There are some universal things any adult coasting through life experiences, doing a menial job in the hopes of a better tomorrow or the struggle to search for meaning. ‘Minari’ tells a simple, almost barebones story of a Korean immigrant family that recently moved to the South, precisely Arkansas, to start life anew during the ‘80s. Minari’s significance comes from not any standout scenes nor a singular character, it’s taken as a whole, quite like how a Korean dinner isn’t the same without the small side dishes. We see from the perspective of all family members and not one takes precedence over another.
The story starts with Jacob (Steven Yeun) and his family as they are driving towards their new home (and farm). Not as optimistic as Jacob is his wife, Monica (Han Ye-Ri), which she rightfully should be as the house is nothing more than a big trailer van elevated on bricks, surrounded by green fields. Right from the start, the dialogue is believable and charming, in which my favourite is the family not outright saying David’s (Alan S. Kim) heart condition but revealed through small scenes.
Now, with this kind of setting, you’d expect racism would be a part of the story but it’s barely there. Everyone in the movie is generally friendly, and not in a fake kind of way either, which ends up making the film more endearing as the stem of the conflict comes from mainly the family dynamic.
Later, we see the arrival of Jacob’s mother-in-law, Soonja (Youn Yuh-Jung), but she isn’t the archetypal petty mother-in-law, she only tries to get closer with her grandchildren. They only see her as a ‘foreigner’ and not a real ‘grandma’ as the kids think of the perfect grandma as one who bakes cookies and knits all day. Throughout the film, she joins the kids in their shenanigans and they seemingly get closer as time goes by.
As a second-generation born in Australia, some scenes hit close to home, which almost brought me to tears. Anyone who was raised in the same environment as I watches this film would know what I’m talking about.
To say I would recommend this film leaves me in an ambivalent position as obviously, this is a very personal film by Lee Isaac Chung that only a few would truly understand his experiences. The film does indeed do a great job at portraying the lifestyle of Korean immigrant families but I think what elevated this film from good to great in my eyes is the irreplaceable emotions and thoughts that he and I have experienced in our formative years. Even though we were born years apart, in which I am a Gen Z, there are still things that are immediately familiar, and I truly appreciate a film like this was made.
Minjune was born in Melbourne to Korean migrants. He is currently studying Audio Engineering at JMC Academy.