At the heart of the film is Jacob (Yuen), who has uprooted his family to create a farm for fresh Korean produce. Unfortunately, he seems to be the only person who is happy in Arkansas – his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) is unhappy leaving her life in California while the children, daughter Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and son David (Alan Kim), are lonely.
With the American Dream as his goal, Jacob becomes fully invested in his home-grown Asian crops. He risks the family savings and happiness to succeed and his unrelenting stubbornness antagonises the increasingly neglected Monica. In her eyes, the family has left a familiar albeit comfortable life to work long hours with little reward. As the film progresses, her family concerns slowly feed her desire to return to California, leading to a heartbreaking admission about the couple’s future.
Stuck in the middle of the warring couple is the children, who quietly suffer from their parents’ growing discontent and work-inflicted absence. However, Monica’s quirky mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-Jung) soon arrives from Korea to help take care of Anne and David. Despite initial culture clashes with the children, she provides them, particularly David, with a nurturing gentleness while bringing humour that lifts the home’s sombre tone.
Through Chung’s narrative, Minari quietly defies the stereotype that all Asians are educated high-achievers. Instead, the film explores the hardships of unskilled immigrant workers. The Yi family work long hours sexing in a hatchery while Jacob dedicates his spare time to his crops. Their self-isolated lifestyle doesn’t help either – as the only Korean family in the neighbourhood, they don’t interact easily with others, besides Jacob’s eccentric worker Paul (Will Patton). Even a church morning becomes awkward, as David and Anne are on the receiving end of ignorant racial insults. Although the family’s troubles seem quite trivial, it is not until we see Minari‘s heartbreaking climax do we see the true extent of the family’s struggles – and what they have sacrificed for their new life in America.
Bringing Chung’s narrative to life is Minari’s wonderful cast. The absorbing Yuen and the expressive Han share a heartbreaking rapport as a couple striving to cope while keeping their family together. Newcomers Kim and Cho impress with strong performances while amid the angst, Youn’s humorous turn as the unconventional grandmother brings another layer to this family drama.
Along with Lachlan Milne’s stunning cinematography and Emile Mosseri‘s score, Chung paints a beautiful insight into his childhood. As a result, Minari is a poignant, heart-rendering journey of an immigrant family far away from home.
Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Stars: Steven Yuen, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Youn Yuh-Jung, Noel Kate Cho, Will Patton
Runtime: 110 minutes