‘Minari’ Review

To expand upon my quick thoughts in the video, Minari is a drama film written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung and is a semi-autobiographical take on Chung’s own upbringing. Set during the 1980s, the story follows Jacob Yi, a South Korean-American immigrant who moves his family from California to Arkansas in hopes that he can start a farm growing Korean produce and create a better life for his wife and children. Jacob must learn to balance life at home, supporting his family, his marriage, his mother-in-law, all while maintaining the farm and trying to find buyers for his produce. Minari stars Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, and Will Patton.

The most interesting thing about Minari is that it is an American made film even though most of the language spoken in the film is Korean. This adds some realism to the story because many immigrant families only speak English when they are in public as that is when it is actually necessary. Even if they can speak English very well the native tongue is just more comfortable to them. Seeing the children experience other kids in the rural town also shows some realism of its own. There are hints of racial insensitivity shown when one girl asks the daughter, Anne (Noel Kate Cho) if any of her gibberish is actually Korean. She gets lucky with one word, but it says a lot about what this town thinks of Asian culture even though I’m sure the girl wasn’t trying to be mean. Her brother David seems to make friends easily although the family worries about him more so than the daughter. He has a heart murmur that they must look out for and being about an hour away from the nearest hospital worries his mother greatly.

Much of the story does center around Jacob (Steven Yeun). Jacob is shown as a strong father figure who wants very much to succeed for his family by showing that it can happen as long as he uses his brain and works hard. He believes this so much in fact that he thinks that his children seeing him succeed is more important than his marriage working out. This says a lot about what he deems important in his life. His wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) on the other hand is a little more unsure of herself. She spends her day sexing chickens and feels like she might get fired due to her not being as fast as her husband. Her colleagues let her know that speed isn’t as necessary in the Midwest but she says she should still try and get better as she knows the farm succeeding is uncertain. She is shown to like stability even if it means working menial jobs that they do not care for. As long as the family is together, she is happy.

The highlight of the film is the grandmother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung). Her relationship with her grandson is the most interesting in the story. Even though he is very mean to her she loves him dearly and forgives his many faults. She chalks it up to his youth and says things could be worse. Her arc takes a drastic turn towards the end as she came to the US to help take care of the children and the situation reverses somewhat near the end.

Some of the issues with the film are the portrayal of the Yi’s neighbor Paul (Will Patton). He is shown to be a little kooky and very religious, but it is never explained beyond that. He mentions fighting in the Korean War and its alluded to that the things he saw and did over their changed him. Also, he is shown helping Jacob on his farm a lot but it is never explained if he is Jacob’s employee or just being a good neighbor by helping him out. The ending of the film is also a little abrupt. There are certain events that should have an effect on the family and the farm at the end of the film but there isn’t any closure to see what happens. It would have been nice to know how things are working out for them despite these setbacks. Overall, the story is heartwarming and the acting is good. This film has some of the most beautiful cinematography I’ve seen this year and is guaranteed to be enjoyed if you’re okay reading subtitles. I give a Minari a Solid 6/10.

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