The aptly titled House of Hummingbird follows 14-year-old Eun-hee (Park Ji-hoo) as she tries to fly her way through life without a care in the world. Even if she undergoes a seismic life journey as she deals with neglect from her parents along with an illness potentially paralyzing her face, it still feels very composed as it captures the insouciant period known as adolescence. A time where one is largely unsure how the real world works and only gets premature glimpses of its hardships.
As Eun-hee feels indifference over being devoted to school, her neglectful parents struggle to stress how important her studies are. A recognizable dilemma for any working-class parent who has tried getting through to their children, telling them why getting good grades is a way of getting them into better schools since they’re often oblivious to the fact their parents live paycheck to paycheck. The occasional outbursts that Eun-hee’s parents have that make them seem antagonistic may provide familiarity for anyone whose parents have struggled to keep their household afloat and, in my case, have tried having a confrontation about being financially sensible when it comes to which college to attend. Something that becomes an eventual tipping point of stress that parents feel when raising a teenager.
Thankfully, those aforementioned dramatic outbursts are only scattered throughout the 138-minute-long picture to prevent it from being an entirely morose experience. In addition, because the film follows a middle-schooler’s life as opposed to a high schooler, we likely haven’t seen the worst from these controlling parents. To break away from the boiling tension present in Eun-hee’s home life regardless, writer/director Kim Bora relievingly infuses sequences of merriment. Particularly, moments involving music like when Eun-hee and her friends dance at a club and a scene involving her tutor Young-ji (Kim Sae-byuk) singing a harmonious tune to her and her fellow classmate.
A small gesture of kindness that makes it clear how Young-ji is the life guide that Eun-hee needs. Given how Eun-hee endures her parents saying they understand her despite not knowing what goes on in her head along with physical abuse at the hands of her older brother Dae-hoon (Son Sang-yeon), her new teacher becomes the one who help her find her place in the world and Kim Sae-byuk plays Young-ji with such affability and assurance. As for lead actress Park Ji-hoo as Eun-hee, even in her silence, she effortlessly captures Eun-hee’s growing pragmatism.
Meanwhile, Jung In-gi offers a stunning portrait of fragile chauvinism as Eun-hee’s controlling father. While his character arc isn’t explored very deeply, showing him as a man with the need to be the strong-willed chief force of the family unit makes the picture a slight handling of toxic masculinity. Eun-hee’s exploration of her sexuality as she dates Ji-won (Jeong Yun-seo) while developing possible feelings for her classmate Yoo-ri (Seol Hye-in) is similarly underdeveloped. However, Eun-hee finding love being a mere plot point as opposed to the central focus is one way that House of Hummingbird veers away from having a traditional coming-of-age narrative.
The film doesn’t possess a traditional “coming out” storyline or follow its main heroine trying to fit in with the in crowd nor does it all under any traditional comical quirks present within other pictures dealing with adolescence. The 138-minute runtime sets it apart even further from such films that run for around 100 minutes.
Long length aside, the picture still works as an incredibly meditative characterization of life at an unsettled phase. A tale that mixes solemnity and spontaneity while possessing naturalistic performances from its central cast, House of Hummingbird is an assured debut from Kim Bora that truly soars.
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