Written by: Kim Bora
Starring: Park Ji-hoo, Kim Sae-byuk, Jung In-gi, Lee Seung-yeon, Park Soo-yeon
Amongst a deluge of misunderstanding people, finding the right person can form a connection like no other. This can arrive in the most unlikely places, but the impact makes a huge difference, especially in the adolescence phase of a person’s life. House of Hummingbird chronicles not only a coming of age story but it also tells it in a deftly empathetic manner reflecting excellent quality.
Never quite fitting anywhere, Eun-hee (Park Ji-hoo) suffers abuse from her older brother and faces mostly neglect from her other family members. Simultaneously, she must deal with fickle relationships, which makes her doubt herself until she interacts with her Chinese tutor, Young-ji (Kim Sae-byuk). With this relationship, she begins to find her own self-worth and sees the world for what it actually represents.
While being familiar in some sense, following Eun-hee’s story brings a level of freshness due to the personal nature of the story and how engaging her path proves to be. Mostly staying quiet when in class, which gets her pegged as a loser, Eun-hee lives a life where the financial and educational supports exist but nothing for her emotional growth. She receives the constricting parameters of attending the national university as her goal and she certainly receives the support from her family to put her in Chinese classes, but she lives in constant duress where her brother gets the benefit of the doubt on every occasion. It certainly does not help when he takes any opportunity to beat her up and it gets framed as both of them needing to stop fighting. Obviously, this “fighting” is one-sided, but it continues to display the circumstances of Eun-hee’s life.
It’s what makes the interactions she has with her tutor, Young-ji, so informative and eye-opening for her. She presents these eye-opening experiences for the young girl like knowing her worth. The sadness coming from this revelation sticks out because everyone should know to stand up to their mistreatment but when life only presents pain and a lack of accountability, this idea can get lost in the mind of an adolescent. Every scene featuring Eun-hee and Young-ji carries a level of sweetness, because an underlying feeling runs through the tutor as well, signifying she does not have everything under wraps in her own life. It pushes back against the idea young folks might conjure about the individuals they look up to. Everyone has their own issues to work through and while specifics do not get mentioned, this feeling permeates in the way they speak to one another and the advice given by Young-ji.
While her familial side has its own issues, Eun-hee’s self-exploration with her friends and love interests present their own struggles to embattle. This occurs mostly with her best friend and a fairly fickle boyfriend. As mature 14-year-olds may believe themselves to be, House of Hummingbird gives ample reminders at the little bend required to snap what feels like fully formed relationships. Eun-hee and her boyfriend mostly hold hands with each other and not much gets spoken between them. Their dynamic appears to be sweet and profound in its own way until the realization this belief sits in a purely one-sided way. Almost no explanation gets provided for why he acts the way he does because it becomes apparent whatever Eun-hee seeks in this boy does not receive the proper reciprocation. Sure, it brings her sadness but it only continues her development in trying to distinguish what in this world intrigues her.
Despite many moments of sadness overtaking the narrative, House of Hummingbird also employs many great instances of elation for Eun-hee as any coming of age story would hope to employ. It certainly shows the painful aspects of her life while also displaying the undeniable excitement for going out to a karaoke night and having fun with her friends. It could be routine for adults to have these moments of release but seeing her discover this for the first time shows how precious those first experiences can be for a young person. It certainly also helps when apparently the ultimate indicator of prudence and studiousness appears in whether the girls of this generation decided to go out to karaoke or not. Seriously, the emphasis Eun-hee’s homeroom teacher puts on karaoke should be concerning to anyone, but when the teen indulgences in this supposed hampering activity, it further outlines the ridiculousness of the adults around her.
Recounting experiences from her own childhood, writer/director Kim Bora lays out this story in such an exquisite manner to capture the feelings and hardships of adolescence and the unrelenting pace of new experiences in life. Kim Bora maintains a level of engagement throughout this story to make these silly relational issues something so integral to this character. Everything feels like the end of the world because the scope of her perception allows it to be. The audience gets put right along Eun-hee for this ride aided by a strong performance by Park Ji-hoo. A tremendous youth performance in capturing the emotional complexities of this young girl and the issues she must combat while also discovering her own interests and how it combats with the portrait of the world presented by the adults in her life.
Emotionally devastating and effective, House of Hummingbird captures a personal story and brings us along for the ride. Not only does it contribute to a strong coming of age tale, but also introduces another poignant voice in storytelling with Kim Bora. She works wonders with this story and how she balances each of these relationships to synthesize into one holistic experience for Eun-hee as she progresses through an emotionally tumultuous time in her life. One to appreciate and cherish.