When the Academy nominations were out, I was discussing the best film nominees with a cinephile friend and while on the topic, he instantly said Minari was the best he’d watched. I asked him why and his reply was ‘Alan S Kim’. I honestly wasn’t surprised by this. 2020 has been a difficult year for everybody, but on the positive side, it has been a fantastic year for film. I pride myself when I say I’ve seen a lot of movies because even before the virus, I spent a good amount of time in front of my laptop screen being socially distant.

Minari happens to be one of the films I was intrigued by early on. An American film with a Korean family, moving from one city of America to another and pursuing the American dream, produced by THE A24 along with Brad Pitt’s Plan B, with an ensemble cast of Korean stars?! How could I not be? Minari tells the story of a Korean family trying to make it in rural Arkansas after moving from the West coast. We see the life of the young son David (Alan.S. Kim), which has suddenly turned upside down and his relationship with his grandmother, who’s just moved to be with them from Korea.

‘Things that hide are more dangerous and scary’

The semi-autobiographical story is an amalgamation of director Chung’s childhood memories in rural America. Minari isn’t an account of individuals but the feeling of family, the collective, it’s not about David (Chung himself, played by Alan S Kim) who as a child with a heart condition must survive and learn to live with his grandma, Jacob (Steven) who wants to do something for himself and build a farm, Monica (Han Ye Ri) who feels like her family is coming apart, Anne (Noel) who at a tender age needs to change her lifestyle entirely, Or even Soonja (Yoo Yuh Jung) who wants to spend time with her daughter and her family,  but about what each of them brings to the sense of ‘home’.

“Instead of saving each other, all we did was fight”

 

Before anything else, this movie is visually stunning with fantastic cinematography and score. We see the story from the perspective of the parents, the children and the grandmother all perfectly. There is a delicate way in which director Lee Isaac Chung presents the relationships in the family that will make you truly understand the struggles of each character on their own and together as a family. It’s incredible.

To me watching this film was a cathartic experience. Most importantly the grandmother’s (Youn Yuh Jung) journey through the film and how David and his sister start to get along with her is shown with such charm and innocence that it just sits with you making you nostalgic about your childhood with your grandparents. Youn Yuh Jung said in a Q&A, that like David, when she was a young girl, she didn’t like her great grandmother very much and feels terrible about the way she behaved back then and director Lee asked her to act from her understanding. It is a humbling experience to watch her deliver, but that’s not to say that Han Ye-Ri or Steven Yeun were any less captivating, they are the force that pulls this story together.

In an interview with Variety, Steven said “Each actor was really engaged in the process and it really felt like we were just living and they just happened to be filming and that was wonderful” I can not describe this film better.

It is a real and raw story, masterfully narrated through the eyes of the very authentic characters.

 

It all boils down to original experiences and Lee having written this semi-autobiographical story, truly captures this with utmost care and precision.
Through the story, we see a range of dreadful things slowly take over the family and in the end, it is the faith they have within each other that comes through. It is a melancholic movie about second chances and keeps you engaged from start to finish. By the end of this film, I was left shattered.

Hope is an incredible emotion and it is the parting gift of this story.

Minari is a film that doesn’t tell a dynamic story with massive conflicts, but its grandeur lies in its subtlety in showing us what family and home is and how we may have forgotten what that feels like.

When I got the opportunity to write this review I was genuinely thrilled by the idea because there was so much to say, but as I sat down to write it, I was lost for words and was left with just the feeling in mind. It’s one of the best films I’ve seen and I definitely will be watching it again when it’s out to stream.

“Grandma picked a good spot.”

Indeed. Grandma did.

Edit: Grandma also won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and we’re so thrilled about it!!