The House of Us (2019) ☆☆☆1/2(3.5/4): An intimate summer story of three young girls

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I could not help but smile as watching South Korean film “The House of Us”, which is another remarkable work from director/writer Yoon Ga-eun. The movie presents its three young main characters and their daily life with considerable intimacy and empathy, and it surely amused me and then touched me as vividly and thoughtfully depicting how they try to cope with their impending domestic matters.

The movie opens with the ongoing quarrel between the parents of Ha-na (Kim Na-yeon), an 11-year-old girl who is well aware of the increasingly tense mood between her parents. As watching them harshly clashing with each other right in front of her, she feels helpless and worried, but her older brother does not provide much comfort or support while staying away from the quarrel as much as possible, and Ha-na has no choice but to maintain the status quo as much as she can, though she does not succeed that much despite her sincere efforts.

And then there comes a little positive change into her unhappy daily life. While Ha-na is doing the shopping for groceries at a local supermarket instead of her mother, a little girl and her older sister happen to draw Ha-na’s attention, and they are Yoo-jin (Joo Ye-rim) and Yoo-mi (Kim Si-ah). When Ha-na later encounters Yoo-jin, Yoo-jin happens to be lost after accidentally getting herself separated from her older sister, and Ha-na comes to spend some time with Yoo-jin while trying to locate Yoo-mi.

Eventually, they come across Yoo-mi, who has been searching for Yoo-jin here and there in their neighborhood. As appreciating the little kindness from Ha-na, Yoo-mi invites Ha-na to a little place where she and her younger sister have lived for a while, and we get to know more about them along with Ha-na. While they have frequently moved from one place to another along with their parents, Yoo-jin and Yoo-mi also usually have to live by themselves as their parents are busy with their business outside, but they have taken care of themselves pretty well, and we notice that their current residence looks mostly neat and clean on the whole.

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Mainly because they do not have any friend to hang around with, Yoo-jin and Yoo-mi want to spend more time with Ha-na, and Ha-na gladly enjoys the companionship of them while occasionally demonstrating her particular set of cooking skills. Although she is more worried as the circumstance at her home becomes more tense and problematic than before, she feels fine and happy whenever she is with her two new friends, and it looks like nothing will be changed as they leisurely go through their bright hot summer days.

However, there soon comes a point where they all face harsh reality in each own way. When her parents suddenly become less hostile to each other and are also willing to take a little summer trip along with their two children as Ha-na has hoped, Ha-na is relieved for a while, but then, not so surprisingly, she subsequently comes to learn of a certain important decision made by her parents. In case of Yoo-mi and Yoo-jin, they come to learn that they and their parents will soon move to some other place, and it seems there is really nothing they can do about that.

During the third act, the mood becomes more serious as our three young heroines put themselves into a potentially risky circumstance, but the movie never loses its lightweight touches as deftly balancing itself between humor and drama. While we are amused a lot by how innocent they are, we also come to understand and empathize a lot with their desperate emotional needs, and the movie also shows considerable care and attention to Ha-na’s family members, who are revealed to have each own emotional matters to struggle with.

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Above all, the three young lead performers of the movie are simply fantastic in their unadulterated natural acting. While Kim Na-yeon is superb in several key scenes in the film which depend a lot on her expressive face, Kim Si-ah is equally wonderful in her plucky performance, and Joo Ye-rim holds her own place well around her two co-performers. Whenever these three young performers are put together on the screen, the movie sparks with lively spontaneity, and Yoon shows here again that she is a skillful filmmaker who does know how to draw good performances from child performers.

Yoon also utilizes well several other main cast members of the film. While Choi Jung-in shines in an unexpectedly tender scene where her character has a considerate conversation with Ha-na, Lee Joo-won is effective during his several intense scenes with Choi, and Ahn Ji-ho is also fine as another small but crucial part of the story. In addition, it was extra fun for me to spot the several main cast members of Yoon’s previous work “The World of Us” (2016) briefly appearing in the film, and that surely made me want to revisit “The World of Us”, which I incidentally chose as the best South Korean film of 2016.

Overall, “The House of Us” is a charming piece of work to be admired and appreciated for many good reasons, and it is certainly another forward step in Yoon’s growing filmmaking career. Like a number of notable South Korean female filmmakers during last ten years, she brings a fresh and exciting air of change to South Korean cinema, and “The House of Us” reminds me again that she deserves to be mentioned as much as Park Chan-wook or Bong Joon-ho. In short, this is one of the best South Korean films of this year, and I sincerely urge you not to miss it at any chance.

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