By George Kozera for Mr. Will Wong
Minari is an herb used in Korean cooking that dies in its first year and then thrives in its second season which is when it is harvested. It also purifies the soil and water around it. Screenwriter/Director Lee Isaac Chung’s real life grandmother planted a crop when she left Korea to join the family in the farm in the West and throughout many years and different vegetables grown, it was the one that grew the best. Semi-autobiographical in nature, MINARI is a poignant and heartwarming tale that charters the many travails and successes of a multi-generational Korean-American family as they attempt to settle roots on a farm in Arkansas in the 1980s. The Movie’s emotional impact packs a wallop that is resoundingly and simultaneously intimate and powerful.
Pursuing the American Dream of being his own boss, Jacob (Steven Yuen) transplants his wife Monica (Yeri Han) and two children Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan Kim) from California to a motor home deep in the heart of Arkansas where, almost immediately, they experience their first frightening tornado watch. While Jacob’s inexperience slows the process of cultivating the land, with the help of his devoutly Christian friend and employee Paul (played beautifully by Will Patton), his success is slow and steady, despite Monica’s growing resentment and unhappiness. Enter Grandma (Yuh-Jung Youn) from the homeland to help out.
It’s impossible not to love MINARI. Cinematographer Lachlan Milne bathes the landscape and interior scenes equally with subtlety and natural beauty and Composer Emile Mosseri scores every frame with refinement, never overpowering the moment with bombast. Chung’s Screenplay expertly interweaves intricate storylines and topics that range from displacement and cultural differences to theology to marital issues with humanity and compassion. The themes are universal; the results are perfection. As a Director, Chung elicits performances from his Cast that are transcendent. As Jacob, Yuen is magnificent and is matched pound for pound by his screen wife Han. There’s an innate honesty between the two of them that is astonishing to watch. The real break-out performances, though, come from the youngest member of the Cast and the oldest. As Grandma, Youn is bawdy and outspoken, as well as loving and doting and wise. Her performance sneaks-up on you and at one point it just hits that what you are watching is masterclass. David may be a rambunctious seven year-old with health issues and confused by the actions of his grandmother, but the more he sees, the more he learns. Kim will capture your heart.
While some of the dialog is in Korean, MINARI is a very American story about sentiments many families feel adopting a new country as their home. It is so much more than a Family Drama, it is a landmark piece of art. Elevation Pictures release MINARI on premium Digital and on-demand February 26, 2021.