Editor (Ruth)’s note: This is a guest review from my friend and fellow movie lover Jessie Zumeta, who saw this at Sundance Film Festival last January.
A charming exploration of what holds people together, Minari is a semi autobiographical story of a Korean American family trying to sustain their farm in rural Arkansas. Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, the film is set during the 1980’s during the heyday of agricultural subsidies. Like many Asian American films it follows a family in search of the American dream. The parents, Monica (Yeri Han) and Jacob (Steven Yeun) immigrate many years previously and their children have been raised stateside however they are still working hard to create the life they envisioned for themselves.
The set design was lovingly and painstakingly created from memory and the way the film is shot and lit creates a nostalgic and dream-like quality. The cast did a lot of preparation in order to create realistic and natural kind of dynamics between each family member. This care to the smallest of details elevates this film from a cutesy film about an individual family to a deeply moving, nuanced portrait of people finding their place in the world.
In a clever and charming juxtaposition, the young son David (Alan S. Kim) and his maternal grandmother Soonja (Yuh-jung Youn) form an unlikely bond. Their playful and prank-fueled relationship serves as a bridge between what the parents (particularly Monica) left in their homeland and what they were able to create in their new life. This intergenerational relationship serves as a fusion of their biculturalism. As grandma shows David minari, an herb used in Korean cooking, David shares his Mountain Dew. It is these interpersonal moments that sets this film apart.
Throughout the film each member of the Yi family is negotiating who they are in their new home, balancing aspects of their Korean identity with new traits they acquired while living and working in the United States. Chung explores this beautifully with kindness but also an unfiltered rawness of someone with personal knowledge of this experience. The one constant through everything is their constant love and care for one another.
This film, named for a hearty vegetable common in Korean cooking. This veggie is well known for growing back stronger the second season. Like the plant that can easily be transplanted and grows without too much difficulty, the Yi family uproot themselves to America and through determination are able to create a new life. This shows with careful tending, people and relationships like minari have the capacity to grow anywhere.
– Review by Jessie Zumeta
Per Wikipedia, the film had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 2020, winning both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award. It began a limited release in the US on December 11, prior to its wide release on February 12, 2021, by A24.
Have you seen MINARI? Well, what did you think?