HOUSE OF HUMMINGBIRD (BEOL-SAE)
(director/writer: Kim Bora; cinematographer: Gook-hyun Kang; editor: Zoe Sua Cho; music: Matija Strniša; cast: Ji-hu Park (Eun-hee), Sae-byuk Kim (Yong-gi), Seung-Yeon Lee (Mom), In-gi Jeong (Dad), Son Sangyeon (Daehoon), Bak Suyeon (Suhee), Park Saeyun (Ji-suk), Jeong Yunseo (Ji-wan), Seol Hyein (Yuri), Kim Saebyuk (Kim Youngjis); Runtime: 138; MPAA Rating: NR; producers: Zoe Sua Cho, Bora Kim; Well Go USA Entertainment; 2018-South Korea-in Korean with English subtitles)
“Gentle and satisfying coming-of-age drama about a neglected teenage girl.”
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
The female South Korean director Kim Bora, in her feature film debut, is the auteur of this gentle and satisfying coming-of-age drama about a neglected teenage girl, who is the hummingbird of the title. It’s loosely inspired from her own adolescent period.
In the fall of 1994, during the time of a construction boom in S. Korea (the film will end on a real-life tragedy caused during this boom), the lonely, bisexual, 14-year-old, Eun-hee (Park Ji-hu), lives in the ritzy neighborhood of Gangnam in Seoul, where she comes from an ambitious working class family. But she is miserable because her dysfunctional parents (Seung-Yeon Lee & In-gi Jeong) are too busy to spend time with her (they run the family’s baked rice goods business) and she pays them back for their lousy attitude by trying to be bad. She has many difficulties at home, such as dealing with her older withdrawn trouble-making sister (Bak Suyeon) and her abusive, alcoholic, older brother (Son Sangyeon) who regularly hits her. On the outside she must deal with bigot bullies over her sexuality and of getting poor marks in school. This gets her parents attention, who yell at her without listening to what she has to say.
In the evenings, she’s forced by her parents to attend a cram school so she can test high to get into one of South Korea’s prestigious universities. There she’s befriended by the cram school teacher, Kim Youngji (Kim Saebyuk), who identifies with her and, besides teaching her Chinese, teaches her that life should be fully lived and gives her encouragement that things will get better.
Eun-hee would still rather not be in cram school but chilling with her friends, like shoplifting with Jisuk (Park Saeyun); or be at a karaoke club; or getting romantic with her first boyfriend, a boy from another school, Jiwan (Jeong Yunseo); or doing the nasty with a shy girl in her class, Yuri (Seol Hyein).
The abused girl is quiet about her suffering, and takes it all in stride as the norm. Neighbors offer pity when seeing her abused, but do nothing to help.
Eun-hee is depicted as a survivor, who gets enough joy from the occasional pleasures that come her way to be satisfied. She relaxes when just finding some peaceful moments to exist. As she becomes more comfortable with herself, she begins to assert herself more to those who are abusive.
We observe our heroine faced with a number of incidents that seem trivial, but not to her. There’s also an off-screen death of a family member she must deal with.
The film is told from the teen’s POV, so we get to know her and should be able to understand where she’s coming from.
All that life lessons stuff learned is swell, but the film is overlong and tedium sets in when it wanders off course with subplots. Other wise it’s a sensitive and intelligent film about a likable character who is dealing with mundane issues that may be universal for all teens.
What makes the drama special is that Park Ji-hu turns in a winning performance, who earns our sympathy with her sincere inner struggle for respect and freedom.
REVIEWED ON 7/1/2020 GRADE: B