Minari (2020)

Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Writer: Lee Isaac Chung
Cast: Alan S. Kim, Yeri Han, Noel Cho, Steven Yeun, Yuh-Jung Youn, Will Patton
Seen on: 10.8.2021

Content Note: child abuse, (critical treatment of) racism

Jacob (Steven Yeun) has always dreamed of owning a farm, and finally he and his wife Monica (Yeri Han) have saved up enough to buy a plot of land. Much to Monica’s surprise, the land is much bigger and much more rural than she expected, their house nothing more but a trailer. But what’s done is done, and they and their children David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Cho) move in. While Jacob throws himself into farming, Monica is not convinced about the success of his endeavor.

Minari is a beautiful, intimate and very soft film that is sure to find a way into your heart. I really adored it.

The film poster showing David (Alan S. Kim) walking over a field with a stick in his hand. A mural of the US-American flag can be seen on the background.

From what I gather, Chung drew on his own life story and that of his family to make the film that is told more or less from David’s perspective. While autobiographical stuff sometimes feels like people are trying to work out their family issues on-screen, in this case it feels very much like Chung made his peace with his family and his childhood before he tackled the film. This gives the movie a serene mood, even though some of the events in it are pretty dramatic.

It’s a mood you can easily fall into, and that makes you understand and relate to the characters even more. Jacob’s hope for a better life – isn’t that exactly what the American Dream promises – is understandable. His plan is even good, if only the world were a lot fairer (and isn’t that what the American Dream promises, too?). Just as understandable is Monica’s horror at seeing the decisions Jacob made for the family that are so very much not what she would have decided herself, preferring to have played it safer and with good reason. David’s ambivalence about his grandmother Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn) and vice versa, they are an equally strong pairing. It is only Anne who gets a bit short-changed amidst these two pairs of opposites and love.

Father Jacob (Steven Yeun), mother Monica (Yeri Han), the children David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Cho) and grandma Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn) looking at their farm.

The cast is really fantastic. I expected nothing less of Yeun, who is always simply wonderful to watch. I also heard a lof of praise for Youn’s performance in advance, praise that I can easily confirm. But the real star, for me, is Yeri Han. Her Monica is such an intriguing character, her quiet strength and unflinching commitment to her family, and Han portrays her perfectly. I am basically in love.

I would have wished for a more resolved ending, but then again, it is an ending full of hope. In German, we have the saying “Unkraut vergeht nicht” that roughly translates to “Unwanted weeds don’t die”. And while Minari is not unwanted here, it does share some of the traits associated with pest plants (grows everywhere, doesn’t need much tending), and much like Minari, the family in the film is here to stay, no matter what life throws at them. Ultimately, that is enough of a positive ending to be satisfying.

Jacob (Steven Yeun) sharing his wisdom aout farming with David (Alan S. Kim).

Summarizing: really lovely.

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