Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Starring: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Youn Yuh-jung
I don’t understand how Minari could be so incredibly specific, so very personal, and yet speak to me like it was telling the story of my life; that just doesn’t make sense. I guess that’s simply good storytelling, great storytelling, to be able to convince your audiences that they also lived this tale, even though it has nothing to do with them. We find pieces of our own origins in this film, small connections that seem to make all the difference, and that’s how Minari works its unique magic. It’s one of the very best films of the year, a subtle tale of struggle and endurance, and one that we can all relate to in weird, wonderful ways.
A Korean family moves to Arkansas for work, land, and opportunity, but finds struggles that may break their fragile family bond. Working in California is a chicken sexing factory, where the females are placed in one box and the males are separated and destroyed, Jacob & Monica move their family across the country to have more space, more chance to advance, and a larger piece of the American Dream. Their children, Anne & David, try to adjust to the backwoods culture there, and things really become a family affair when their grandmother, Soonja, comes to live with them as well. This is the story of their fight to stay together and to control their own destinies, a look at growing up within an immigrant experience that is both very common and always one-of-a-kind.
Lee Isaac Chung tells a very personal narrative in Minari, but at the same time he graciously invites us all to share in the memory, and in so doing we all see a bit of ourselves within one or more of the characters, experience one or more of the events like it was happening to us. How he struck such a balance between his history and our own is a mystery, but perhaps that’s just pure talent shining through. And beyond then, he was also able to pit tragedy and comedy against one another like Shakespeare himself knew was key to good entertainment, making the lows seem lower and the highs seem towering. Minari is funny, it’s cute, it’s moving, it’s so sad, and all the while it’s just moving forward, not tricking us into liking it, just bringing us along for the ride. Alan Kim, who plays David, and Youn Yuh-jung, who plays the grandmother, are such a remarkable pair, they make the film, stealing every scene, even while the passion of the family storyline plays out in the background. And, of course, Steven Yeun is a rising star, he’s going to be legendary, you can just see it in his eyes and feel it in every role he inhabits. Minari is Top 5 of 2020 easy, a film of sweeping sentiment and lovely scenery, one to remember for while.
My rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆