“House of Hummingbird” is the debut film of writer-director Bora Kim. It is the story of adolescence, love, life and city-living. These all sound like fairly typical cliches in a coming-of-age film, and while I wish I could report that the plot had more depth, unfortunately, I regret to inform you that it doesn’t.
Set in 1994 Seoul and building up to the historical and tragic collapse of Seongsu bridge, the narrative revolves around Eun-hee and her family. Often alone as her family run a rice cake shop, the fourteen-year-old draws cartoons instead of school diagrams, and spends time with her best friend, Ji-suk instead of with her homework. For many students who prioritise procrastination over productivity, these scenes are sure to ring a few bells.
With her parents busy, she is consistently searching for love and belonging from outsiders, and she eventually finds guidance from her cram-school teacher Young-ji. It’s a touching relationship, and the close-up camera work captures the pair’s tight bond.
In fact, non-intrusive is fundamentally what this story is. The scenes featuring stolen kisses, blossoming romances and heartbreak feel non-invasive. You are invited to be a fly-on-the-wall, and simply watch these events unravel. Of course, the viewer is following the story of Eun-hee, and is set to support her, but this preference feels organic rather than forced or suggested by the narration itself.
The story itself is very soft and rather unremarkable, but it is a great depiction of reality. Things are not overblown, there is no sense of smooth and seamless production. Those flickers of light during the day, the shadows on the floor add to a sense of reality and simple observation; something deeply refreshing in a cinematic world where perfection is everything.