‘Minari’ movie review: Poignant immigrant drama blossoms into absorbing classic

By | June 2, 2021

Director Lee Isaac Chung recalls his childhood in 1980s rural Arkansas, led by a wonderful cast that has created unforgettable characters

What a delightful movie this is! Writing in the Los Angeles Times about the inspiration for Minari, director Lee Isaac Chung recalls how author Willa Catha’s words, “Life began for me, when I ceased to admire and began to remember,” prompted him to record his childhood memories. After collecting 80 memories, including the family’s “arrival at a single-wide trailer on an Ozark meadow” and his mother’s shock at the sight of their new home, Chung crafted a story with themes of “family, failure and rebirth.”

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These themes run through Minari as a gentle, green skein in the fabric of life. Even though it is a small, intimate movie about the Yi family, who move from California to an Arkansas farm to start life anew, it is as grand and mundane as life itself tends to be.

Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) does not want to be sexing chicks all his life and decides to realise his dream of farming speciality Korean vegetables for the sizeable immigrant population. His wife, Monica (Han Ye-ri) is dubious about the success of the plan. The couple’s constant arguments put a strain on the marriage with Jacob saying his children need to see him succeed at something for once and Monica snapping, “Isn’t it more important for them to see us together?”

Minari

  • Director: Lee Isaac Chung
  • Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton
  • Story line: A Korean American family move to an Arkansas farm to seek a new life, and learn valuable lessons along the way
  • Duration: 115 minutes
  • Language: Korean, English

Monica worries about leaving their seven-year-old son, David (Alan Kim), who has a heart condition unattended. Monica’s mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) comes from Korea to help. In the beginning, David, who has to shares his room with Soon-ja, is annoyed with her as she doesn’t fit his idea of how a grandmother should be. The slowly building bond between the two is one of the sweetest things about the movie. As Soon-ja teaches David to play cards, leave the silent snake alone or the right place to plant Minari, a water celery, David reciprocates with warmth, literally showing a dazed Soon-ja the way home.

Children are real people in Minari, not annoying, idealised little angels. They are naughty, wilful but also good hearted. David is cuteness personified, with a delightful dash of mischief, while his elder sister, the quiet Anne, (Noel Kate Cho) tries to be a comfort for her parents.

The cast led by Steven Yeun and Youn Yuh-jung (the Oscar is richly deserved) have created brilliant unforgettable characters. Minari had six Oscar nominations including Best Picture. It lost the Best Picture Oscar to Nomadland, which was also about lighting out into the great unknown, but from a blindingly white perspective.

Minari, Soon-ja says, “grows anywhere… Anyone can pick and eat it. Rich or poor, anyone can enjoy it and be healthy. Minari can be put in kimchi, put in stew, put in soup. It can be medicine if you are sick. Minari is wonderful, wonderful!” And so is the movie.

Minari is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video

 

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