Rating: 4 out of 5.

I love period pieces set in the 1980s.

That statement may sound like I’m referring to one of those comedic coming of age tales. Minari is a chronicle about the American dream. This is a loving recollection, externally dealing with the immigrant experience but intimately concerning a move the Yi family makes from California to Arkansas. Father Jacob (Steven Yeun) and mother Monica (Yeri Han), have arrived with their two kids. The parents are originally from South Korea. Precocious youngest child David (Alan S. Kim) and solemn older daughter Anne (Noel Kate Chao) were both born in California. Jacob is determined to make a living through farming. He dreams of transforming his five acres into a homestead where his family can grow Korean fruits and vegetables.

Sometimes life has other plans. His wife is not convinced. They argue much to the consternation of their kids. Their angry voices echo within the space of the cramped double-wide trailer they call home. Monica soon enlists the help of her mother, Soon-ja (Young Yuh-jung), who arrives from South Korea. This sweet but non-traditional grandmother introduces yet another component to the household. She doesn’t know how to cook, would rather play cards, and curses frequently. Her arrival will change their lives. The entire cast is great but her personality takes the narrative to another level. She also brings a memento from their native country — some Korean watercress called minari. She plants it alongside a creek nearby.

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The Yi family yearns for the unalienable rights outlined in the Declaration of Independence. This is a story that uplifts the assimilation into one’s adoptive country. There are so many little details that elevate this authentic depiction. To pay the bills, Jacob and Monica work separating baby chicks by gender. Chicken sexing is indeed an important part of mass poultry production. However, the success of the farm is their ultimate goal. The presentation is one of hope.

Minari is the fourth feature from American director Lee Isaac Chung. He too grew up on a small farm in rural Arkansas. Little David can be seen as a representation of Chung himself. Chung does what director Barry Levinson did with Avalon. Take inspiration from his own upbringing. He extracts warm memories of growing up and presents them with honesty and heart for all the world to appreciate. Sometimes the greatest cinematic moments are not spectacular action setpieces but the intimate interactions within a tight-knit clan.

This beautifully realized portrait is simply one of the best films of 2020. Sadly as of this writing, you’ll have to wait to see it: February 12 to be exact. However, it received a one-week virtual release in early December and so I recognized it as a 2020 movie when I compiled my Top 10 list of 2020. It occupies the #3 position. Consider this an invitation to watch the film when it finally becomes available. Minari is an exquisite comment on humanity.


3 Responses to “Minari”

  1. Once I saw this little kid introduce the movie, I knew I was gonna love it. The boy and the grandma were so fun. The movie as a whole was really good. I rooted for them every step of the way. 4 ⭐️


  2. This is an updating, conscious or not, of Jean Renoir’s “The Southerner”, but involving a considerably weaker marriage
    commitment. Do you know if Mr. Chung acknowledged his debt to the earlier production?

    Liked by 1 person

    • He did not. In interviews he says the portrait was autobiographical. He’s the little boy in the story.

      However a few critics in their reviews have alluded to that movie.


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