May 25, 2024

MINARI (2021) – A Korean American dream


Rating: ⭐⭐ 1/2

Minari tells the story of a young Korean family who migrates to America in the 1980’s. Walking Dead’s Glenn, Steven Yeun plays the lead as the head of the family struggling to make ends meet with the farm land he acquired in Arkansas. The story plows along as we see Yeun and family encounter various set backs and struggles in their journey to acquire their American Dream. Minari is directed by Lee Isaac Chung who is a son of Korean immigrants. That means he has direct emotional investment in the film’s theme and aptly projects a realistic landscape with a very personal touch. The main characters are all Korean actors and most of the dialogue is in Korean so in effect you are watching an American Korean movie.

I am all for watching family dramas and foreign language movies as well. However, I have to admit that in the case of Minari, I did not feel as engaged with the story as much as I would like to. To me, the pace and story flow was good, but the events that happen to Yeun’s family did not seen extraordinary or strong enough to make the film unique. The acting was authentic all round and I particularly liked the child star Alan S Kim playing Yeun’s boy, and his relationship with his grandmother. Steven Yeun has made such an impact with his unforgettable role as Glenn that it is hard to shake off that link when seeing him here. Nevertheless he does put on a very convincing performance as the ambitious young migrate here.

As I watched the film, I found myself anticipating something significant to happen. Minari however is not that type of movie. At the end, it just felt a little like I had watched someone’s home movie. A bit disjointed and with many details that would require the home movie maker to explain to his audience. One of my disappointment with Minari is that it did not really give much details supporting key characters’ motivations and background. What exactly was there in America that motivates a family to make the sacrifice of travelling to far to start a new life? We are shown some level of Korean community but not much is given on how they integrated with the Americans. They work in chicken farms, they go to church, they prefer the city to the country side, but that’s about it. Just shown without much background to these. There were hints of discrimination but this was never explored. If I were to compare this with another recent “arthouse” movie Nomadland, I would say that Nomadland had more substance and insight to support its topic, although sugar coated by avoiding the tougher challenges of houseless existence in America.

Nevertheless despite my quiet discontent, Minari belongs to the category of movies that film festivals and awards love to recognise. Will it become the second Korean language movie to win the Oscar for Best Picture? Minari has already won the Golden Globe awards for Best Foreign Language Movie and received multiple nominations for the BAFTA Film Festival. This has further fueled its success with an astounding SIX nominations by the Academy Awards including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay and Actor!! So, in that aspect, Minari is already a big success. One might say this has been a Korean American dream come true for its film makers already! However, when translated to how “entertaining” or “enlightening” the film is, I would say that it falls short for me.

The film’s title Minari refers to a sort of water vegetable that is commonly eaten in Korea. In the movie the plant appears to grow easily and flourish when planted along a stream near the farm. I suppose in the context of the movie it symbolises hope and a positive future for the young Korean family.

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