Reflecting on Minari: A Sociopolitical Drama with Family and Culture at its Core
“Even if I fail, I have to finish what I started”, says Jacob, the central father character, trying to persuade his wife that their life is worth fighting for in this country; he wants to prove to them all that he can succeed.
The story of a Korean family building a new life in rural ’80s Arkansas is one that might seem unrelatable, and yet director Lee Isaac Chung makes it feel as though it’s truly a part of each member of the audience. Chung dedicates time to establishing Minari‘s mid-western setting and pays close attention to its characters: the ways in which each individually struggles with uprooting their life and copes with adapting to their new one. The title ‘Minari‘ refers to a type of water parsley that grows even in the harshest of grounds—a theme that’s portrayed throughout the film in a truly humane fashion.
As the family patriarch, Jacob, Steven Yeun is a powerful lead player, taking charge with a passion that often leads to questions from his wife, played with conviction by Yeri Han. This passion finds them in the Ozarks, trying to start up a farm of their own.
Faith and ambition are the true central themes of this film, from the moment Yeun’s character Jacob refuses the help of a man who proclaims himself a ‘water diviner’, due to his strong faith that he will be able to work this land to his advantage on his own. It tells a story of the ambition necessary to survive in this world.
Cinematography and performance bring this film together. Meticulous acting, combined with the greys and greens of the scenery, creates a peaceful and striking visual. There is a whole world, it feels like, for the audience to delve into—and it feels real. These characters are played genuinely, and with care; even the youngest members of the cast live up to a very high acting calibre—Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho truly stand up amongst their castmates.
A real scene-stealer is Yoon Yuh-jung, who plays the family’s grandmother who moves to the USA to live with her family. While there, she teaches her grandson about the water parsley and how to grow it. Yuh-jung won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in this film, becoming the first Korean actress to do so. As Soonja, she created a warm, genuine character that reads as a truly kind member of the family.
Minari feels like a real story; the viewer feels that Chung has taken his own experiences in life and thrust them to the forefront of this film. Visually stunning, performed with extraordinary care and skill, and written and directed like a story from the heart, Minari is a film for any kind of film lover.
The reviewer, Elle, is a talented 17-year-old student who has recently completed a work placement with Cinema For All via Arts Emergency.