Review: Minari3 March 2021
I watched Minari with a Korean friend, a first-generation immigrant like myself, and when we left the cinema, we agreed upon two things:
- We would love for our parents to watch this movie. (Next to us, so we can closely discern their reactions).
- We would completely understand if they turned it off at the thirty-minute mark
This isn’t a slight against Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari. If anything, it’s a testament to the precision of the story – so intimate as to be almost painful to watch.
Minari follows the Yi family, Jacob and Monica (Steven Yeun, Yeri Han) and their two young children, David and Anna (Alan Kim, Noel Cho) as they uproot their life in California to move to rural Arkansas. Jacob, dissatisfied with the menial work of chicken sexing, buys a plot of land with the hope of growing Korean produce to sell to vendors. Monica is lonely, she misses her life in California – a state with a higher population of Korean immigrants. David and Anna are less apprehensive about the move, but they view their new home as temporary – not yet realising the gravity of their father’s goals.
Jacob’s dream is a romantic one – of being your own boss, of providing food and income for your family. It’s also a familiar set-up to the immigrant success story. An underdog, who against all odds, achieves success through hard work and determination. But to someone who has been Jacob, or grown up with a parent like Jacob, they can recognise the dream for what it really is – a blind, all-in gamble.
Steven Yeun plays Jacob with a degree of barely tempered rage, that only becomes more apparent as the land proves resistant to farming. If Minari was a different kind of movie, this would be treated as a mere stumbling block to success. Instead, we witness a growing temper and a loss of faith in his own ability to provide. Chung understands that the burden of immigration is not always rooted in external microaggressions – but in witnessing the slow implosion of a dream. It’s no surprise that faith is a theme that permeates Minari – both the abundance and the lack of it. Even the name, ‘Jacob’ seems a careful choice – a man who wrestles with God, only to face the limits of his own ego.
Veteran Korean actress Youn Yuh-Jung and newcomer Alan S. Kim also ground the movie with a sense of real joy and levity. Although Minari depicts the Yi family at a battleground period of their lives, moments of love between the characters remain strikingly evident – from David’s grandmother comforting him before bed, to the tender moments of solidarity between Jacob and Monica. In doing so, Minari contends with the feel-good immigrant tale – one that hinges on a white, middle-class faith in meritocracy – and instead leaves something more honest in its place.
*Minari is currently showing at Cinema Nova. Find tickets and more information here.