Every now and again a film comes along that completely stops you in your tracks. Minari is one such film. A beautiful, personal exploration of identity, family and youth, Minari is a piece of cinema that watches like poetry come to life, and every audience member will be moved by this work of art.
A Korean American family moves to an Arkansas farm in search of its own American dream. Amidst the challenges of this new life in the strange and rugged Ozarks, they discover the undeniable resilience of family and what really makes a home.
Written and directed by noted independent filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung, Minari is Chung’s personal exploration of the immigrant experience in America and is a powerful story of family and coming of age. As both writer and director Chung guides the journey of this narrative and the result is a cinematic experience that expresses itself more through action, emotion and a strong visual presence over narrative dialogue and exchange between characters. Chung crafts Minari as a slow-moving and extremely poignant watch and audiences will fall in love with a story that is softly spoken, but incredibly engaging.
Chung finds two powerful collaborators in Minari in Steven Yeun and Han Ye-ri as husband and wife Jacob and Monica Yi who strive to build a better life for their young family in rural Arkansas. Yuen is especially good in this film, and he’s never given a better performance as he does in Minari. As Jacob Yi, an ambitious man who desires to provide for his family he goes to extreme lengths to make his own version of the American Dream come true. But his character flaws lead him into trouble and this makes him an unpredictable and often volatile man, who takes out his frustrations on his family. Yuen walks the line between nurture and aggression as Jacob, and his performance is incredibly honest on behalf of the character and his desperate desire for success.
Standing next to Yuen and almost acting as a foil to his character is South Koren actress Han Ye-ri and like Yuen, she too is a revelation in the part. As Jacob’s wife Monica you would expect that she would be this demure wife and mother who would just go along with her husband’s wishes. But this is not so in Monica’s case, and she is instead a protective and maternal character and much strife is caused by her pragmatic approach to life against Jacob’s almost over-zealous dreams. Tension is derived from the clash of views of how to actually provide for their family, and Ye-ri really makes this film interesting thanks to her dramatic depth and a keen understanding of her character’s point-of-view.
Providing the heart of the story of Minari are young performers Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho as David and Anne Kim. And these two completely steal the movie. As first-generation Korean-American’s they find themselves living in the unique circumstance of 1980’s Reagon America where their Korean heritage rubs up against their upbringing around a very Republican-heavy America, and this leads to some very interesting interactions between the children and their parents. As David, young Alan Kim is very much a stand-in for Chung himself and his experiences growing up as an immigrant kid in America, and Kim gives a sincere performance that melts every audience member’s heart.
From its visual composition, Minari is a simply beautiful film to watch and Chung, alongside cinematographer Lachlan Milne crafts a gorgeous, almost dream-like stream of images that pull you into the story and it’s characters journeys. Milne frames the film with an eye for the burning heat of the Arkansas sun, and his use of imagery dominated by a yellow hue palette, makes you feel what it’s like to work and live under the heavy heat of this burning sun. Milne also pushes into a wide spectrum of green hues to illustrate the theme of growth and plenty that Chung explores, and he balances these off with bright primary colours which make certain moments of the film pop.
Alongside the strength of Milne’s imagery, particular praise must also be given to the score of Emile Mosseri, and his music provides Chung’s film with its soul. Emotional, haunting and dreamlike, Mosseri’s music makes you feel this story and its visuals on a deeper level and his score reflects on their dramatic depth and power. The feeling this score evokes as an element of a part of a whole is sure to make you feel that much more emotional and connected to the story that Chung is telling here.
Through Minari, Chung explores themes of identity, childhood, family and the American Dream and this film gives a unique insight into his mind and thinking as a filmmaker. One of the key themes of the film is expressed through its title, Minari, or the common water dropwort plant, which is symbolic of the film’s exploration of the idea of plenty and nourishment. Chung uses these themes to explore how this family interacts together and through a tumultuous set of events, its meaning is made clear at the end. Chung’s ending is sure to wrap you up emotionally and you will be hard-pressed to hold back the tears.
Minari is a beautifully lyrical film composed by a very talented filmmaking voice. Through performance, narrative, visuals and score audiences get to witness a truly human examination of life, family and the steps to accomplish a dream and this one is sure to bring out your emotions and touch your heart.
Image: Madman Films