by Charles Kirkland, Jr.
A Korean man moves his family to Oklahoma to find fortune during the 1980s in the powerful drama, Minari.
Jacob (Steven Yeun) has a dream. So he moves his family from San Francisco to Oklahoma in pursuit of his dream. He picks a spot of land far away from the city with lots of land so he can farm Korean vegetables. Unfortunately, his wife Monica (Yeri Han) is a lot less enthusiastic about this new venture. Their children, Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan S. Kim) are caught in the middle. In an attempt to appease his wife, Jacob brings Monica’s eccentric mother, Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn), from Korea to live with them. Can they all find a way to succeed together or is this a madman’s scheme destined to fail?
Minari is written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung (Munyurangabo, Lucky Life) and was inspired by his own upbringing in rural Arkansas. It stars Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead), Yeri Han, Yuh-Jung Youn, Alan S. Kim, Noel Cho, and Will Patton.
Festival darling, Chung has created a masterpiece in this film. The story is well constructed and reflects the complexity of life. Being that this is a story based upon his own life, Chung does an excellent job of addressing the themes that he experienced in his life and making them accessible to everyone. Not many people know what it means to be a farmer but, every parent knows the desire to create a life for their family where they are self-sustaining and peaceful. It is that desire that drives both mother and father and all of the interesting characters they meet along the way.
The cast is outstanding. Yeun, who many accredit for the death of The Walking Dead, is absolutely fantastic as a father on the edge of desperation trying to achieve his dream goal while at the same time trying to win over his wife. Yeri Han is incredible playing a woman who is at odds with herself because she cannot reconcile being a good Christian wife with disagreeing with the direction she and her family’s life has taken. And while the energy generated from Jacob and Monica could be enough to carry a movie, the interaction between the adorable Alan S. Kim’s David and the grandmother he has never met and refuses to accept is hilarious and at the same time just as intense in its own way. The grandmother-grandson dynamic serves as the perfect relief from the tension we witness between the mother and father. Veteran character actor Will Patton’s cross-bearing, Paul is the most quirky and yet the most outrageously fascinating of them all. Each player of the ensemble, with each of their own identities, come together to make a wonderfully fulfilling meal.
Minari is a vegetable used in Korean dishes that can be best described as spicy parsley. Many Koreans swear by its use saying that it adds flavor. It is even thought to have medicinal properties. Grandma Soonja even says in the film that it adds life to everything. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and a rude gesture, the movie Minari is a delicious snapshot of a defining moment in the life of a family. It is a well-seasoned, flavorful dish, filled with the most scrumptious ingredients; joy, sorrow, and everything in between. A real delight.