Minari: The BRWC Review. By Liam Trump.
Ever since its initial release at Sundance, people can’t stop talking about Lee Isaac Chung’s Minari. Since Sundance, Minari won awards at nearly every film festival it was shown at. The Hype stems from a number of reasons. This film is distributed by A24, it won the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance, and the ensemble cast got nothing but praise. It’s clear to see that Minari is one of the most prominent films of 2020.
The story of Minari mainly follows a Korean family as they must adapt to their new living conditions after moving to Arkansas. Each member of the family has distinct character traits, creating poignant, dramatic beats throughout the film. The father, Jacob played by Steven Yeun has a burning desire to live the American dream at all costs. The mother, Monica played by Yeri Han doesn’t have the same ambitions as her husband, wanting to live a simple, normal life. Both of their children now have to get used to the new living conditions, a mobile home in the middle of a field.
Later on, Monica’s mother comes to join the family, bring her own Korean culture which strongly clashes with Jacob and Monica’s son, David. David hasn’t been to Korea and is confused with Soonja’s mannerisms. The fact that both David and Soonja were born and experienced two different countries is the main driving force of their relationship.
Going back to Jacob, he wants to have a garden where he can gown Korean vegetables and capitalize off of that market. He’s told at the beginning of the film that Reagon’s new policies would help with these aspirations. He even has help from Will Patton’s character, Paul, who gives advice to Jacob and is even the first guest that the Yi family hosts. Everything seems to be working out for Jacob: he’s bonding with his son, has found a source of free water, and a store that will sell his food.
The first time the Yi family go to church is when it can be clearly seen how different they are from all the other families. The pastor asks everyone who’s new to stand up and, in one of the best-framed shots in the movie, it’s just the Yi family that stood up. During this sequence, David meets an American boy around his own age, Johnnie. Johnnie, more than anything, is fascinated by David. They form a type of friendship with ending up with David sleeping over at Johnnie’s house. While the sleepover isn’t necessarily integral to the part, it does expose David to the nature of another American family. Johnnie’s Dad pretty much leaves them to their own devices, asking Johnnie not to tell his mother of this. Before he leaves; however, he tells David of the Yi family’s house previous owner and how he killed himself since the land offered him no success.
While everything was going well for Jacob, his success runs out. The well where he bounded with his son and was the foundation of his garden ran dry. His solution to this is to simply take from the water supply that they’re actually paying for in order for his produce to grow. Monica notices this immediately and see’s first hand how this idea of the American dream has tampered with Jacob’s priorities, creating an obsession in the process.
Filmmaking-wise, Minari excels in nearly every aspect. The acting from the aforementioned Steven Yeun is truly amazing. Basically, the entire cast does a terrific job in delivering dialogue and emotion. The color palette is quite simple on the surface, but it brilliantly captures the scenery of this field in Arkansas. This coupled with Emile Mosseri’s score creates a beautiful atmosphere through the art direction and music alone. Minari also had some great comedy. The dynamic between David and Soonja lead to many creative scenarios. This dynamic is special in the way that it doesn’t show brainless humor, but there’s a real emotional core to it.
All in all, Minari is a wonderful film full of endearing characters and a legitimate commentary on America. Lee Isaac Chung deconstructed the American dream, ambition, and family in a grounded, natural way. There could’ve easily been a stronger focus on racism, but that would’ve contradicted the story he’s trying to express. While some of the tonal changes were a bit jarring, Minari still manages to be one of the best movies 2020 has to offer.
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