By Mark Saldana
Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)
The American dream is a goal that not only natural-born citizens of the United States hope to accomplish, but is often, more importantly, a goal that immigrants hope to achieve. That is the main message of this beautiful and heartfelt movie about South Korean immigrants trying to survive during the 1980s. Based on the life experiences of filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung, Minari depicts the life of South Korean immigrants working hard to thrive and survive in rural America. It is an American tale as old as the age of this nation, but it is also a lovely reminder that this nation of ours can be the land of opportunity to those willing to work hard to get there.
Minari follows the Yi family, a Korean family who has moved from California to rural Arkansas where patriarch Jacob (Steven Yeun) desires to become a farmer, cultivating the vegetables often used by his culture. Living in a small, mobile home, the Yi’s must adjust to their new environment, with Jacob promising that this move is a step forward for the family. To make this dream come true, Jacob and his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) must also work for steady income at a local hatchery where they separate the female chicks from the males. As Jacob pursues his dreams, he and the family encounter several obstacles along the way. Though things appear bleak initially, Jacob remains undaunted in his goals, much to the consternation of his more pragmatic wife Monica.
This is truly one of the best films I watched in 2020. Lee Isaac Chung has made a film that plays out naturally and realistically without any artificial sweetness or heavy-handed melodrama. It is a timeless story that appeals to the human heart and soul. Though it will resonate strongly with American immigrants, it has a genuine heart that should appeal to audiences of various backgrounds.
All of the cast members give excellent performances, but three particular actors stand out for me. As Monica’s mother Soon-ja, Youn Yuh-jung is wonderful as an unfiltered and outspoken grandmother. As Paul, Jacob’s assistant in farming, Will Patton gives an incredible turn as a sweet and optimistic religious zealot who has some farming skills and previous experience. As David, the youngest child of the Yi family, child actor Alan Kim is an absolute joy to witness on the screen.
Minari is one of those films that is so timeless and always relevant. It is a movie that is sure to please and have an impact on audiences of various backgrounds, However, it will definitely resonate with immigrant audience members who know what it is like to adjust and assimilate to the United States and its people.