It had been about fifteen months since movie theaters had shut down because of the pandemic on March 15, 2020. There were even rumors that the AMC movie chain would be filing Chapter 11 and going out of business. Thus, I was anxious to return to the theater experience I had missed for over a year. Meanwhile, a sort of post-pandemic blockbuster release was all set for July 9th and I was raring to go. Black Widow features two of my favorite actors, Scarlett Johansson and Rachel Weisz and the release became the highest grossing pandemic film that weekend coveting a total of $345 million worldwide.
Ever since seeing Age of Ultron back in 2015 with some friends, I was never a fan of the Marvel comics universe of films. I remember, my friends and I walking out of the AMC Kips Bay in Manhattan asking ourselves, "So, what was that movie all about." These productions tend to have a lot of action but very little story and thought-provoking commentary. And after all, great films are about great story-telling. But Black Widow was different. Thank goodness, it didn't begin with the stereotypical action-packed opening scene. Instead, a young Natasha Romanoff and her sister Yelena are whisked away with their parents by plane escaping some sort of capture. We learn later that mom and dad are not their real parents nor are they real sisters but a imposter family of Russian agents on mission. Having completed their mission, the young girls are taken away and put into training to become black widows with Johansson as the grown-up Natasha and Florence Pugh as grown-up Yelena. This film has a story that is at least understandable and engaging. I think one of the best lines is when Yelena reflects on her young life in her phony family and says "But it was real to me!" Pugh's performance was impressive; Johansson's was not bad, confusing at times because I didn't know how to interpret her often beguiling smile/smirk. The fight scene between the two of them was incredible.
Overall, Black Widow is a good film for its genre and worth seeing. In fact, I wouldn't mind seeing it again. I have to thank my friend Brian for letting me tag along with him and his sister for the AMC Prime experience at the Wayne theater opening weekend and for his explanations of the Marvel universe and sequence of films. My son, Jonathan, also filled me in and had me watch Captain America: Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War at home on Disney Plus. Not exactly, my favorite types of films to watch, not very profound nor thought-provoking. But then I realized, "Hey, it's just entertainment." And the kind we need for a semi-post-pandemic world.
Earlier this year around February, I had heard a lot of intriguing buzz around this film by another Korean director in another Korean language film. I was still quite enamored by Bong Joon-ho's Parasite (2019) and had even recently attended a discussion group about the film sponsored by my university. So (perhaps unfairly), I was looking forward to another masterpiece by another Asian director. Parasite in my opinion is worthy of five stars plus.
Minari is indeed a beautiful and touching film revolving around the hopes, dreams and struggles of a Korean couple trying to make it in heartland America. It contains powerful performances by the main characters Jacob (played by Steven Yeun) and Monica (Han Ye-ri). The grandma Soon-ja (played by Youn Yuh-jung) won the Oscar for best supporting actress at the 93rd Academy Awards on April 25th. The director is Lee Isaac Chung. The film won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film and was nominated for six academy awards.
The film is set in the 1980s. Jacob and Monica Yi move from California to rural Arkansas to start a new life on land they purchased to grow Korean vegetables. The story line is engaging as subplots revolve around their son David's heart condition, their adjustment to rural America as Korean immigrants, David's relationship to grandma newly arrived from Korea to help out and their struggles to make the farm work. But the heart of the film is the relationship between Jacob and Monica, husband and wife. Director Chung excavates a common but sensitive area of married life: a husband's dream of success and a wife's abandonment of that dream and what that means for the marriage. Thus, Minari contains some of the best and most authentic fight scenes I've ever witnessed on film between a husband and wife. I thought Han Ye-ri as Monica was worthy of an Oscar. Other performances all around were powerful and engaging.
Probably the biggest drawback of the film for me was a sense of ambiguity or the film could have been clearer and more poignant. When the barn catches fire and Monica rushes in to save the produce is that because she now believes in Jacob's dream? When Jacob saves her from the fire, does that now mean he realizes his love for her is the most important thing in his life? When little David runs after grandma at the end when he shouldn't be running because of his heart, we get the turnabout of his affections but it seems to come off a little flat. I noticed too that there is very little development in the parent's relationship to their daughter. She is almost invisible. Either there is just too little development in some parts of the film or it is just too subtle for me (and American audiences). My son remarked at the end, "Dad, why did you make us watch this movie? Nothing good happens in it!"
Nevertheless, Minari is a good to very good film to watch. If I could, I might give it four and a half stars. It includes very strong performances, an engaging story line and a subtle but positive ending. I recommend it.
For a taste, check out the video below.