Back before COVID-19, if you can even remember such a time, Parasite made history at the academy awards by becoming the first ever international non-english speaking film to win best picture. This historic win would mark a newfound appreciation for international cinema by western audiences, especially in regard to Korean media. Now with 2020 behind us, there is a new Korean language film following in Parasite’s boundary breaking footsteps and this is of course Lee Issac Chung’s Minari.
Set somewhere in the 1980’s, Minari follows a Korean family as they move to Arkansas to start a farm growing quintessentially Korean fruits and vegetables. Jacob, played by Steven Yeun, is the patriarch of the house and is determined to make something of himself and the farm so that he and his family may live the American dream, however his wife, Monica, played by Yeri Han, doesn’t want the family to suffer to get there or lose touch of their Korean heritage. Beautifully written by Lee Issac Chung and brought to life perfectly by Steven Yeun and Yeri Han, Jacob and Monica’s conflicting dynamic demonstrate the harsh realities migrant families face in their attempt to achieve the American dream, whilst excellently exploring the complexities of national identity with Asian American families.
However, the most investing dynamic to watch is that of the youngest child David, played by Alan S. Kim, and Grandma Soonja, played by Youn Yuh-Jung. Despite speaking Korean and coming from a Korean family, David has always lived in America, so when Monica’s mother, Grandma Soonja comes to stay, David is overwhelmed by a national identity and cultural heritage he’s never been exposed to before. As well as this, Grandma Soonja must learn to adapt to David and the families newfound Americanism. Both actors help deliver the authenticity on Lee Issac Chung’s script with exceptional performances, especially from Youn Yuh-Jung who should win the best supporting actress Oscar for her performance.
Overall, Minari is an exceptional exploration of the complexities surrounding national identity, cultural heritage and the American dream. Minari is a film about a Korean family starting a Korean farm speaking mostly in Korean, but with a unique character driven approach from writer/director Lee Issac Chung supported by outstanding performances from Steven Yeun and Youn Yuh-Jung, the film is the most fundamentally American film you’ll see this year.
Minari made its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival and won the best foreign language film at the 78th Golden Globes and is set for UK release on VOD March 19th