Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Starring: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton
Run Time: 115 mins
Minari is an affecting and amiable portrayal of a hard-working, but down on their luck Korean family who are trying to carve out their own American dream. Directed by Lee Isaac Chung, Minari follows immigrant Jacob Yi (Steve Yeun), who is fed up of working in a chicken hatchery in California and moves his young family to a considerable piece of land that he has brought in rural Arkansas with a rickety mobile home. He plans to farm the land with Korean vegetables which he can then sell to Korean vendors, so he can finally make something for himself and his family. His wife, Monica (Han Ye-ri), is unimpressed with the living arrangements and the two of them argue regularly, in front of their two young children, Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and David (Alan Kim). One such argument is beautifully realised when the children create model aeroplanes, writing ‘Don’t fight’ on the wings and they launch them into the lounge to attract the attention of the parents. To complicate family matters more, David has a heart condition which Monica has to frequently monitor and he is not allowed to run to overly exert himself. The set-up is excellent and the characters are all very well developed and have emotional stakes. Despite the fact that Jacob and Monica argue and are on the verge of splitting, there is still a passionate admiration for each other between them, which at times, is heartbreaking.
Things take an interesting turn as Jacob and Monica need someone to look after the children when they are at work and they choose to fly Monica’s mother, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) from South Korea. Soon-ja is pretty distant with the children, David not remembering her as he was too young when he saw her last. She is a rambunctious, unconventional Grandmother who regularly swears in front of the children but has an unconditional affection for them all and tries her best to dilute the families hardships, even when she makes poor decisions. She tries to get David to come out of his shell and she plants minari seeds (a Korean water celery) by a stream on the land, which she is convinced will bring luck and prosperity for the family.
The interplay between the family is excellent and the performances poignant. The highlights are of course, Youn Yuh-Jung, whose Oscar win for her turn as the grandmother is excellent, deftly balancing the comedic elements of the role with some powerful sequences in the third act. Steve Yeun is also commendable as Jacob and his plight for success is piercing to the audience, as is Han Ye-ri as Monica. The film is technically beautiful with dream-like cinematography from Lachlan Milne, the families land seeming other-worldly and distant. Emile Mosseri’s predominantly piano and woodwind based score is also soul-stirring in its ethereal quality.
Minari is a quiet and unassuming drama that packs a punch as it invests you in its sincere and well-developed characters. It is one of the best films of this year’s Oscar nominees and one of the best films of the year.