Review: House of Hummingbird (Queer East Film Festival)

Written and directed by Kim Bora, Seoul 1994, in the year the Seongsu Bridge collapsed, 14-year-old Eunhee wanders the city searching for love. Starring: Park Ji-hu, Kim Sae-byuk, Seol Hye-in, Jeong In-gi, Lee Seung-yeon, Park Soo-yeon and Son Sang-yeon.

If you’re looking for a fun, coming-of-age flick then House of Hummingbird will miss the mark but if you want a thoughtful rumination on family, expectation, admiration and classic teenage confusion, then you’re in the right place. The writing has a huge focus on family life, particularly the strict, traditional values of Korean families which leaves Park Ji-hu’s Eun-hee in a vulnerable and disadvantaged place. Being constantly reminded to never do anything that would shame the family, which covers almost any fun activity a teen might be interested in. It’s harsh, frustrating and intensely misogynistic, the commitment that Bora Kim has to creating it authentically almost makes it difficult to watch but it fiercely holds onto its realism.

At the same time, having such a strong focus doesn’t always leave a big enough space to let Eun-heegrow as a character and let her explore more territory. In the same sense its queer element is much too short lived, there’s no real theme of sexuality, it’s a fleeting addition, although it does still make for some sweet and touching moments. The direction feels in sync with the tone of the story, it has both a simplicity and a complexity, reflecting the youthfulness and inexperience of its lead. One of the big factors in how it creates such a sincere atmosphere is the quality of the aesthetic. It has a great clarity and colour, managing to keep an everyday feel while never letting any mundanity leak into its visual.

The other factor which nails down the authenticity is the performance from Park Ji-hu which is perfectly conflicted. She does a fantastic job of capturing the complicated nature of being a teenager, one that’s enhanced even more when her illness comes into play. The personality she creates is accessible and relatable but also feels unique. She’s the heart of this story so takes most of the focus but there’s a great ensemble cast at work alongside her, all adding to the realism and sadness to the film.

House of Hummingbird is a surprisingly tender and sombre affair, viewing harsh realities through the eyes of a young woman. It can be rough, moving or even sweet but the pacing and progression move smoothly to wade through each different emotion and theme. It has a few weaknesses here and there with roads less travelled but it also gives an update to the coming-of-age genre. It’s led by an impressively complex performance from Park Ji-hu and moves with patience and sincerity.

Verdict: ✯✯✯✯ | 8/10

Reviewed as part of Queer East Film Festival 2023

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