“Even if I fail, I have to finish what I started.”– Steven Yuen as Jacob Yi
By Cain Dennis
Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” is a simple, beautiful film that captures its characters at a pivotal moment in their life as a family and shows us their struggles with understated reverence. Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Burning) stars as Jacob Yi, a Korean-American man who has moved his family from California to Arkansas in the 1980’s, where he aspires to start a successful farm growing traditionally Korean fruits and vegetables to make a living providing Korean immigrants with the foods that they remember from home. Jacob’s determination is combated against his wife Monica’s (Yeri Han) wishes to live in the city, and their differences of priority lead to a compromise between the two early in the film, where Monica’s mother Soon-Ja (Yuh-Jung Youn) comes from Korea to live with them and watch their children Anne and David while they work at a local hatchery.
This is the first of Lee Isaac Chung’s films that I’ve seen and his script and direction deliver his intentions with this film wonderfully and all of the actors give deep, convincing performances. Steven Yeun will likely become the first Asian-American actor to be nominated for Best Actor at the Academy Awards. Alan S. Kim is an absolute standout as well, and one of the most talented young actors I’ve seen debut recently, he is utterly believable and his contentious relationship with his grandmother gives the story more conflict but keeps it centered emotionally too. The young boy says that Soon-Ja is “Not a real grandma” as she doesn’t bake cookies, and she swears, but their cultural and generational differences teach them about each other and their family grows because of it. David’s older sister Anne (Noel Cho) is more reserved and quieter than him, feels at home in her role and comes across as very realistic. Jacob and Monica’s relationship is stressed heavily and seeing their struggle to remain together for their children feels real.
The scenery has a plain beauty to it, we’ve all seen fields and farms in countless films, but Lachlan Milne’s cinematography is incredibly fresh and lets us see these common rural landscapes as if they feel as new to us as they do the Yi family. Shots are held long enough to let us sink in and think about how it would feel to be in their shoes. Emile Mosseri’s musical score adds to the immersion and never feels overbearing or overstays its welcome, it’s implemented perfectly.
“Minari” is an exceptional film, and one that brings with it a wholesome story about a family trying to achieve their idea of the American dream, and while that vision isn’t always the same between all members of the family, we see how their differences tug them apart and make them stronger, all at once. Minari may have much of its dialogue spoken in Korean, but make no mistake, it is the most purely American film I’ve seen in a very long time. Great writing, a great story about resilience and achieving your dreams, you should check out “Minari” as you’ll likely be hearing much more about it once Oscar nominations are announced.
“Minari” is a