Already nominated for a Golden Globe award, Minari’s story of immigration and finding home in a foreign country is getting worldwide attention for its tenderness and humour.
Minari is about a Korean-American family in the 1980s, who relocate from California to Arkansas, with the hope of starting their own farm so they can finally stop working in a chicken sexing factory. It’s a brave move for Jacob and Monica (Steven Yuen and Yeri Han), who crave a fresh start after the young couple have already faced difficulties with their son David’s medical issues, and the challenges of being far from family in Korea.
Source: Josh Ethan Johnson / Steven Yeun, Alan S. Kim, Yuh-Jung Youn, Yeri Han, Noel Cho
Director Lee Isaac ChungWhen they arrive in Arkansas, Monica feels duped by the house-on-wheels that doesn’t match the life Jacob promised, and Jacob’s battling to prove to Monica that he can succeed at bringing their dream to life. The tension between Jacob’s commitment as a dad and goals as a businessman wears on their marriage, and the couple wrestle with where their priorities should lie.
Soon, Monica’s mum joins them in Arkansas to help with the kids and a new challenged is posed, as young David and his sister Anne confront all her ‘Korean-isms’ and how they contrast to their American-based upbringing.
Directed by Lee Isaac Chung, Minari has a biographical edge as Lee himself grew up in Arkansas as the son of immigrant parents. Perhaps mirroring his own journey, it reflects superbly on the immigration experience of melding the cultural ideas you came from with the ones you’re moving into.
Jacob’s farming practices are based on intuition and smarts, whereas the Arkansas locals have a faith-based approach at times and are more open to “reading the land” and following the wisdom of a water diviner. Jacob doesn’t openly dismiss their ideas, but gently ignores them as he grabs a cigarette and keeps his bewilderment to himself. So too, the local farmers step back and watch as Jacob chooses to grow Korean vegetables on an American farm, and do it with the logic he was raised on.
There are moments of compromise and education, but also space to see another way of doing things.
Minari also shows the role of church in creating community. Monica and Jacob come from a Korean Christian heritage and, as they start to the find their feet, the church is a way they can meet new people – albeit confronting to attend an American-style service.
Telling of the times, there is a distinct lack of racial sensitivity on both sides, as David’s new friends ask, “why is your face so flat?” and Monica’s mum giggles saying, “there’s another one!” as she points out all the “fat” American churchgoers.
Minari is a very human story and that’s why it works. Without trying to drive home a message or spark political debate (although that’s happened with its Golden Globe categorisation), it opens your eyes to story of starting afresh and battling cultural differences. It captures the humour unique to families and how trying to carve a space in the world can be hard.
Running throughout the movie is also the metaphor of the minari – a plant that’ll thrive anywhere if it’s positioned well. It speaks to the potential for the immigrant experience to be a rich one and how, if we tend to the ground where we’re planted, we’ll flourish.
Being largely subtitled, Minari is a foreign language film but it gives a very home-grown insight into the lives many immigrants both in America and in our own backyard will be facing day-to-day. It’s valuable viewing for all ages and nationalities.
Minari is in cinemas now. Rated PG