Grade:  A-/B+
Drama
Rated PG-13

Minari, a film in Korean and English, earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for Youn Yuh-Jung and nominations for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director, and Best Original Score. Youn, a legendary actress in the Korean film industry, plays a grandma who travels from Korea to Arkansas at the request of her daughter, who is having a hard time adjusting to her family’s move from California.

In California, Monica (Han Ye-ri) and husband Jacob (Steven Yeun) were on track to pay off debt by “sexing chicks” and separating males from females. But Jacob wanted more for her and their children Anne (Noel Cho) and fragile young David (Alan S. Kim), so he moved the family to Arkansas to sex chicks for an outfit that also gave Jacob an opportunity to start his own farm specializing in Korean vegetables. 

Leisurely paced, lyrical, and stylistic kin to Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life, this film hit close to home for the director. Lee Isaac Chung grew up as the young son of Korean immigrants who settled on a small farm in rural Arkansas, and there’s a truthfulness that quietly percolates beneath the surface of Minari—the name of a plant also known as Korean watercress or parsley that the grandma decides to plant on the banks of a nearby creek.

“Minari is truly the best. It grows anywhere, like weeds, so anyone can pick and eat it. Rich or poor, anyone can enjoy it and be healthy. Minari can be put in kimchi, put in stew, put in soup. It can be medicine if you are sick. Minari is wonderful, wonderful!” the grandma Soonja tells David.

Director Chung had said he initially wanted to make a film adaptation of My Antonia but found that avenue closed. He then decided to make a film about his own upbringing in rural Arkansas.

There are a lot of conclusions to be drawn from this 2020 film, not the least of which is that farming is hard, no matter what nationality you are or what language you speak. People for whom life is hard understand what it’s like to struggle and they tend to appreciate others who share that struggle and are determined not to give up. So don’t expect this to be a tale of discrimination against immigrants. Minari is set in the ‘80s when Reagan was in office, which seems a whole culture removed from today’s anti-immigrant, anti-Asian sentiments that were cultivated as an act of political expediency.   

Minari won the U.S. Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance, where it premiered, and Will Patton—perhaps best known for playing Col. Weaver in the sci-fi TV series Falling Skies—gives a tremendous performance as Paul, an eccentric Korean War veteran who asks to help with the farm. Paul is an evangelical who takes every opportunity to cast out demons, bless doorways, offer prayers, or speak in tongues on the family’s behalf. He likes the Yi family, and they, in turn, grown to like him in spite of his strangeness. He’s family—and that’s another obvious theme of the film. Families are like farming. Sometimes there are struggles, things to overcome, people pulling in different directions. But when it counts, family members are there for each other.

Minari, which won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, has a 98 percent “fresh” rating at Rotten Tomatoes, teaches acceptance in subtle ways—and not just the acceptance of others who don’t look like you. It’s about accepting individuals for who they are and not dismissing them or selling them short. One of the main subplots involves the children’s gradual acceptance of a Korean grandmother that they don’t know and don’t wish to know, but the theme of acceptance also applies to husband and wife who fight and neglect to appreciate the other person’s position. Minari is a quiet film, a beautiful film, and ultimately a powerful film.

Entire family:  No
Run time:  115 min. (Color)
Aspect ratio:  2.39:1 widescreen
Featured audio:  Korean/English DTS-HDMA 5.1
Studio/Distributor:  Lionsgate
Bonus features:  B-
Includes: Blu-ray and Digital Copy
Trailer
Amazon link
Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements and a rude gesture

Language:  3/10—The grandma tends to say things like “bastards” and other swear words; a teen on a bus gives a pedestrian the finger and says “s**t”; and there are other episodes of minor swearwords

Sex:  1/10—Grandma asks what the English word is for “penis” and is told; she teases the boy after a bedwetting incident by saying he has a “broken ding-dong.”

Violence:  1/10—A draw falls on a boy, people are injured during a fire, but all of this is accidental and not violent; a father asks his son to bring a stick with which to beat him, but nothing is shown; there is, though, one verbal reference to putting a gun to one’s head (suicide)

Adult situations: A child brings a cup of his own pee for an adult to drink, and it becomes a running joke; a character steals money; young children try smokeless tobacco; one male character smokes cigarettes; a fire and a health crisis also occur

Takeaway:  Minari is Chung’s fifth full-length feature, and I would bet that at least some viewers will like Minari enough to check out some of Chung’s earlier works