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