The Wikipedia page for the 2020 film ‘Minari’ directed by Lee Isaac Chung rightfully has child-actor Alan Kim on the promotional poster – that little boy’s character might have a weak heart, but he is THE HEART of the film.
‘Minari’ is about a Korean immigrant family that has just moved to a large plot of farmland in Arkansas, away from the bustling California. Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) dreams of growing Korean vegetables on his farm, while his wife Monica (Han Ye-Ri) isn’t too convinced about living this new life and wants nothing but to go back to the city because their young son David has a heart condition. Their already troubled relationship faces more challenges when Monica’s mother Soon-ja comes to live with them. David and his older sister are not to thrilled with the arrival of their grandmother nor of all the traditional Korean food she wants them to eat.
The film has a very slow start, with the couple having a mind-numbingly boring job that involves ‘sexing chicks’ – they spend their time segregating male & female chicks at work. David’s interactions with his grandmother are the primary source of entertainment and endearment in this drama. Alan Kim is an absolute winner as the sweet, funny little boy, who thinks Soon-ja neither looks, nor acts like a typical grandma. Youn Yuj-Jung was equally brilliant and entertaining as the Korean oldie who loves playing cards and watching TV.
The film is visually quite interesting, with most scenes unfolding the Yi family’s farm and their large trailer home. While Jacob gets busy trying to grow vegetables in his farm with an eccentric-religious war veteran helping him; Soon-ja slowly starts to bond with her grandson David and shows him how to plant ‘Minari’ a Korean water-celery which she claims can ‘grow anywhere’. It’s this plant ‘Minari’ that is perhaps metaphorical for the human spirit, specifically those of immigrants – with just a little support from the surrounding, they can grow into constructive citizens in any part of the world.
Director Lee Isaac Chung has used a lot of elements from his own personal life, making the movie real and perhaps even slightly banal in parts due to its authenticity. Viewers with little patience may not be able to keep their interest in this drama for too long. But to those looking for a heart-warming story close to real life, with all the ups and downs that come with being part of a middle-class family, it’s a pretty good pick. Beyond the all-Asian cast, it’s a relatable tale of the aspirational class, with parents trying to manage their finances to put good food on the table while the kids focus on the fizzy-drinks in the fridge.
Actors Steven Yeun and Han Ye-Ri’s chemistry is not sizzling, but they do have a domesticated connection of a couple that has been married for many years. In the movie, their marriage is on the verge of falling apart, but an unexpected twist in the climax leaves the viewer wondering if the Yi family will be happy after all? Sometimes, life is all about starting over – that seems to be the message of Minari.
With gripping performances and a realistic script that gets slow in parts, ‘Minari’ makes for a bitter-sweet family movie that one can watch on the weekend. It’s 7.5/10 from me. The film is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
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