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.
As you know, I attended the National Rally for AAPI Lives last Sunday at Union Square Park, Manhattan sponsored by the Asian American Christian Collaborative. It turned out to be a great event and blessing. I was glad I went. I wouldn't mind doing it again.
Frankly, I was a little concerned attending the event not myself being vaccinated yet. But everyone was masked and social distancing and it was all outdoors. Driving in from Jersey was easy and traffic light; I found parking right at the event. This was the first time I had driven to the city since the pandemic began over a year ago. Another issue was the weather. Forecasts predicted thunderstorms and rain. But on the day of, a three-hour window of only light rain developed right during the time of the rally! There must be a God!
Several hundred people gathered at the north plaza and listened to speeches, exhortations, prayers and music. Nothing dramatic happened and there were no news or media crews around. I even bumped into some old friends behind their masks. Here's a link to the AACC recap with some news reporting and here's a link to the program with names and churches/organizations you might know.
All in all, I was glad to be out and about and standing up for AAPI lives.
I don't know if anyone has coined the phrase "The Silent Minority" but I will. Asian Americans have traditionally been the Silent Minority in this country. Our parents told us to be quiet, don't cause trouble, keep your head down, suck it up. Compliance and conformity are part of our inherited culture. There's an expression in our first generation community which explains why: "The nail that sticks out the most gets hit on the head first." But in light of the year-long physical and verbal attacks on Asian Americans as the "China virus" and "Kung Flu" and especially the deadly killing of eight people, six of whom are Asian women, in the Atlanta area two weeks ago on March 16th, the Silent Minority must no longer be silent.
It is gratifying to hear from almost every AA and AAPI group I know issue their statement of horror, protest and denunciation. You can read them all here:
It is also encouraging and a step forward to hear President Biden directly and publicly address the anti-Asian hate issue in Atlanta the Friday following the Asian spa shootings.
As a Chinese and Asian American born and raised in this country, I find it shocking that these anti-Asian attacks are happening; I thought we were past this. I grew up in Brooklyn with my three brothers and three sisters where racial discrimination and verbal assaults were a regular experience. Sometimes, it would get physical. My older brother Peter would get into fist fights. When I was about twelve, some punk through rice in my face and we got into a scuffle. Trying to get up from the ground and get him off me, my right arm slipped behind my back and I dislocated my elbow. It has never been perfectly straight since. Then, in the many years that followed most everything was fine. I don't ever recall hearing the work "chink" again. Perhaps, the discrimination just went underground.
But last year in late March, at the beginning of the pandemic, my wife came home one day from the supermarket very upset. She's the traditional "don't make trouble" type of Chinese person but even she sent out an email to her relatives with subject line: "Grocery Shopping - bad experience!." (She doesn't have a Facebook account.) I won't get into the details but let us just say that she experienced two notable anti-Asian incidents at a major supermarket chain here in northern NJ!
I believe the change in climate is complex and complicated by (1) the rise of China as a major economic and political rival to the United States, (2) the anti-Chinese rhetoric played up by the previous Trump administration and (3) anti-Chinese rhetoric amplified by certain propaganda outlets on social media.
Regardless, it is no longer good enough "to be quiet" anymore. We must speak up. In this country, only the "squeaky wheel gets the oil." For far too long, Asian Americans are the first to be overlooked and the last to be hired. Even President Biden has failed to appoint barely any AAPI's to his cabinet and high administration posts. See OCA Demands AAPI Inclusion from Biden Administration and White House Pledges Asian-American Focus After Democrats Threaten Nominees.
But as a Christian minister, I don't believe we should answer anti-Asian hate with more hate, and anti-Asian rhetoric with more rhetoric and anti-Asian violence with more violence. I just watched today a wonderful Virtual Talk with Larissa Lam and Baldwin Chiu on AAPI Violence and Identity sponsored by the Crystal Bridges Museum of Art. Larissa quoted Will Smith, the Fresh Prince of Bel Air, who said that when it comes to racial issues "Most people are ignorant not evil." And so, when we speak up, we speak up to educate not to antagonize or threaten. Education Lesson #1: Asian Americans are Americans not foreigners. Education Lesson #2: Asian Americans have nothing to do with the coronavirus.
The Asian American Christian Collaborative has called for a National Rally for AAPI Lives this Sunday, Palm Sunday, March 28th. I will rally with many others this Sunday in New York City's Union Square Park at 4 pm. I hope you will join us. It is time to be "silent no more."