Kim Bo-ra’s directorial debut brims with maturity over the craft. It is a 28-minute short which won the Student Film Award from the Director’s Guild of America. Moreover, it was screened in Berlin International Film Festival and won Best Student Short Award in Woodstock Film Festival. Just like her recent success with “House of Hummingbird”, it earned her much acclaim. Both the films are coming-of-age tales which are semi-autobiographical, where the director borrows from her own experience and wisdom.

The film revolves around 9-year-old Eun-hee,a girl from a middle-class family in Seoul. Set back in 1988, this seems like a prequel to “House of Hummingbird“. Here the protagonist is younger and she is pretty anxious and naive. Her parents care mostly about their own work, as a result, she suffers from a feeling of rejection. In the same way, she gets neglected by her siblings who don’t care for her concerns. Therefore, she is always at the receiving end of this imposed isolation.

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The film begins with Eun-hee calling her mother from school to bring the recorder that she had forgotten. She is supposed to have it for the rehearsal in her class, but she can’t procure at that time. For this reason, she gets a punishment of stretching her hands for the whole period. We see her alienated figure in the middle of joyful faces. Later, the teacher informs them about an exam where they were supposed to perform a song with the recorder. She tells if someone gets selected, they can invite their parents for the performance. With this in mind, Eun-hee smiles with a little hope. All she wants is her parents acknowledging her talent and being proud of her. In reality, they hardly seem to care for her emotional growth or accept her with open arms. 

She feels detached from her family. Besides, there’s hardly any warmth in their relation. Sometimes she gets completely ignored, sometimes bullied or sometimes she gets muted out of immense fear. None of the family members have sympathy for her. So, she is surprised when she witnesses other parents’ tender behavior. In a scene where she is sitting in her friend’s house, her mother knocks the door for permission to come in. This feels strangely amusing to her as she has hardly seen any sign of affection from her paternal side. Her feeling of isolation intensifies even more. Meanwhile, she can’t even gain enough confidence to ask her parents for a new recorder. She copes with her anxieties with determination she has for getting better at playing a recorder.

As said before, this short film surely doesn’t feel like a debut. Kim Bo-ra has firm control over her craft with a great sense of time and space. Its simplicity reminds me of the films of Ozu and Koreeda where the camera stays still and takes time for the emotions to register over our mind. It’s a skill to bring out such a nuanced performance from a child actor like Jeongone Hwang. Surely the credit goes to the director.

We get to see the world in the film from this 9-year-old’s perspective and feel what she does. For an instance, a moment when her father kneels down to tie her shoelaces, her fear of even trying to touch her father is clearly visible. The camera is placed over her facing down, which intensifies this feeling. Kim Guyeong’s eye for subtlety is apparent from his cinematography which further compliments the contemplative tone of the film. It’s a sure-footed short that comes from a deeply personal place. As a result, the soul-searching feels inherent yet unpretentious.