought it was one of the more honest portrayals of growing up in less than idyllic circumstances with a less than perfect family I’ve seen in quite some time. It also teaches Americans and other Westerners what it might have been like in South Korea in the ’90s which is something I always appreciate when watching foreign films. I can see this film going onto great praise as we approach Oscar season. We’ll see if I’m right soon enough. Even if not, try to check it out before we get that far in the year. It’s a great, honest coming of age story.
House of Hummingbird (2019) Written and Directed by Bora Kim. Starring Ji-hu Park, In-gi Jeong, Say-byeok Kim, Seung-yun Lee. House of Hummingbird screened at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival.
7.5 out of 10 stars