Lee Isaac Chung’s fifth film, Minari, is his most personal to date. Set in 1983, the story draws on his own childhood. It sensitively follows the trials of a working-class Korean family.
An optimistic father called Jacob (Steven Yuen) decides to grow Korean produce so buys an arid piece of land in Arkansas. Joining him in this venture is his wife Monica (Yeri Han), son David (Alan Kim) and daughter Anne (Noel Kate Cho). Lee Isaac Chung paints the story through the eyes of the children, particularly the youngest, David. The adults are often seen in the background, left exasperated by the world around them. Progressively, it’s not a film where racial prejudice or issues of assimilation are at the forefront of the narrative.
After the family move into a prefab house and begin to shape their farmstead, things change with the arrival of Monica’s mother, Soon-ja. Played by Young Yuh-jung, this wrestling-loving, card-playing woman is not your typical grandmother. Although she takes her grandson to a patch of minari – a Korean herb – for a tender moment, she and David enjoy a somewhat combative relationship. She also – more than once – causes strife for the family in ways that will leave you heartbroken.
The film, which has already won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film and is up for multiple BAFTAs and Oscars, is minimalist in its approach. The tides and rhythms of day-to-day life are captured with delicate precision by Chung. There are also appearances by American actors Will Patton and Scott Haze in supporting roles, but it’s the cast who play the family – particularly The Walking Dead star Steven Yuen – who leave the greatest impression in this sensitive study of the family unit.
Minari is available on demand. For more details, click here.