Rating: 12A Cast: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan Kim, Noel Cho and Yuh-Jung Youn. Directed by Lee Isaac Chung Written by Lee Isaac Chung Length: 115mins
Minari is a wonderfully absorbing and moving family drama. Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung based it loosely on his childhood growing up on a farm in Arkansas in the 1980s. It’s a basic story, not especially dramatic or complicated, but it pulls it’s audiences into the vulnerabilities and intricacies of family life while focussing mainly on the young son, David, and his Grandmother. Minari is infused with a really warm sentimentality and, while Chung has explained that it is a fictionalised account of his rural childhood, he has managed to create a real sense of authenticity from start to finish.
From the opening shot Minari adopts the visuals of a well-loved classic, it’s difficult to explain other than it feels familiar. Perhaps this is an element that Chung fought for, that familial essence of a regular family experiencing life. The story itself explores the issues faced while balancing medical concerns, family tensions and the driving desire to establish a successful family farm. One component that was really interesting to me is that this focus on the relational journey of the family was the key narrative in a story that on paper could have delved into a ‘fish out of water’ immigration story. The film makers haven’t attempted to speak to the full experience of being a Korean in America and racism, when encountered in the film, is only communicated by an unthinking child; an interaction that moves swiftly into a friendship. I’m pleased that the topic of racism wasn’t avoided completely, it’s vaguely present, but isn’t the driving force of the story and invites the audience to understand that immigrants experience other issues as well as racism in their day to day lives.
While the whole cast presented really strong performances you have to mention Yuh-Jung Youn as Grandma and Alan Kim as David. A lot of the story focusses around the relationship between the two and they create something so pure. There’s nothing stereotypical about their character choices and it allows the audience to feel a real sense of inclusion as their story develops. Something that was very refreshing was that Chung didn’t feel the need to increase the drama unnecessarily, he managed to create a really lovely ‘flow’ that was maintained by authentic characters.
Minari is really about the universal dynamics of a family struggling to survive and daring to want to thrive. Of what happens to men, to fathers, when they feel they have to succeed at the expense of everything else, including the very family they’re claiming to do it for. But also about roots: how they’re sunk and can be torn out if not tended to. The gentle, quietly rhythmic pace could mistakenly be called a lack of dynamism, but actually there’s a boldness and confidence in the complete lack of emotional and dramatic manipulation. Unfortunately due to the events of 2020 I fear that the opportunity to watch this film is significantly limited, but I implore you, if you get the opportunity to watch it on the big screen, please do. It’s really lovely work and deserves to be seen by the masses.