Directed by Lee Isaac Chung, Minari follows a South Korean family and their struggle for a livelihood when they move to a new home in the state of Arkansas in the 1980s.
Minari can basically be summarized as just another chapter in a massive book that is the life of this South Korean family. The movie doesn’t start at their beginning and it ends with plenty more to come. There isn’t a particular arc that the family goes through. It almost seems as if we get to the start again by the end. This begs the question, what was the point? Well, maybe there isn’t a point to it and that’s the whole idea. Not making much sense am I.
Expectations vs Reality
A central theme to every idea the film has is about ‘expectations’. Jacob, the father, expects his family will only respect him if he succeeds as a farmer, no matter the cost. Monica, the mother, expects life to be better in a city that has enough people for a community. David, the son, expects his Grandma to be a certain way, very different from how she is. All of this is presented seamlessly, with character interactions that feel thoroughly genuine throughout.
The spirit of Korean wealth economic struggle still lives on in Minari. Except now it’s in life outside Korea and shows what people actively do to get out of it. Added on top of it is the pressure to sustain a family that is emotionally strained. The film is amazing at blending two cultures and showing us a hopeful world that is welcoming but also curious. It draws a fine line trying not to be offensive to either culture whilst pointing out its differences unfiltered. It’s an honest attempt to show a world where we can be different people but still respect each other’s cultures. It, unfortunately, might not be true to life but rather a warm hug that we probably need right now.
What an ensemble
The film is visually enchanting with wide shots of vast landscapes, flowing streams, rustling grass, and a warm sunny glow. The film does step outside its comfort zone more often than expected giving us a taste of multiple adversities, both natural and man-made. Amidst that is an amazing cast with nearly everyone bringing something unique to the table. Steven Yuen as Jacob shines most in scenes requiring him to assert control over situations. Han Ren-Yi as Monica bringing a lot of emotional weight as a woman slowly realizing her dreams and her husband might not be the same. Alan S. Kim brings out what might be the best child performance of 2020, not missing a single beat despite being around such experienced actors. Youn Yuh-Jung as the Grandma steals the spotlight in nearly every scene she is in and probably displays the broadest range of emotions in the film.
What doesn’t work
Unfortunately, one slight oversight is one of the family members not feeling as fleshed out as compared to everyone else. The dialogues still feel natural and the character is never used just as a plot device or to convey information. It can just occasionally feel maybe the story could’ve turned out exactly as it did even if that character weren’t in the film. The film also feels a bit short considering the range of themes it tries to cover. A marriage that’s undergoing emotional turmoil, a kid that’s unable to cope up with daily activities, parents struggling to earn enough for their kids, and a lot more. A lot feels lightly touched upon that could have easily taken more time for a much stronger payoff. Scenes that seem very powerful cinematically but due to the buildup not being enough, don’t necessarily feel so.
Minari blends two very distinct cultures seamlessly all through the lens of a heartwarming family with struggles that feel very personal and human. Despite a shorter than expected runtime, its incredible cast and skilled direction are enough to convey its emotionally powerful themes.