Chasing the dream of creating a good life often comes with unexpected challenges. Lee Isaac Chung shows one family’s perseverance with a new look at the American dream in Minari.
Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun), his wife Monica (Yeri Han) and their children Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan S. Kim) move to a piece of land and a trailer home in Arkansas. Jacob is eager to start a farm to eventually leave his career as one of the fastest chicken sexers around and prove he can build a better life. Monica, who is deeply religious, misses their former life in California, and skeptical of the success of a farm, brings her mother over to help with the kids while she and Jacob work. When Grandma Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn) arrives, she brings a burst of energy to the family with her snarky, fun-loving attitude. Soonja must not only win over David, who has never met her, but also support the family which is starting to crumble under the strain of Jacob’s determination to make the farm work.
As the final credits rolled, I know why audiences fell in love with Minari. This family, while specifically Korean-American, with the dialogue almost entirely in Korean, has a universal experience. That’s what makes the film such a joy to watch. There’s also an instant connection for those of us who had a granny raise us while our parents worked. Mine was definitely a spitfire when she wanted to be. For many of us, it’s not just a film with great performances and cinematography, but one we feel to the core as nostalgia surfaces to tug at the heartstrings.
Chung pulled some wonderful performances from his cast. Yeun was completely convincing as a father struggling to prove his worth in America and maintain his Korean heritage. His frustration to provide solely with blood, sweat and tears brought out his single-mindedness and embodied the film’s title named after a hearty and adaptable Korean herb Soonja plants. As the long-suffering wife, Han was superb, and Cho mirrored Monica with her role as patient pre-teen daughter who brought the family stability they desperately needed.
I loved seeing Will Patton as the fanatical farmhand Paul who drags a gigantic cross down country roads on Sundays. His kooky performance, amidst the Yi family trying to make heads or tails of him, was so enjoyable. Of course, Soonja was the queen of the show. Youn nailed the saucy granny with such enthusiasm you wanted to reach through the screen and hug her. You see why Soonja and David arrive at a kinship since his cheeky nature was very close to his granny’s, and Kim’s cherubic face only enhanced his adorable performance.
Minari is a personal experience for Chung as well. It’s a semi-autobiographical film based on his memories of growing up on his family’s farm. He created something of a love letter based on his life to leave for his daughter.
This award-winning film is filled with joy, heartache and triumph, and you can find it streaming on-demand now.