The main character or Bora Kim’s House of Hummingbird is a lonely 14 year girl deprived of attention from her dysfunctional family. In order to get the affection she craves, she tries to establish romantic relations both with boys and girls form the neighbourghood. The plot of this ‘coming of age’ is developed in 1994 Seoul and is based in the teenage years of director and scriptwriter herself. Kim is an interdisciplinary artist and sociologist, and bases her inner creative process in the cultural research on entertainment and asian femininity representation.
Her feature film debut won the Best Film award at Generation 14Plus section of last Berlinale and the NETPAC award for Best Asian Film. Also, the Audience Award at the last Busan Festival. Finally, the Best Movie, Actress and Photography awards in Tribeca.
Why have you decided to tell such a personal story in your feature film debut?
I had to as there were stories to be heard and want to come out from my past. There were lots of unfinished business that I need to re-visit to finally say bye. The first motivation was simple, just to make peace with my past.
I’ve read that you decided to dig into your teenage memories after some nightmares about coming back to school during your first months in New York. How much has this project helped you out as a kind of therapy?
A lot. The process has totally transformed the relationship with my family. We deeply respect and love each other now and I feel thankful about our now. Well, thankful is not enough world. I feel blessed. Well, the transformation with my family already happened even before the film process but it escalated throughout the film process.
Two days after I was done with shooting, I had a dream about my middle school. It was a middle school reunion and everyone welcomed me. At the party in the dream, I felt very safe and calm. After I woke up, I knew the era was over and got resolved. It was a surreal dream and realization.
The story is positioned between the military dictatorships of the 80s and early 90s and the 1997 IMF Financial Crisis and shows the real-estate expansion and the collapse of the SeongsuBridge. Can we consider the film also as a coming of age story for Korea itself?
Yes, exactly. Glad to hear that you grasped the film very clearly.
This first feature is in line with your preferred subject matter involving the place of girls and young women within their families and Korean society. Why are you interested in this subject matter and what have you learned by developing this movie?
I have been always interested in the issue because everywhere women were not treated equally. Gwrong up as a little girl, I thought that it was weird that girls get treated differently. I felt sad and disappointed as I loved myself and wanted to discover my true value beyond the social norm. I guess if you were a woman who values yourself, you naturally learn and are drawn to feminism.
I won’t be able to make this film if I were not born as a woman. Being a minority is curse and bliss both. You get to explore the world in a deep and complex way and get to understand others deeper.
By developing the film, I learned the resilience, power of connection and love.
How much has Seoul changed in terms of social prejudices and gender inequality from the mid-‘90s?
A lot but still lots of work needed to be done.
It took you three years to find your main actress. Why was it such a challenge?
I also had to slow things due to funding not only because of the audition. But it was also very hard to find an actress for the role Eunhee as the film is all about the main character. Eunhee needs subtle acting not typical cute teenager acting and it was not very easy to find teenager actors who understand the subtext of the script and act subtly both.
I’m very glad that we found Jihu Park.
Myung-hwan Han is known for his work for renowned auteurs like Park Chan-wook and Hong Sang-soo. How much did you learn from him while developing the sound of the movie?
I was trying hard to put lots of sound/ambiance here and there and he said once “Don’t try to put too much sound. Sometimes it’s better not to put anything other than natural sound. You need to know when to put and when not to put.”
Why did you and your composer, Matija Strniša, chose and ambient electronic score?
I wanted to put some current mode as the film sets in the 90s. I wanted to see the mix between old and new. Matia did a great job, making a classic, elegant yet modern score for the film.
You’ve chosen as the best advice of your career one sentence of Gaudi’s: “to do things right, first you need love, then technique.” Are you interest in architecture then?
I do love all type of arts but I just thought that the advice of Gaudi was great.
I found out the quote when I went to Sagrada Família. The church was breathtaking. I was so moved by the uncanny beauty and the architecture itself indeed came from love and technique. My first feature House of Hummingbird is the outcome of love. In terms of technic, I’m still happily learning and I’ll be forever.
Eun-hee holds two novels throughout the film, Knulp, by Herman Hesse, and The Red and the Black, by Stendhal. Are there any messages underneath on the chose of these two books?
Knulp is a character who does not follow the rule but does not judge people who do. I thought that Youngji is like that. The Red and the Black was my favorite novel from middle school. I remember that I felt so moved by the character who could not love himself and feel ashamed of himself. I was able to see myself through the character and that made me solaced. So the choice of book is my way of showing gratitude for the book.
Is it still a cultural code to label any leisurely activity outside of studying to be the work of “a delinquent.”?
Yes, the brutal educational pressure in Korea is still there. It is brutal and Korean kids are suffering. Our society needs to let kids play and explore.
Even if the family has a dysfunctional behavior, seating around the table to eat smoothes their relationship. How important is the food ritual to Koreans?
Yes, eating food together is an important culture in Korea. The taste and the togetherness bring a family together beyond words. I guess they lean more on food, not on words or physical bonding like hugging.