Minari (2020)

One film that has received unanimous praise is Lee Isaac Chung’s beautiful drama, Minari. Starring Steven Yeun as Jacob, the patriarch of the Yi family who have immigrated to America from Korea. Having previously lived in California with wife, Monica (Han Ye-ri), daughter, Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and son, David (Alan Kim), the family moves to rural Arkansas where Jacob hopes to build a farm full of Korean fruit and vegetables for vendors in Dallas. Having to balance his dream to be a successful farmer with the dramas of family life, especially the arrival of his mother-in-law, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) and the family’s identity as Koreans living in America. Nominated for six Academy Awards and winning one for Best Supporting Actress for Youn Yuh-jung’s stunning performance, Minari landed on many critic’s best film list and it’s easy to see why. 

What Minari does so well is capture that struggle of the American Dream. The Yi family literally and figuratively want to own their small slice of paradise and Steven’s relentless pursuit and determination allows us to see the ups and downs of the struggle. Coinciding with the additional subject of the family being Korean immigrants, there are undertones of racism in the exchanges that they have with their local, predominantly white, church, especially where the children who don’t fully understand are concerned. We see the film through both adult and children’s eyes and are able to get a fully rounded view of the experience. Chung’s screenplay feels deeply personal and it is clear in his direction that this is a subject that he is extremely passionate about. The merging of American and Korean culture is mixed together to create this wonderful film that shows appreciation for the little things in life rather than aiming for the stars. 

Since leaving TV’s The Walking Dead, it’s been great to see Yeun starring in lots of interesting films, including Sorry to Both You. However, his performance in Minari has cemented him as a truly Hollywood leading man. Jacob is a deeply flawed character, often putting his American dream before his wife and children’s needs but he does have his family’s interests at heart. Yeun is perfectly cast as Jacob in what is his most dramatic and challenging role to date. Feeling the weight of the family on his shoulders, Jacob works tirelessly to provide for his family as well as securing their future prospects as well. What Yeun does so well is show the resilience of the character as well as that quick change as he shares precious moments with his children, especially David. Well deserving of his Oscar nomination, Yeun has already shown us his ability to act in a variety of genres and mediums showcasing a huge emotional range and it feels as though his performance in Minari is a fine combination of him performing at his very best.

In support, Youn Yuh-jung brings an Oscar winning performance as Soon-ja, the family grandma in what can only be described as a wonderful turn. Youn has been an established name in Korea where she has pulled off decades of phenomenal performances after the other. It’s great to see that success thrust into the global spotlight and even better that the film industry has bestowed her with a slew of major awards. Soon-ja is a character who soon glues the family together, causing friction initially, especially with David as he doesn’t want to embrace his Korean heritage. However, the two soon share an inseparable bond and it is an absolute delight to watch. Soon-ja comes into the film a little while in so we are able to see how her arrival completely shifts the family dynamic. 

One aspect of the film that has been getting a lot of attention is the score, composed by Emile Mosseri which was well deserving of the praise and award nominations it received. Bringing a calmness to the film, the score is delicate and classical in sound whilst also managing not to deter from the action happening on screen. Mosseri’s piano based music feels melancholy at times, especially during scenes in which it seems that Jacob’s dream is out of his hands but there are also moments when it feels like the catalyst for bonding such as the moment when Soon-ja shows David where to grow the minari. 

Overall, Minari is one of the most fulfilling films to come out of this awards season. Whether you’re admiring Chung’s impeccable screenplay and direction or blown away by the stellar performances from the cast, Minari is guaranteed to exceed your expectations. It may not have the bells and whistles that other films have but its humility and minimalism allows the characterisation to take centre stage and is sure to leave you stunned and captivated long after the credits roll. A truly stunning achievement and hopefully marks even more incredible films in the pipeline for Chung. 

What did you think of Minari? Let me know in the comments below!

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