House of Hummingbird (2019)

  • Narrative Feature/Grand Prize Winner
  • 138 Minutes/South Korea/2019
  • Drama/International
  • Director: Bora Kim

Premise: A lonely 14-year-old, Eun-hee moves through life like a hummingbird searching for a taste of sweetness. Deprived of attention from her family, she spends her time finding meaning in the love and friendships of her peers. When Young-ji, a new teacher, arrives, she becomes the first adult Eun-hee feels really understands her.

House of Hummingbird, Heartland 2019’s narrative feature Grand Prize Winner, is t times a beautiful coming of age drama about an 8th grade girl in Korea searching for human connections at a time in her life when it’s hard to come by. Eun-hee comes from a troubled home where her parents are at odds and physical altercations with her brother are commonplace. Thus, Eun-hee finds herself seeking connections elsewhere.

Interactions with her friends and peers range from dramatic to awkward and downright funny. There’s a healthy amount of romantic exploration for Eun-hee that is developed an appropriate amount without pulling focus from the greater narrative at hand. Likewise, Eun-hee’s primary friendship is charming and when they hit a rough patch, the ensuing anger is believable and restrained. At it’s most dramatic moment, the friendship Eun-hee has with her classmate reflects more on our protagonist’s character flaws than the 8th grade drama unfolding.

But the film really excels when it comes to the bond that Eun-hee forms with new teacher Yong-Ji. Yong-Ji is a slightly eccentric, “cool” teacher whose friendship with Eun-hee feels so genuine and comes like a life preserver when Eun-hee really needs it. In a particularly emotionally charged moment, Yong-Ji pleads with her student to take action anyway she can when facing the violence she experiences at home. We never get confirmation, but the subtext of what could be in Yong-Ji’s past is clear.

House of Hummingbird does take a little while to get moving. The first act is a bit of a slog as we are introduced to the more mundane aspects of Eun-hee’s life. The same goes for the last act of the film. I respect the narrative choices made in this film and can really get behind the central message that there’s no guarantee the kindred spirits you find won’t be fleeting encounters. I just wish these portions of the movie were as strong as Eun-hee and Yong-ji’s bonding scenes.


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