Minari: Unbounded American Dream
American Drama| 2020
Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Minari portraits the American dream of the Korean immigrant Yi family who moves from California to their new plot of land in rural Arkansas to start farming as to build their new beginning in the early 1980s. Jacob’s (father of the family) wife Monica was unaware of his entire plan on starting cultivation yet moved on for a good cause. Absence of Korean/ Non Korean neighbours, house on wheels, remote area, worries about their son David’s heart condition who is often told no to run turns her to dislike the shift to Arkansas. Jacob and Monica work sexing chickens at the nearby poultry hatchery and Jacob’s plan seems to quit the job once his farm helps him earning well by selling Korean vegetables to Dallas as the Korean immigrants were incrementing in America at a good rate.
The picture takes us to another framesets when Monica’s mother Soon-Ja travels from South Korea to look after David and his elder sister Anne during the day. Little old cute David was reluctant to share his room with grandmother as she didn’t look like ‘real’ grandmother for him who wears boys’ trousers and doesn’t bake cookies and more over she smells like ‘korean’ David says.
Eventually the bond and affection between these two characters grow and that could be few of the astounding takeaways from Minari. She takes David to nearby river-bank where they plant ‘minari’ (a Korean vegetable with little fuss) and advice David and Anne at an instance not to scare away snakes at the river-bank as they are more dangerous when they are hidden; infact this is the theme Lee Chung is trying to speak out through ‘Minari’ with Jacob and Monica hiding their fears from one another.
A feeble dramatic approach could be seen when the family goes through tough times like Joseph’s well getting dried up, Soon-Ja dealing with a stroke, vegetable order getting cancelled at last minutes and so on.
Story takes us to the conclusion when the family witnesses a fire break out nearby the house on their way back from Oklahama visiting David’s doctor and receiving an order for Joseph from a Korean- owned supermarket; the very own fire broke out from his Korean vegetable stored barn which was accidentally set up by Soon-Ja while burning the trashes in the garbage can.
Lee Chung’s brilliance has to be personified from his screenplay where he tries to deconstruct the overrated ‘American dream’ of the immigrants and settlers through this semi-autobiographical picture.
Minari is a dreamy film — unlike fellow Oscar-hopeful Nomandland, it doesn’t romanticise the misfortunes of the misfits. The tone, however, rarely takes itself seriously. The film strikes profundity not through technical feats such as its magnificent score or its Malickian view of Americana, but through quiet moments of memory — like Monica lining the insides of drawers with paper, or the family joylessly watching an old Korean sitcom.
‘Minari’ is a must watch for those who dwell in sensitive storyboard. Earning six nominations in the 93rd Academy Award (Oscar), Youn (Soon-Ji) won the best Supporting Actress making her the first Korean to win in this category.
An enchanting drama of faith and farming
Even members of the same family. “Minari” doesn’t insist on making its characters representative of anything but themselves. Youn is a sly scene-stealer, but that’s also true of her character, who infuses her daughter’s home with mischief, folk wisdom and mostly unspoken memories of war, poverty and other hardship.
She is tough but kind, and wise by virtue of having lived long and seen a lot. David and Anne — the big sister is a somewhat neglected figure in this group portrait — are as wide-open as satellite dishes, gathering information from every corner of the known universe and decoding it as well as they can. The grandmother and her grandchildren are free in a way that Jacob and Monica are not, hemmed in as they are by responsibilities, anxieties and promises that may prove difficult to keep.
Jacob is a traditional patriarch, but he’s also a young man who has taken an enormous risk, and his struggle to grow into a new version of himself is the film’s dramatic heart. Yeun, an effortlessly magnetic actor, finds the cracks in the character’s carefully cultivated reserve, the large, unsettled emotions behind the facade of stoicism.
It all seems simple and straightforward. “Minari” is modest, specific and thrifty, like the lives it surveys. There’s nothing small about it, though, because it operates at the true scale of life.
Chung’s visualization of love in the film is especially standout, providing imagery that tugs at childhood nostalgia. A white mesh tent settled over plates of banchan to protect them from the flies, a game of Go-Stop, a mother tenderly cleaning her son’s ears – all these scenes depict the small joys the Yi family has built for themselves. The vignettes are intimately familiar to Korean Americans yet also global in how they carry love – especially familial love.
In dealing with more concrete themes, Chung emphasizes the contrast between the family’s financial hardship and Jacob’s dream of cultivating a farm. When the slow burn reaches its peak, the family desperately attempts to salvage their dream as it falls apart but inevitably has to rebuild what they have lost.
Although this particular situation is one that can only be experienced in rural Arkansas in the 1980s, the messages of loss and acceptance can resonate with anyone.
Furthermore, the emotional resonance of the film is only deepened by the almost dreamlike nature that it is shot in. Its soft color palette and natural, warm light coupled with simplistically beautiful cinematography evoke images of a memory – clear but a bit hazy at the edges.
“Minari” is pensive at the right places and harsher at others, but at its core, so very human. With details specific to Korean life and a core theme applicable to anyone, it is gentle but firm in its depiction of life built from the ground up.
You can rent and watch ‘Minari’ now on Amazon Prime.