Monday, February 8, 2021

Minari - Movie Review

The Movie: Minari

The Director: Lee Isaac Chung

The Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Scott Haze, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton

The Story: A Korean family moves to Arkansas to start a farm in the 1980s.

The Review:
Director Lee Isaac Chung, who also wrote this story, follows a family's journey from California to Arkansas in pursuit of a dream they don't all necessarily share. The story is a family drama that is filled with a heaping dose of reality and a focus on how immigrants struggle with cultural differences while also navigating through their own personal issues. Chung does a great job of painting a portrait of family life in a way we haven't see before and about people we normally don't see in this type of story.

At the forefront of what makes this movie so good are the individual performances from Steven Yeun as Jacob and Han Ye-ri as Monica, a husband and wife who moved to America from Korea with the promise of achieving their dreams of being a successful family. The dynamic between the two is at it's best when their characters are at odds and the conversations between them just feel so real. The way they interact feels so natural and you see how at odds they are yet are also doing everything they can to hold the family together.

The story from start to finish is pretty heavy drama although Chung does a good job of sprinkling in bits of comedy to inject a lighthearted feel which helps to balance things out. Most of the comedy comes from the kids David and Anne, played by Alan S. Kim and Noel Cho respectively, and also from Youn Yuh-jung, who plays Soonja, the grandma of the family. There are some great interactions between David and Soonja that are really fun and are a great way to show the culture and generational clashes between the two.

The run time for the movie is just under two hours and I feel like any longer would have stretched it out way too thin so I'm glad that Chung was able to keep the story at a fairly efficient length. I will also add that the cinematography, with Lachlan Milne behind the camera, is absolutely stunning and takes full advantage of the landscapes and backdrops of the Oklahoma farmlands the movie was filmed in. If you've ever thought about moving to the southern countryside, this movie will help you to make that decision.

Speaking of the south, Chung does add a bit of social commentary into the story and how it relates to middle America's acceptance of Asians and immigrants in general. The director doesn't get too heavy handed with this since it's not essential to the story and presents it in a way that shows how tolerance, acceptance, and communication can break through racial biases and general ignorance about people from other parts of the world. Chung presents a hopeful viewpoint on these topics and looks at the younger generations as having a more progressive future than those who have lived before them.

The Verdict:
Minari is a beautifully written story about the American dream from the perspective of a Korean immigrant family and features stellar performances from a cast that is highlighted by Steven Yeun and Han Ye-ri. Right now, this is unique storytelling and I look forward to the day that this type of representation and diversity is much more of a normal thing.

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