Title: House of Hummingbird (2018)
Format: Blu-ray Disc
Release Date: Aug. 4, 2020
Price: $14.99 (List: $29.98) Buy on Amazon
Few experiences in a child’s life are more brutal than adolescence. Proving that coming of age is not that different globally, House of Hummingbird, written and directed by Bora Kim, follows 14 year-old South Korean student Eun-Hee, played by Ji-hu Park. The multi-award winning film focuses mainly on Eun-Hee and her interactions with a small circle of family and friends as she searches for love and purpose.
It is 1994, the year that the Seongsu bridge collapsed, and it would seem that Eun-Hee’s life is following suit. Living with an emotionally defunct family where a child is only as good as their parents’ ambitions, she deals with an abusive older brother and accompanying sexism, and a sister whose lack of motivation in her educational pursuits along with a party girl lifestyle have gotten her kicked out of the “good” school.
From the opening shot of Eun-Hee climbing what appears to be an endless set of stairs in a labyrinth of cookie cutter apartments, the movie starts out on a listless note. The audience is given the impression that Eun-Hee is just going through the motions after she beats on what she believes to be her home’s door, only to realize that she is on the wrong floor.
The film’s title House of Hummingbird is fitting as she just flits from one day to the next in search of something. That feeling of despondency is enhanced through long (sometimes painfully so) shots of empty halls and corners to remind us that even in a house full of people Eun-Hee is still very alone.
Through blunt, and often stilted dialogue, which suits the film’s tone beautifully, Eun-Hee’s life is brought into focus little-by-little throughout the film. The film is never heavy handed, and it requires some patience as we are never spoon fed some of the more important aspects. The audience is truly just an observer in this girl’s life.
Her only moments of joy come at the hands of an on again, off again boyfriend, and a best friend who, at times, could be better described as a frenemy. Eun-Hee’s bisexuality is conveyed naturally without fanfare, through a relationship with a female classmate. Yet, despite a few karaoke club outings, and her love of drawing comic books, Eun-Hee’s only other pastime is working in the family store.
The adults in Eun-Hee’s life could hardly be called role models with a demanding father, and a mother who appears to regret her life choices. When Eun-Hee needs her the most she is mentally absent. Her homeroom teacher whose idea of motivation is to lead his students through a war chant of “Instead of karaoke I will go to Seoul National University.” He works diligently to sniff out the delinquents in the school like a deranged witch hunter. You can only guess how Eun-Hee fares during his investigations.
When Eun-Hee meets a kindred spirit in the form of a Chinese language teacher, she begins to see how her life “might shine.” Through Ms. Kim’s wisdom and their interactions, the audience begins to see some life in her. Eventually, in the most frenetic scene of the film, she finds her voice (literally and figuratively) and we can see some light at the end of the tunnel for her. She muses towards the end of the film that she hopes her future comic readers will find strength in her stories, so she must see that light too.
Park’s portrayal of Eun-Hee is superb, giving us a character who, not unlike a lot of teenagers, just wants something more. She just isn’t quite sure what that is or how to get it. Patience is a virtue she has down, and in this film the audience must wait along with her. She gives an understated and thoughtful, performance, exuding quiet desperation.
The Blu-ray is 16:9 widescreen and has a run time of 138 minutes. The colors aren’t vivid, but they aren’t supposed to be. The cool tones used to wash the film out, and make it look tired is a choice that works well. It mimics the subtlety of the whole film well, not to mention the colorless world that Eun-Hee is having to navigate.
The film is in Korean language with DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 and Dolby Digital 2.0, although there are available English subtitles. These subtitles are good, and help to not only understand the spoken word, and some written correspondence, but to identify building signs, and banners which they do in all capital letters. There is minimal music that doesn’t detract from the subtle feel of the film — made up of delicate instrumentals from composer Matija Strnisa.
Aside from some previews and additional trailers, there is no bonus material included in this Blu-ray. It would have been interesting to see some commentary and hear from Bora Kim on just how semi-autobiographical this film was since Eun-Hee’s childhood timeline matches up with her own. She has indicated in several interviews that the film does contain many personal memories.
House of Hummingbird is a very honest film depicting a different side to the coming of age experience that doesn’t include parents forgetting 16th birthdays or Saturday detentions. Adolescence isn’t always a hectic adventure, and House of Hummingbird shows the quiet, often despondent and lonely side to this journey. Both Bora Kim’s script and Park’s performance stay truthful to this ideal.
- Film Score: 4.0
- AV Score: 3.0
- Bonus material: 0 of 5
House of Hummingbird is available on Blu-ray Disc ($17.99), Digital HD ($7.99), or to rent in Digital HD ($4.99) Buy on Amazon