Minari: Our Shared Ideal

By Finn Russell and Richard Xu-Austen

Finn and Richard watched an advanced screening of Minari this February, and had different feelings about the film; Richard loved it, but Finn found it a bit lacking - they discuss it below.

Minari is the story of a Korean-American family who have recently moved onto Arkansas farmland, their struggles, their stories and their perseverance. 

- Finn

In the film, Lee Isaac Chung manages to deftly maneuver between understated, yet heartwarming drama and immensely funny comedy, in this tale of a Korean family trying to make a life for themselves in 1980s rural Arkansas. Whilst it effortlessly visualises the tightly-knit, family unit to craft an emotionally resonant tale, the whimsical tone and tropey story work against it, leaving a disappointing feeling that you’re watching an (admittedly excellent) version of a film you’ve seen countless times before.

- Richard

The film begins with the Yi’s moving onto their new property – their father having taken a risk in buying the land to farm, and the mother horrified by the living conditions of their new home. It’s in the opening scenes of the film where I was immediately captured, the tranquillity and nostalgia that the soundtrack instils, as the children look wistfully… hopefully out the window. I think a lot of people can relate to it. For me, at that moment, the movie was a masterpiece, I was just hoping it wouldn’t screw it up in the next two hours. And thank god it didn’t.

This is such an intimate film, the personal details of Lee Isaac Chung’s life are tangible, real to us as the viewer - we have an insight into first-generation migrants, and the creation of the film feels like an act of understanding and reconciliation for Chung. Simple details like the Grandmother wearing men’s underwear or the mother cleaning out her son’s ears - it’s these crucial mundanities that so many films ignore, that makes this film stand out emotionally.

The cinematography of Minari, by Lachlan Milne is nothing short of beautiful, elegant and all the other superlatives I can use. In the moments of the family interacting with their farmland, it becomes transcendentally stunning. Even simple close-ups of tea-cups have a painterly quietude to them, you can’t help but feel at calm when watching the gorgeous hues of greens throughout the film. Reminiscent of the films of Edward Yang and Hou Hsiao-Hsien.

The performances in the film are nothing short of phenomenal. The children, played by Alan Kim and Noel Kate don’t have the kind of agency that a film concerned with realism would explore, but they are instead, excellent characters of the kind you’d find in a heightened reality. The small boy, David, is so reminiscent of a character from Yasuiro Ozu’s 1959 masterpiece ‘Good Morning’, that it seems like an intentional homage. It’s a good one at that. Steven Yeun of course gives probably a career best as the father, but perhaps is outmatched by Han Ye-Ri, who embodies the heart of the film.


- Finn

Whilst Minari’s score and cinematography are fantastic, other less essential elements of the film suffer from mere adequacy or being cliché. This extends to Minari’s characters as well. The core family unit are all well realised characters with fantastic performances (of note is Yuh-jung Yoon’s performance as the grandmother, Soonja), however, not all of them are given the screen time or material to truly come into their own. This is especially evident in Noel Cho’s role as the daughter, Anne. Additionally, the ‘crazy Jesus man’ Mr Harlan, was too whimsical for the film, beginning to feel so contrived and tropey as to break the film’s immersion even for a few moments. This is also reinforced in the story, nearly every plot element has been represented before so many times that it begins to wear thin in Minari. However, as the story isn’t a major focus of the film, rather focusing on the dynamic between the family members, this isn’t too major of a flaw.

- Richard

I agree with your criticism that the film is rather predictable – I essentially knew the plot beats of the film as soon as it began, but there is something to be said about a film that can make a cliché work. Coming up with an original idea for a film is hard work, but making a familiar kind of film that transcends its own shortcomings is something to respect, and even admire. I do think that the film operates almost entirely on the plane of emotion and metaphor rather than narrative plotting or political didacticism - and it would be a mistake to think that is what Chung was striving for. Minari works best when regarded as an emotional fable of familial relationships and the notion of the working class ideal – and it is true that when you look into the narrative, it is rather conventional. It isn’t the first story of its kind to be told, and it won’t be the last. But what it represents is the ideal, not just for Americans, but for us all. To share those bonds we have with our family, to be strong for others, to be kind to our neighbours, and to appreciate the wisdom and beauty that a simple field of grass holds.

Minari: Our Shared Ideal

Finn and Richard watched an advanced screening of Minari this February, and had different feelings about the film; Richard loved it, but Finn found it a bit lacking - they discuss it below.

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