1994 was a rough year for Korea. Seoul’s undisciplined redevelopment process caused brutal clash between capital and labor. In the media, the death of North leader Kim Il-sung was broadcasted all over the country, which brought shock to the people. An explosion of city gas at Ah-hyeon killed 12 innocent people and injured over 100. The sudden collapse of Seongsu bridge, perhaps one of the most dreadful disasters in Korean history, took 32 people’s lives, including 9 students who were just trying to go to school. This incident made an unbridgeable hole inside the people living in 1994.
The main character of House of Hummingbird (벌새, 2019), Eun-hee (acted by Park Ji-hu), is a 14-year-old girl, tender and unprepared to embrace all the miserable events happening in the world of 1994. Instead, she is struggling against her overbearing father, bullying from her brother and her teacher who urges students to go to a good college. In this suffocating environment, she is busy surviving her own life. She seems lost, desperately trying to understand the way world works, yet obviously fails like any other 14-year-old girls.
Unlike many other films, House of Hummingbird does not take the form of classic storytelling in which events occur in a linear sequence, gradually intensifying the seriousness of it. Instead, problems come without caution, randomly popping out of nowhere. Even the things that seemed to be solved leave unhealable scars inside Eun-hee’s mind. Like an uninvited guest, these pains come without warning as our mind is so vulnerable and also unpredictable.
The presence of her new tutor, Young-ji (acted by Kim Sae-byuk), acts as guidance in a boundless ocean. 1994, when studying hard was the only way to gain success and entering good college was considered the finest value, the first lesson that Young-ji taught her is “There are tons of people in the world who know each other, but only few whose mind we know”. Young-ji soon becomes her life mentor and a shelter. She starts to learn how to live off her life, how to fight against to those who reject and attack her, and most importantly, how to love herself in this desolate world.
As the daily life of Eun-hee slowly is displayed, the events that occurred in 1994 also pass her like background music. The death of Kim Il-sung was broadcasted when she was in hospital after the surgery. In front of a placard opposing indiscriminate redevelopment at a teared down building, Young-ji talks about the difficulties of embracing others. At first, the life of Eun’hee and the world of 1994 seem to be totally separated. As the film progresses, the incidents that occurred in 1994, start to intervene her private life, influencing her daily life problems. In the end, the collapse of Seongsu Bridge becomes dramatic turning point of her life, giving her great pain and loss but also the hope that she can still manage her own life and nobody can control it.
House of Hummingbird is the film of memories and retrospection. Based on her very personal reminiscence, director and also the writer, Kim Bo-ra, sensitively captures daily life’s atmosphere and emotions, vividly reproducing the world of 1994. Instead of presenting the details of the incidents, the film meticulously captures Eun-hee’s even the most subtle changes of emotion and her reaction toward the world. In this way, the film gains strong reality, a persuasive power that can vividly reenact the world of 1994.
Eun-hee’s suffering resembles of our mundane lives. Unlike any fairytales or typical Hollywood movies, troubles in our daily life neither can be predicted nor can be fully solved. Trouble comes simultaneously and our mind that bears it cannot be healed easily. As audiences follow Eun-hee’s footsteps, House of Hummingbird creates an emotional bond with her and the audience, making them think that maybe this story is not about her but actually all of us. In this sense, House of Hummingbird presents audiences special opportunity of not only watching, but also experiencing 1994. This astonishing cinematic experience is a monumental work in Korean movie history.