SIFF 2019: House of Hummingbird

In South Korean coming of age story House of Hummingbird, the sage, role model Chinese-language tutor Youngji (Sae-Byron Kim) intones the most vital lesson in learning to know yourself and allow yourself to form relationships: of all the people you know, how many of them actually know what is going on inside you?  Writer-director Bora Kim expands upon this question of interconnectedness in an endless series of adolescent turmoil, sometimes brilliant and insightful, but overall muddled in its own verbosity. Eunhee (Ji-hu Park) has the misfortune to associate with the hormonal, fickle, impulsivity of change set against an economic boom in 1994 South Korea announcing a new era of change, endless expectations and ignorance of boundaries in favor of patriarchal norms. Mix in failed dating, including a tenuous, youthful flirtation with same-sex attraction, hero worship and admiration, and loss and family, moral character, medical abnormalities, and endless parental expectations. Seem like a lot? Because it is. Ji-hu Park excels on the varied issues facing her eighth grade year. Her loneliness aches through the intimate portions of the story, but the strings tightened into a knot of too-muchness that distracted from a solid statement on growing up. The film would have benefitted from an axing of one or more of the topics to avoid inessential clutter in the drama. Wanting to expel decades of thought on the hellscape that is adolescence is understandable; it’s awful regardless of culture. But remember; not everything needs said in one breath. Don’t make your coming of age story feel as long as middle school itself.

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