Minari review: dreams by trial and error


The American dream should be for everyone, but we all know it’s far from being. Yet generations of people have kept trying. Such is the case with the Yi family in Lee Isaac Chung’s beautiful debut Minari .

When the Yis arrive in Arkansas from California and see their new home, you think, Wow, beautiful… But very remote. Father Jacob (Steven Yeun) has bought a plot of land in the countryside, with the ambition to start a farm with Korean products. He wants to get a foot in the door with big sellers in Dallas and therefore also with the growing Korean community.

His wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) thinks it’s hers and estimates the chances of success are minimal. To make ends meet, both parents work in a hatchery to determine the sex of chicks. Moreover, the farm is not their only concern: their son David (Alan Kim) has a heart condition that prevents him from exerting himself too much. All these worries increase the tensions between the couple, resulting in many quarrels. They decide to enlist the help of Monica’s mother Soon-ja (Yuh-jung Youn). With her sarcasm, she’s just not what David expects from a grandmother, so the two new roommates don’t really click. To make matters worse, the farm also faces problems.

When you put it that way, Minari sounds much more dramatic than the movie actually is. Because in real life, most of us will try to avoid conflict as much as possible, resorting to bickering, silence and stubbornness. This is a subdued portrait of a family that just because of the lack of high drama sticks. Jacob wants a better life for his family but also wants to prove himself. That you can also succeed as an immigrant and add value to the community. David just wants to be a boy with no worries or interference from his parents and grandmother. And the fact that this continues to fascinate has everything to do with Chung’s screenplay and direction, and the choices of the actors.

Chung films parts of his own life. He himself grew up as an immigrant son in the deep countryside. And that brought difficulties but also beautiful moments. Especially Steven Yeun and Han Ye-ri convey a lot with their eyes. Yeun was already a bright spot in The Walking Dead , and has only gotten better. If you didn’t see Burning , you immediately have an ideal double bill ahead of you. Yeun has something vulnerable and soft that you always believe, but can also be unusually hard. As an actor, he remains unpredictable.

Youn for the win
In addition to layering, Chung also adds sparkles of humor to his screenplay, such as in a scene in which David and his sister meet new children at the local church. But the biggest cause of laughter is Yuh-jung Youn, the revelation of the past awards season and deserved Oscar winner. David hates that his grandmother isn’t a compliant, old-fashioned granny, but we love it. She never misses an opportunity to test Jacob or tease David. Youn’s chemistry with young Alan Kim is amazing to watch. And yet Soon-ja also just wants her daughter to be happy. When problems arise, she tries to help, even when it costs her dearly.

Cinematographer Lachlan Milne already had experience with the wildlife of Taika Waititi’s Hunt for the Wilderpeople . In Minari he makes the beauty and sometimes the brutality of the countryside almost tangible. Add to that the soothing piano music of Emile Mosseri and you get a subtle film that hopefully also opens some minds and hearts.