In Minari, a Korean-American family relocates to rural Arkansas to start a farm. Patriarch, Jacob (Steven Yeun) is ambitious, eager to start from scratch and wants to live the American dream. His wife, Monica (Yeri Han) is skeptical of the situation. The dismay is all over her face as she sees her new home and she worries that they are too far from a hospital. The son, seven year old David (Alan S. Kim), has a heart condition, neither he, nor his older sister Anne (Noel Cho), is not blind to the worry it causes their mother. As Jacob works hard to get the farm up and growing, Monica’s mother, Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn)), moves in to help watch the children while Jacob and Monica work in town at a hatchery sortings new chicks by sex. Through this turbulent new beginning, the family faces a number of challenges, cultural clashes and always seem to be on the brink of financial disaster.
I’ve been a fan of Steven Yeun since his days as Glen on The Walking Dead and I am so happy about his Oscar nomination. He plays Jacob with such a sturdy conviction, being a protective father and a husband that Monica can rely on. I loved the way he casually tries to keep David away from Paul (Will Patton) when they first meet, unsure of the man at first. Yeun seems to really bring Jacob alive when he’s out working in his fields, making him more free and expressive than when he is inside the house with the rest of the family.
I also very much enjoyed Yuh-Jung Youn’s performance in her role as the grandmother. In some moments, she is exactly how we may imagine a Korean grandmother, wondering why her grandson is shy, or saying something embarrassingly crass in front of church friends. But mostly, she is wonderfully unique and authentic and a bit out of place as an old matriarch in a new world. I loved how she would enjoy watching professional wrestling, and curse while playing cards with her grandchildren. Her performance in the third act shows her great range and the character’s unwillingness to give up.
Director and writer Lee Isaac Chung developed Minari based on his own childhood experiences. One would guess that David is a version of himself and we see the film mostly from that child’s perspective. These ideas are not overtly stated in the film, but as I think back on it they make sense. The whole family shows or experiences idealistic wonder about the farmland and the rustic landscape, unspoken fears and innocent culture shock both with Americans and with the arrival of the grandmother, but they are most pronounced with David.
Minari is currently nominated for six Academy Awards including Best Picture. Lee Isaac Chung is nominated for best directing and best original screenplay. Steven Yeun and Yuh-Jung Youn were both nominated for their lead acting roles, Yeun becoming the first first person of East Asian descent and first Asain-American nominated in his category. And Emile Mosseri is nominated for composing the film’s beautiful music score.
Minari is a wonderfully written, beautifully shot movie about family, new beginnings and hardship that nearly anyone can identify with and enjoy. It is filled with so many perfectly authentic moments that resonate, sometimes with pain, sorrow or even the unexpected laugh. The film feels like a true labor of love and I thank director and writer Lee Isaac Chung for bringing us this soulful film.
“They need to see me succeed at something for once.”