A Korean family starts a farm in 1980s Arkansas.
As I write this, ‘Minari’ has just won the Best Foreign Language Film award at the Golden Globes, a controversial move as it was excluded from the primary categories on account of most of the dialogue being in Korean. That criticism is centered on its exclusion on the grounds that any film with more than 50% of its dialogue in another language can only be considered for the foreign language film award, ignoring that ‘Minari’ is a film confidently and wholeheartedly about the American experience – just perhaps seen through voices we are less familiar with. I’ve been able to see ‘Minari’ ahead of its UK release (whenever that ends up being) on account of Glasgow Film Festival at Home, where it debuted as the opening film of the festival, and it lives up to the high expectations I had for it.
‘Minari’ tells the story of the Yi family, a Korean-American family who move to Arkansas and try to make it in rural America in the 1980s. Jacob (Steven Yeun) sees an opportunity to grow Korean produce to distribute to the large Texas market, but it’s clear there is conflict between his vision and his wife Monica’s (Han Ye-Ri) more realistic outlook on life. This leads to difficulties in their relationship which has a profound effect on their children David (Alan Kim) and Anne (Noel Kate Cho), and the film is primarily focused on the challenges of adapting to a new environment and the strains this can put on your lives. I really liked that ‘Minari’ is almost solely focused on the experiences of the Yi family and it doesn’t force additional conflict to create drama, with the truth more powerful than movie machinations, and I was fully invested in the journey they go on throughout the film.
To address the challenges presented by working during the day, Jacob and Monica arrange for her mother, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) to come over from South Korea to look after the children, and her introduction to the story takes it to another level. The heart of the film is the bond that forms between David and his grandmother, who he has to share a room with, and Youn’s performance is excellent in particular. Since leaving ‘The Walking Dead’, Steven Yeun has been in some terrific films, notably ‘Burning’, and he is brilliant here as a father juggling the various demands of his new life as he strives to create a better one for his family. ‘Minari’ is a portrait of real people undergoing real challenges, and the performances bring the story to life against a backdrop of rural beauty, reminiscent at times of Terrence Malick.
I thought ‘Minari’ was an excellent film about the experiences of an immigrant family, showing both the challenges and the potential rewards that lead to a family to undertake such an upheaval in their lives. With strong performances across the board and a well written script (partially based on writer and director Lee Isaac Chung’s upbringing), ‘Minari’ is a great film about chasing the American dream, from the perspective of a family that are rarely the focus.
Directed By: Lee Isaac Chung
Starring: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-Ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton, Scott Haze, Darryl Cox and Esther Moon