Written by: Adam Vaughn | June 25th, 2020
House of Hummingbird (Kim Bora, 2018) 3 out of 4 stars.
A film that explores numerous versatile and impactful themes in today’s society, House of Hummingbird tells the story of young Eun-hee (Ji-hu Park), a private-school girl living in 1990’s Seoul, South Korea, and her journey into womanhood as she encounters the various elements of being a girl in a lower-middle-class family environment. On the way, she encounters love, forced systemic values, family strife, and issues of women’s health. A film that is truly an eye-opener and reflective of many relative cultural phenomena in today’s world, House of Hummingbird engages tremendous use of mise-en-scène and editing to pull the viewer into the world of Eun-hee and her personal adventure.
The mise-en-scène, combined with attention to set-design elements, is a major strong point of the film’s narrative storytelling. Each location of the story is filled with micro-specific details of the personality of the characters that embody the space. Eun-hee’s home, room-for-room, explodes with such elements. Combining consistent use of the long take – to allocate time for the viewer to explore mise-en-scène in each part of the story – director Bora Kim, making her featured debut, hones in on the intimacy of a young girl in 1990’s South Korea, bringing to light social issues, the complicated nature of relationships, and the coming-of-age tale of a unique culture and experience still young and fresh in the film industry.
My only wish for this film would be to see a condensed version of the relationships formed (I felt a repetitive nature in Eun-hee’s interactions with her family and friends, specifically, which slightly overshadowed a later reveal). The film feels like it could have been thirty minutes shorter while never sacrificing its rich messages and visual storytelling. And while I still hold fast to mise-en-scène and revealing plot points via editing (e.g., Eun-hee’s dad’s injury, the development of Eun-hee’s medical injury), what started to pull me out of the story was the pacing, making the film an endurance test as much as an experience.
Overall, House of Hummingbird hits the various high notes of independent filmmaking, with its attention to detail, artistic endeavor in every shot (not a single shot/take is wasted), and a devoted tone towards the spirit of South Korean youth on a small, intimate scale. It is certainly a story with a lot to say, even if it may challenge you to stick around from start to finish.