GFF 2021: Minari
Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical drama takes us back to the 1980s, where a Korean American family is trying to adjust to life in rural Arkansas. The result is a film touched by magic
It’s the American Dream to hope, to fail, to succeed, to fail again and then hope some more. For Jacob (Steven Yeun), a chicken sexer and Korean immigrant, this quintessentially American promise of triumph takes him and his family – wife, Monica (Yeri Han), daughter, Anne (Noel Kate Cho), and son, David (Alan Kim) – to rural Arkansas.
In Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical film, Jacob’s dream is to turn 50 acres into a tiny homeland by growing Korean produce. Monica isn’t convinced by his Edenic vision, especially as their new home consists of a mobile house, propped up by bricks, marooned in the middle of nowhere. Family conflict results in Monica’s mother, Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung), arriving to watch over David who has a heart murmur.
Much to the boy’s annoyance, Soonja is less doting grandmother and more big-hearted, gambling prankster. Much has been made of Yeun’s performance, but it’s Korean acting veteran Youn who is the beating heart of Minari. Intergenerational clashes ensue, but grandmother and grandson eventually bond, with Soonja introducing minari – a plant that dies in its first year, only to thrive in its second – to David and this patch of American soil.
Minari is a family drama, captured gracefully and modestly by cinematographer Lachlan Milne. But it’s also a painfully melancholic film about the limbo those with hyphens in their identity must navigate. Can you ever root yourself in a place if you’re forced to repeatedly arrive there? Is home where you sow your seeds or where you first sprout? Minari dances with these questions and the result is a film touched by magic.
Minari, making its UK premiere, is the opening film of Glasgow Film Festival, screening 24-27 Feb
Released 19 Mar by Altitude