House of Hummingbird

Movie review by
Tara McNamara, Common Sense Media
House of Hummingbird Movie Poster Image
South Korean teen drama mixes insight with rebellion.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 138 minutes

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

Life is complex and has its difficulties, but the sweet moments are there to be discovered. 

Positive Role Models & Representations

Gives voice to experience of teen girl living in South Korea and offers great insight into that country's attitudes and culture. Main character doesn't adhere to stereotypes. A female teacher is a positive influence.

Violence

Domestic abuse, resulting in wounds. Heated argument. Two girls engage in fantasy conversation about suicide. A couple of characters die; a real-life tragedy is a plot point. Some of South Korea's real-life tragedy is included in the film.

Sex

A young teen engages in two romances, which involve kisses, hand-holding, and snuggling. An older teen girl sneaks a boy into her bedroom. Mentions of marital infidelity.

Language

Strong language includes "a--hole," "bastard," "bitch," "hell," "s--t," "shut up," "stupid," and several uses of "f--k."

Consumerism

United Colors of Benetton. Jansport backpacks carried frequently. Calvin Klein mentioned positively, Levi jeans mentioned negatively.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Smoking by both teens and by a cool, aspirational adult. An adult is drunk; older teen mentions having been out drinking.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that House of Hummingbird is a coming-of-age drama that follows Eun-hee (Ji-hu Park), a 14-year-old South Korean girl living in Seoul in 1994. It's writer-director Bora Kim's semi-autobiographical story. Because Eun-hee isn't on board with her community's college-or-die attitude, she's ostracized by her classmates, teachers, and other parents. She rebels by smoking, shoplifting, and cursing ("f--k," "s--t," etc.) and looks for positive attention through romantic relationships with both a boy and a girl that involve kisses and affectionate touching. Her older sister skips school, sneaks a boy into her shared bedroom, and comes home after a night of drinking. Eun-hee and her best friend are both abused by their older brothers, but none of it takes place on camera. A separate heated argument between Eun-hee's parents results in domestic violence. A couple of characters die. Eun-hee is the "hummingbird" of the title, trying to find life's sweet morsels among the unsavory slices of life.

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What's the story?

HOUSE OF HUMMINGBIRD takes place in 1994 in Seoul. It follows Eun-hee (Ji-hu Park), an eighth grader whose parents, teachers, and classmates demand academic excellence. Life both at school and at home leaves much to be desired, and Eun-hee looks for happiness with her best friend and crush. But when a mysterious, caring new teacher takes over her Chinese calligraphy class, Eun-hee starts to realize what it means to be understood.

Is it any good?

Coming-of-age tales are often more interesting to reflective adults than to the kids the same age as the lead character, and this drama falls right into that bucket. It will hopefully be refreshing for those used to standard Hollywood fare to get the perspective of a South Korean girl -- this isn't a voice that's often represented in mainstream cinematic offerings. But those unfamiliar with the cultural attitudes and historical events of 1994 Seoul may need to do some extra legwork to understand what's going on. It's worth the effort, though, for a movie that tugs at your brain.

Eun-hee's experiences include the intense social pressure of academics, a deep-seated fear of embarrassing her parents, and the impact of her community and culture prioritizing the male gender. House of Hummingbird's meandering approach may not work for all viewers: Eun-hee has a health scare, a family member dies, friends and boyfriends are unreliable, parents focus more on their kid's achievements than personal growth -- though there's plenty baked in, you might wonder where it's all going. But through her storytelling, writer-director Bora Kim lets us know that we must have patience. Her film, like life, is about the journey. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how House of Hummingbird depicts life in South Korea in 1994. How does it compare to your life now? What parts of the movie reflect the year, and which reflect the culture or place?

  • Have you seen other films that deal with physical abuse by a sibling? Why do you think that's not often displayed in Hollywood movies?

  • What does Eun-hee's teacher represent to her? What do you think the filmmaker wants you to take away?

  • How does this movie compare to other coming-of-age dramas you've seen? What does that term mean? Why is it a popular genre?

  • How are smoking and drinking portrayed in the film? Are they glamorized?

Movie details

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