House of Hummingbird / 벌새 [Beolsae] (2019)
Director & Writer: Kim Bora
Cast: Park Ji-hu, Kim Sae-byuk, Lee Seung-yeon, Jeong In-gi
During the year 1994, a teenage girl struggles with a seemingly unsympathetic family and other challenges with school and friends. She encounters problems big and small but ultimately there is happiness and love to be found in her less than ideal life. She begins to realize that those around her also struggle with their own problems.
This is the first full length feature of director (Kim Bo-Ra) and what an amazing debut it is. It’s a slice of life family drama shown mainly from the perspective of the youngest daughter, Eun-hee (Park Ji-hu) who has an older sister and brother. She has to deal with her brother hitting her and friendships that seem to come and go on a whim. She meets a sympathetic cram school teacher, Young-Ji (Kim Sae-Byuk) but like many things she latches onto, it doesn’t last.
Real events that happened in 1994 are shown throughout the film and help give it context. They aren’t superfluous and have a real impact on the lives of the characters and the themes of the movie. I suspect Korean audiences will get much more out of this movie that non-Koreans but the themes of family and love are pretty universal. What was a surprise to me is that an older brother hitting a younger sister was actually acceptable and/or at least tolerated. Male violence is a real fear of the female characters in this movie.
Although most of the male characters come off quite negatively at first, they aren’t portrayed as totally bad and the female characters are not portrayed as totally good either. Brief glimpses of some of the supporting characters show their different sides in subtle ways, enough to make us wonder what struggles of their own they are hiding. All the characters are feeling the pressures of society in one way or the other and in some cases it leads those characters to being abusive towards others. The acting is universally great and the young lead actress who plays Eun-hee is superb as his her cram school teacher.
The director chooses to use a lot of close-up shots, lingering long enough on the faces of her characters to see their reactions. A lot of fixed shots and naturalistic lighting is often used. There are surprisingly beautiful scenes that show seemingly mundane things like leaves on a tree.
I don’t hesitate at all to recommend this movie and I eagerly hope to see more feature films from this director.
Seen in the theater at Fantasia festival
The director was in attendance. She spoke a couple of lines in French (her pronunciation was quite good actually) during her intro and did the Q&A entirely in English. I’m guessing she studied in an English country at one point. There was no translator even present just in case. Apparently, because she has such a hard time getting funding for her movie because of its subject matter, she joked that she is proud to have met almost every female teenage actress in a 3 year period when she was casting the lead role.
She also thanked the Koreans in attendance as she said that at her foreign film screenings so far she’s always seen some Koreans attending and is thankful for the support. This is nice because I don’t find East Asians in Montreal to be very supportive of East Asian movies when they are actually shown in Montreal. Most screenings I go to barely have any East Asians and often none at all. Although Korean stuff is still quite the hot trend these days, it’s usually Kpop or Kdrama that Koreaboos like, which ironically are probably the most artificially manufactured products. Movies don’t seem to interest them that much, especially slice of life ones like this movie that arguably show more realistic aspects of Korean daily life.