Having identified the perfect spot by a stream in some rural land in Arkansas, Soon-ja plants some hardy minari. It will flourish without the need for interference, in contrast to the backbreaking labour required to make a living off of the land.
The award-winning Minari, starring Steven Yeun (Beef), Han Ye-ri and Youn Yuh-jung, is an exploration of the American dream through Korean generational obligations.
What Is Minari About?
After years of toiling away working as a chick sexer in California, Jacob (Yeun) moves his family to Arkansas, having spent all their hard earned savings to buy some land and a run down mobile home.
Very doubtful of the decision, wife Monica (Ye-ri) constantly worries about their young son, David (Alan Kim) who suffers from a weak heart.
David and older sister Anne (Ji-young) struggle with their bickering parents and the later arrival of eccentric grandmother Soon-Ja (Yuh-jung).
Set in the 1980s, Minari is a quasi-autobiographical story drawing on director Lee Isaac Chung’s experiences of growing up on an Arkansas farm.
His gentle direction favours naturalistic dialogue and gloriously lived-in shots of rural life and practical living.
The sun-kissed land that Jacob has pinned his family’s hopes on are poised to either flourish or fail, where uncontrollable weather has just as strong a grip on fortune as the sweat of Jacob’s toil.
Minari Official Trailer
Is Minari Worth Watching?
Minari gets up close with a family pulling in different directions. Yeun’s focused and intelligent performance could be seen as blind and selfish in less skilled hands. There is a yearning in his eyes, a desperation to pull off his gamble, and a longing to be unconditionally supported.
Wife Ye-ri’s performance is of isolation, as she struggles to cope with their downgrade in living conditions and abandonment of reliable income. Her morose and unprompted apologies to her mother belie her own shame above all else.
Yuh-jung won a well deserved Oscar for her wryly dotty performance. Nestled amongst marital bickering between the spouses and a clandestine hostility from the children, Yuh-jung soldiers on with carefree pig-headedness.
Her presence isn’t the ‘destructive outsider’ that other scripts may have fashioned. Instead, she blithely sparks a fire within a family that is on the verge of falling apart.
Aside from a minor touch of racial insensitivity from local children at a church gathering, Minari presents its setting and location as one free from racial concerns. This plays into the nostalgic haze of a movie living in memories, but also speaks to a practical ethos that joins over effort more than creed.
Jacob’s plan may be to grow Korean produce to sell to Korean immigrants, but he seeks out a social life at the Christian church (even if this is partly in an effort to gild the lily for Monica).
Minari harvests the rewards from outstanding performances and an intimate direction that speaks to communal family troubles.
As parental tempers flare and children David and Anne flee to their bedrooms, their return – armed with ‘Don’t Fight!’ messages hastily scrawled on paper planes – speaks to how we all strive to cope with our surroundings. Minari lives in the moment; there is joy in sharing its crops.
Words by Mike Record
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