Wise upon her years, 12-year-old Lee Hana (Kim Na-yeon) is the backbone of her family; acting as a peacekeeper as she tries to calm raging arguments between her parents who are going through a divorce. Constantly cooking dinners in an attempt to bring her family back together – Hana’s gastronomic displays of affection aren’t appreciated by her parents “she’s always trying to cook when nobody asked her to” her mother complains. With no help from her moody teenage brother, Hana puts it on herself to try and repair the cracks in her family’s foundation. Coming up with the idea that a family holiday to the beach will fix everything, Hana makes it her mission to get her family to agree on a weekend away before the summer holidays end. Directed by Yoon Ga-eun, The House of Us is a sweet and humane look at family dynamics, friendship and modern domesticity through the eyes of a child.

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Photo © The House of Us

It’s the end of the fifth grade for Hana, she has the whole of summer ahead of her and her only school assignment is to create her own recipe book – a task she couldn’t be happier with. Whilst out food shopping for her new project, Hana meets Yoo-jin (Joo Ye-rim) and her older sister Yoo-mi (Kim si-ah) – two girls a few years younger than Hana. With their parents spending their summer working away in a seaside town, Yoo-mi and Yoo-jin are left living alone in their apartment while their forgetful uncle occasionally checks in on them. Taking the girls under her wing, Hana morphs into an older sister role as she finally finds a family accepting of her affection and love of cooking. With the phrase ‘Did you eat?’ being a popular greeting in Korea – it’s no secret that in Korean society sharing food and communal eating is often seen as a bonding activity and a sign of closeness. This cultural notion of food being a symbol of care and sentiment is something Yoon embodies wonderfully within The House of Us. To Hana, every pot of boiled rice, every fried egg, and every sprinkle of salt is an edible slice of love.

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Photo © The House of Us

Although Hana is a caring, mature, and forbearing individual – Yoon is quick to remind her audience that Hana is still just a child and not fully adept to handle the situations life has thrown her way. Careful to ensure that the film keeps it’s naïve and child-like perspective, Yoon exemplifies Hana’s youth by showing her childlike and simplistic attempts at fixing her family. As the film progresses, Hana’s hopes of getting her family back to normality starts to dwindle. Discovering that her father is cheating on her mother and that her mother wants to move to Germany, Hana naively rushes to fix things by hiding her father’s phone and her family’s passports. Once the trio discover that Yoo-mi and Yoo-jin’s parents are planning on moving, they plot to sabotage any potential viewings by completely trashing the apartment and loudly complaining to potential renters about faux bug infestations. Merely short-term solutions to situations the girls can’t even begin to understand, these are brash acts of rebellion that briefly gives them a sense of control in their lives. All three of them being locked out of the traditional nuclear family structure, Yoon shows the trio finding support, security and strength within each other when adults fail to provide.

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Photo © The House of Us

Shot in soothing pastel shades and with impressive acting from its child leads, The House of Us excels in its ability to shoot life through the eyes of a child. Gently touching on topics such as divorce and the breakdown of family traditions without being abrasive or pointing the blame, Yoon creates an interesting and thoughtful dialogue about the shifting family dynamics in contemporary society and their effects on the younger generation. While The House of Us handles hefty topics, it also beautifully manages to portray the pure joy, playfulness and innocence that comes with childhood. Homing in on the little things in life, Yoon creates a warmly optimistic and bittersweet look at the friendship and finding hope when the world as you know it falls apart.

Rating: 4-stars

Written by Abi Aherne

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Film, Film events and festivals, Foreign Films, Korean Cinema

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