‘House of Hummingbird’ captures the struggle of Seoul teenager Eun-hee
- Written by Diane Carson
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.