Though award shows continue to brand the movie as international, the movie is a true depiction of the American experience.
Minari, a semi-autobiographical film by Lee Isaac Chung, takes on a dramatic form of the struggles of immigrant life brimming with humor, humanity, and hope. I had the pleasure of watching the film as part of Variety's Screening Series and felt like it was one of the most refreshing depictions of life in America and the pursuit of the "American" dream by more marginalized communities than are usually depicted in media.
Minari is the distilled version of Chung's own childhood growing up in rural Arkansas in the 1980s as one of the few Korean immigrants. While the idea of a film about a family finding its place in the world may seem like a simple concept, its grounding in the reality of Korean culture stretches to complex emotions and ideas that Chung and the cast brilliantly depict and that's no easy task. Chung tells the kind of story that feels emotional in its entirety even in the more heartwarming moments. It is a gentle, truthful, tender story of a family full of people of all kinds who try to love each other and do their best.
Steven Yeun gives a heartfelt performance as Jacob, a Korean Newcomer to the United States during the Reagan era. He and his wife Monica (Han Ye Ri) and their two children (elder daughter Anne (Noel Cho) and young son David (Alan Kim) come from California to Arkansas, where he earns joyless but reliable factory wages at a chicken hatchery while he also tries to grow his farming business.
While father Jacob is optimistic about life, his wife Monica is disappointed and concerned about their heart-sick son, David. David seems not to realize that his family lives on a large, undeveloped lot that Jacob wants to turn into a farm. This is a unique challenge because you see everything from the children's perspectives. And Monica's war-widowed mother (Soonja Youn Yuh Jung, a hit among a strong cast) becomes a complicated factor in the underworld of the family, breaking into an unblockable old country with David, who begins sharing a room in a room Monica resents.
The film ends on a cliffhanger and presents a hopeful resolution when Jacob and David are picked up in Minari Creek.
The film feels like leafing through a scrapbook of episodic memories of formative experiences. Minari is a rich, sprawling film about the human condition, a film that refuses to conform in any way to the tropes that catch and ensnare Oscar-bait movies. His appearance in the film is a sign of something mysterious and providential, indicating that good things are coming out of the ground. It looks like a popular classic; every scene feels familiar, and I love that it's an amazing way to recreate childhood.