A Korean family moves to Arkansas to farm: a lovely indie on almost everyone's Oscar list. In theaters Friday.
Even though Minari is set in the ‘80’s as a Korean-American family resettles from California, it could be ’21 so real is its depiction of the
challenges beset them. Writer-director Lee Isaac is himself a hero for showing these estimable ramblers trying to achieve the American dream while retaining their Asian heritage.
The legacies of immigration are many and deep. Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Yeri Han) with their two children and grandma are quietly working the land to grow vegetables and gently soothing each other when things don’t go as hoped. In episodic fashion, we are visitors to their farm, watching as Juan searches for water with the help of kindly, eccentric neighbor Paul (Well Patton).
Not only does farming serve to cause tension between Jacob and Monica, she can see the failures to come and hope they move again, back to California. In a way, Chung has drawn his principals closer to the dream than many of us realize considering those going West only to turn back because of the California cost in economic and emotional terms.
The vagaries of their Arkansas occupation are best exemplified in little David (Alan S. Kim) and grandma Soonia (Youn Yuh-jung). David warms to grandma after a time, and grandma relaxes in to fight her own battles with old age. She gives him courage while he gives her love, and their enduring live through catastrophe represents the love everyone else must share in order to survive.
Minari, a hearty plant the survives anywhere, is also an emblem of the daunting task for the family to tame the South. Chung has fashioned a small Oscar-worthy drama, whose languid pace and uncluttered mise en scene may disguise the hardships beneath.
Yet, he also reveals the formula for eventual success:
“Remember what we said when we got married? That we'd move to America and save each other?” Jacob to Monica
The salvation is--love.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JohnDeSando62@gmail.com