Written and Directed by Lee Isaac Chung
Starring Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton
“…her life really began when she stopped admiring and started remembering” Lee Isaac Chung regarding Willa Cather
Minari is the type of film that feels more like a moment in time that can forever change the life of the person who experiences it. Starting out with the Yi family arriving at their new residence in rural Arkansas. Father Jacob (Yeun) has designs on starting a farm to grow Korean vegetables for market of the 80,000 Koreans immigrating to the U.S. each year. His wife Monica (Ye-ri) is skeptical, as she feels the money used to start this farm will take away from their savings needed for their son David’s (Kim) heart surgery that he will need when he is older. Anne (Cho), the older daughter, waits in between.
Arguments between the parents lead to awkward negotiations. Soon, Monica’s mother Soon-ja (Oscar winner Yuh-jung) arrives to help care for the children. As Jacob works with a local, religious and genteel veteran of the Korean war (Patton), the farm begins to take shape. Then they run out of well water.
The rest of the story can be left for prospective viewers. The story is a sweet, yet melancholy semi-autobiographical story about Chung’s childhood memories. The film is rich with imagery, as we are allowed to see things from the perspective of three generations of a family trying to forge their dreams together and alone.
There are promises made to one another competing with promises made to themselves.This is not just a meditation of a family against a cold, cruel world. In fact, most of the people this family meets in mid-80’s U.S. are kind enough. Life where they were from, both Korea and California was passable, but rough. They weren’t making traction. Now it’s rougher, but some can see the advances being made more than others.
Soon-ja is a delightful character. Her perspective is one of an open heart and an open mind. She has little she chooses to worry about at this later stage of life. None of this rubs off on her daughter or son-in-law, but importantly, David is able to witness her jovial wisdom for the good things it represents.
Menari is the type of story that fills the heart with memories, good and bad. We feel for the family through Chung’s ability to translate his experiences without judgement. We don’t have any false antagonists to rail against. We see only the normal challenges in one’s life. Some are worse than others, some better. Through the eyes of his memory, we experience an important part of his life. In this way, a simple message passed on from Grandmother to David provides a resonance for everyone who hears it.
“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!”
Its an inspiration to me, in a way, to look back on my own memories. Too often I cloud my mind with what I have to do, as compared to sitting back and revelling in amazement at the gift of life I was given for everyone who passed through it. See this film if you want to turn that part of your heart back on for the rest of your life.