Cert – 12, Run-time – 1 hour 56 minutes, Director – Lee Isaac Chung
A family move from a California city to a caravan in Arkansas, with father Jacob (Steven Yeun) leading work on a farm for Korean vegetables.
Earlier this year, as with most years, the Golden Globes came under fire when it came to their nominations. One of the reasons for this was because of its exclusion of Minari in a Best Motion Picture category – and being snubbed in any other than Foreign Language Film, which it won – due to it largely being in Korean, the same went for Parasite last year in the top category. Despite this the film has picked up multiple nods at other awards ceremonies, including Best Picture amongst five other nominations at the Oscars, with what is a very American story. One that some might describe as a sort of bootstraps tale.
Inspired by writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s childhood in Arkansas the film feels like a fond memory, warm and brightly lit throughout. The Yi family move from a California city to a plot of land in the middle of a quiet town in Arkansas, Dad Jacob (Steven Yeun) hopes to independently set up a farm for Korean vegetables. While his kids are simply taken along, son David (Alan Kim – for many, a scene stealing delight) taking it more in his stride than his sister Anne (Noel Cho), his wife Monica (Yeri Han) is understandably more hesitant in the change of surroundings, especially when tornados and harsh weather conditions add to the isolation that the family feel by finding themselves living in a caravan in the middle of a small field. The family bond is brought to life by fine performances and Chung’s direction which fills each frame of the film with a warm air of reflection; heart, humour and soul all linking back to the family unit at the centre of the piece.
You don’t properly realise the connection that you’ve formed with the characters until the presence of Grandma (Yuh-Jung Youn) is brought into the equation. The relationship between grandparent and grandkids might initially be somewhat uneven, however gradually bonds grow and connections are formed. Youn in many ways becomes the heart and soul of many of the film’s elements – while still remaining a supporting player. Her performance is the standout in a film filled with great performances. Capturing swirling joy, emotion and deterioration she pinpoints perfection and gives what may already be the best performance of the year. She acts as both a support for the family and cause for worry as situations don’t seem to be as ideal as perhaps they may have once looked, at least for Jacob as he pours his passion into his farm with the help of neighbour Paul (Will Patton).
Minari refers to a Korean vegetable that can be used in a number of different dishes, it acts as the title and a background element to a film that while initially seeming like a light film about family introduces subtle elements along the way to pack in much more. Emotion is plentiful leading to uplift and heartbreak in equal measure and helps craft a film with a great deal of universality, beyond that of a traditional American tale. One that many can find something within and connect with. The simplistic nature of the piece, the steady observational nature of the way the camera is held adding further to this and allowing for the piece to unfold creates an even softer and gentler nature that welcomes you in to what appears as a piece of reflection and has the impact of a well-tuned light family drama that manages to pack in nuanced observations, humour and emotion. All calmly stirred to the point where you don’t properly realise just how much a part of this truly wonderful film you’ve become.
A simplistic and traditional American film that’s more effective for it, making for a strong, bright narrative about an excellently performed family filled with heart, warmth and the stylings of a fond memory.