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.