Life is Beautiful and Tragic in Bora Kim’s “House of Hummingbird”

Life is Beautiful and Tragic in Bora Kim’s “House of Hummingbird”

South Korean films are having an amazing rise in U.S. viewership without the necessity for genre tropes. House of Hummingbird is one of the most relatable film in recent years and will resonate with you no matter where you come from. It’s a reminder of what it’s like to be 14 all over again.

Childhood can be a beautiful time. It can also be bleak, scary and confusing. House of Hummingbird takes place in Seoul, South Korea in 1994, at the time the Seongsu Bridge collapsed and resulted in thirty-two deaths. The story follows Eun-hee, a fourteen-year-old girl who loves spending time with her boyfriend,  best friend and  Chinese language teacher. At home, however, she has an abusive brother, a quiet sister and two parents who neglect her.

Eun-hee is lonely and always in search of connection. Her Chinese language teacher, Yong-ji, asks at one point, “Among all the people you know, how many really understand what’s going on inside you?”, a question which resonates equally with the viewer and Eun-hee. When Eun-hee tries to tell her parents that her brother beats her they treat it as though it’s only “kids being kids.” When she gets a close friend that makes her feel special, that friend later dismisses her, as if she was just a fleeting moment. And when she tries to connect with her boyfriend, his mother doesn’t want him hanging out with her. She does have an attitude that at times comes out at the wrong moments or to people of authority, which gives her a negative reputation. But she, like anyone else in the world, is only trying to make sense of things.

The only true connection she has is with Yong-ji, who takes the time to sit with her and listen. Yong-ji is also dealing with a lot, but conveys that through pauses and hesitations as she smokes her cigarette. She often avoids answering personal questions, or answers them vaguely. But her ability to relate to Eun-hee shows that they are both lost in their own way. And maybe everybody is lost in their own way.

When the bridge collapses, both Eun-hee’s sister and Yong-ji mysteriously disappeared. The family comes together, perhaps for the first time with genuine love for one another, when they must find out if Eun-hee’s sister was killed in the accident or not. When challenged with the reality of death and tragedy, people often put whatever differences they had aside and focus on making a better tomorrow.

The film brilliantly portrays a believable life on screen. Filmmaking in its purest form is the search for truth in humanity. The relationships we have at fourteen-years-old are very rarely the same relationships we’ll have later in life. It’s a time when you have exited childhood and are beginning to slowly realize how much momentum there is in life. We lose friends, teachers we respected, and sometimes family members. Eun-hee is nowhere near a character that deserves pain or sadness, yet life has a way of interrupting. In films we like to have an established villain who gets their comeuppance, or an antihero whose karma catches up with them, and we don’t want to see good people get hurt. But that’s life. Seeing Eun-hee have to endure the loss of both loves and lives is heartbreaking, but the film is still hopeful. It reminds us that no matter what we go through today there is always a tomorrow.

House of Hummingbird is one of the most relatable films I have seen. At times it felt like a documentary as much of it is autobiographical. In her feature debut, Bora Kim has mastered the point of film; this informed, entertained, and maintained an emotionality throughout that never felt false or forced. Whatever Kim’s next project is, I look forward to it.

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