A nomination for a Golden Globe Award as Best Foreign Language Film should help “Minari,” now on premium digital and on-demand, the boost it deserves to find a wide audience. Simultaneously intimate and emotional, it is an authentic coming-of-age story about the resilience of the human spirit.
Drawing on his own personal experiences director Lee Isaac Chung has crafted a story about the Yi family, the Korean born mother and father, Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Yeri Han), and their American born kids Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and David (Alan Kim). Dreaming of a better life, they relocate from California to start a food business in rural Arkansas. Buying a plot of land, he plans on growing Korean produce to sell in the tri-state area.
It’s a tough go. Water is scarce, particularly after Jacob declines the services of a local dowser in favor of trying to find his own source. To make ends meet Jacob and Monica take on jobs at a local hatchery, but the long hours, coupled with David’s heart condition, bring trouble at home. To ease the tension Monica’s mother Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn) comes from Korea to lend a hand.
She’s a handful, not a “real grandma” says David. But her swearing, love of wrestling and life brings some much-needed spark to the Yi’s new trailer home. Best of all, her antics help David find his way from shy little boy, whose mother coddles him, to fun loving kid.
“Minari,” in English and Korean with subtitles, is a carefully observed movie. The look on Monica’s face when she sees her new home for the first time is a subtle but devastating. Grandma’s easy laugh is infectious and David’s reactions to his grandmother—“They don’t swear! They don’t wear men’s underwear!”—are funny in a wistful kind of way. Even farmhand Paul’s (Will Patton) eccentric religious beliefs are treated compassionately and never ridiculed, even when Jacob can’t understand why he would rather lug a giant cross down the road than accept a ride.
These moments build as the story unfolds, bringing empathy along with them. And while the film confronts the racism the Yi’s encounter in their new community, the story doesn’t look there for conflict. That comes from within the family and their struggles, not from external circumstances.
“Minari” is a true family drama, with a hint of “The Grapes of Wrath” thrown in for good measure.