It’s a good bet most Americans have never heard the word ‘minari” nor know what that word means. It refers to an edible leafy plant grown in Asia and used as an ingredient for many dishes in Japan, Vietnam, India, Korea and even as far west as Italy. Minari might even be found in Queensland, Australia. Since I can’t boil water, I had never heard of it before seeing the movie Minari, a universally relatable film.
Handsome young actor Steven Yuen (Jacob) heads the cast of a Korean-American family leaving the city to move to rural Arkansas (really Tulsa, Oklahoma) to start various farm-related businesses. Not being well-versed in farming or things that go with it, it’s a bit of a dicey situation to uproot the family to pursue a tenuous goal. But then, we wouldn’t have a drama, would we, without conflict? However, don’t despair, for there are many welcome comical moments to lighten the general tone of the film.
Jacob, a man driven to prove himself a good provider for his family, desperately wants to succeed at something, not only for his ego, but to keep his masculinity intact. It’s a “guy thing,” not only for American men, but for Koreans as well. His wife Monica (Yeri-Han) is a city girl who is not happy about moving to the country of wide-open spaces. She prefers concrete and skyscrapers to prairie grass and gurgling brooks. She is not very supportive of Jacob’s dream to become a farmer and wants him to give up.
Jacob tries his hand at raising baby chicks and planting crops with the help of his neighbor Paul, played as a goofy character by actor Will Patton. As with most farmers, there are difficulties and triumphs, all expected to throw a wrench into Jacob’s plans. Jacob struggle physically and emotionally, calling on his inner strength to overcome the road blocks.
Fortunately, Jacob can take pride in his children, a girl Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and a feisty young boy David (Alan S. Kim). The little boy seems a devilish handful, and is played by the adorable Kim. He provides many laughs and funny situations. When grandma Soonja (actress Youn Yuh-Jung) arrives from Korea, young David makes fun of her because she doesn’t speak English and brings all the traditions of the old country with her. This provides the devilishness in David’s character to go into full gear, and many amusing scenes occur between the two. Yuh-jung is exceptional in her part and has been touted for providing an Oscar®-quality Best Actress performance. In fact, the Los Angeles Film Critics have awarded her their trophy for that very performance.
Minari is not all comedic performances. Jacob must overcome unspeakable tragedies in his pursuit of the American Dream. The film, as directed by Korean American Lee Isaac Chung, is partly based on Chung’s own life, with modifications, of course. But, he understands his characters and directs with compassion, heart, and tenderness.
This film is a wonderful saga of how immigrants survive tribulations when chasing their dreams to become Americans. It’s inspiring, funny, tragic, and heart-warming as it follows the family’s setbacks and growth.
Minari has been sweeping awards at various film festivals. A few examples are Best Actor for Steven Yuen from the Chicago Film Critics and the Denver Film Festival. Ms. Youn Yuh-jung was the winner of Best Supporting Actress from the Boston Society of Film Critics, which also gave the award to music composer Emile Mosseri for Best Original Score. The big prize went to director Lee Isaac Chung from the Sundance Film Festival for the Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Competition Audience Award.
(Released by A24 and rated “PG-13” for some thematic elements and a rude gesture.)