[Movie Review] House of Hummingbird (2019)

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South Korea | Drama | NR | Director: Kim Bo-ra | Writer: Kim Bo-ra | Cast: Park Ji-hu, Kim Sae-byuk, Jeong In-gi, Lee Seung-yeon, Park Su-yeon | Korean | 135 minutes


South Korea, as you might have known, is one of Asia's powerhouses in terms of the film industry. The country never runs out of directors with world-class potential and be prepared to witness the rise of a new sun which comes in the name of Kim Bo-ra. 'House of Hummingbird', said to be loosely based on Kim's very own adolescence days, is as solid as a feature debut could get. The film is a sincere self-discovery journey, attempting to reveal one's maze of personalities through the enactment of progressive realism ideas that take place within a rather orthodox environment, an urbanizing landscape of Korea set during the early '90s. This is a story coming from the other side of the society (on a very micro level), lurking beneath the whole industrialization things happened on the nation's bigger picture.

Eun-hee (Park Ji-hu) is your usual youthful student who's undergoing her transitional phase of life. She lives in an already dysfunctional family where her parents frequently berate each other while working crazy hours in their own rice cake shop; there are also Su-hee (Park Su-yeon), her ever naughty sister whose life seems to be dedicated to violating every rule imposed on her, and the big bully brother Dae-hoon (Sohn Sang-yeon) who would never back down from a chance to slap his own sisters. Eun-hee is the kind of silent youngster whom for most of the time is overlooked by the others, hence why she's having a hard time to find her place where she can settle herself emotionally.

On top of that, people around her have a tendency to define her as a rebel just because her dream is not something ordinary for someone to have in her era. While other students in her class are saying (as furtherly affirmed and directed by their teacher) they want to enroll at a prestigious college following graduation, becoming a famous cartoonist is the sole interest in Eun-hee's mind. Her only best friend is Ji-suk (Park Seo-yoon) from her cram school class yet all of her time spent with Ji-suk don't seem to fill the void in her soul. She constantly looks as bewildered as ever. Introduction of romantic entanglement between her, her immature boyfriend Ji-won (Jeong Yoon-seo) and an inquisitive girl Yu-ri (Seol Hye-in) adds more fuel towards the heretofore raging inner conundrum.

It might be one of Kim's intentions to highlight that when life gives you lemons, it will also provide you with a way to make lemonades out of those lemons. This point is being harnessed in the narrative in the form of Young-ji (Kim Sae-byuk), a new teacher who's taking over the mentorship in Eun-hee's cram school class. Interaction among them is a medium to deliver another essential message to the audience that the number of people you have around you does not matter, but what matter is whether you have someone who thoroughly understands you or not. Eun-hee is slowly getting attached to Young-ji because she thinks of her as someone who finally has a complete grasp at her, and at the same time Young-ji looks at Eun-hee as a reflection of her younger self.

What comes afterward is a hard-fought tug of war between Eun-hee and her destiny. Whenever she's almost at the point where she could obtain recognition and comfort, life keeps throwing more lemons as if she's a fragile pinata. She'll fall here and there, leaving both corporeal and sentimental bruises on her very humanly state but she needs to learn if she wants to attain such comfortability she has to embrace those scars. That's the beauty of Kim's script; exuberantly wrapping puberty anxiety as the feature's key topic with the complexity of the self-discovery process and all the problems which come with it in a perfectly constructed pace.

Park Ji-hu is undisputedly great in absorbing all of Eun-hee's pain and traits. But unlike Eun-hee, Park Ji-hu as an actress knows exactly how to assert her presence in every frame. Her steadily subtle performance in performing a wide range of expressions from loneliness to anger throughout the movie immensely helps in emitting her charisma and even when she's just staying still in a scene, her character's aura is crawling all over the screen, she's simply that good. Even though she's the titular character, she doesn't speak that much but her line delivery is remarkably consistent and on point. When she finally unleashes the imprisoned sense of frustration during the climax part of the film, you'll be totally taken aback.

One should also praise the execution of all significant technicality aspects from 'House of Hummingbird'. Kim Bo-ra and her cinematographer Kang Gook-hyun utilized a lot of slow-panning and still medium-ranged shots whereas all of them are neatly timed and assembled. By combining the arrangement of the aforementioned shots with sleek editing touches, classy iridescent color palette, and engaging yet soothing sound composition, Kim Bo-ra presents a superb visual package that beautifully contradicts the eruption of pathos lying deep inside the script. Kim played it smart by not going full throttle in creating a very explicit '90s set design and chose to put real-life historical events by way of media announcement into play (such as the passing of North Korea's Kim Il-sung and the collapse of Seongsu Bridge) to extract a more grounded and efficient '90s vibe.

In the end, 'House of Hummingbird' is a highly recommended stuff to watch. Make sure to catch it whenever it's available at your convenience, you wouldn't want to miss it.


Review written by: Dysan Aufar