A director in tune with the material, and one willing to upset coming-of-age tropes, makes House of Hummingbird a surprising find.
The feature directorial debut from filmmaker Bora Kim, House of Hummingbird has finally been released after a lengthy festival run where it generated plenty of good will. Taking viewers back to 1994, House of Hummingbird tells the story of Eunhee (played brilliantly by Ji-hu Park), an eighth-grade student on the brink of major changes in her life. As friendships begin to bloom, her home life becomes increasingly stressful, leading her to bond with a professor (Sae-byeok Kim). Featuring gorgeous photography from cinematographer Gook-hyun, House of Hummingbird at first feels like an artful but superficially familiar coming of age tale, an impression that is decidedly upset. A quiet and understated film told through a series of static shots, Kim embeds within her narrative thematic heft, mostly in examining the oppressing strain of sexism and societal traditionalism. The film portrays Eun-hee’s life as one of deep detachment, an internalization that encompasses both her home life and a social life populated by schoolmates. Navigating this detachment, she manages to almost passively evolve from a quiet, reserved child to an altogether stranger person on the brink of adulthood.
The direction is both intimate and somehow rigid, a formalist edge rendering each brief and otherwise minor emotional beat with a surprising potency. Ji-hu Park’s performance is particularly special: instead of fulfilling the caricature of a loner or performing a stereotype of an oft-kilter child from a broken home just waiting to escape adolescence, she instead plays Eun-hee as more inscrutable, absorbing the everyday moments of interactions without overt demonstration. Glances and gestures form the currency of dense and textured emotional connections, and this focus on interiority carries much of the narrative weight. These missable moments, instances that so typically disappear without so much as a thought, elucidated here by the marriage of director and performer, prove the real soul of what is one of 2020’s most surprising, unassuming discoveries.
Published as part of June 2020’s Before We Vanish.