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[Movie Review] Minari paints a moving, vivid portrait of rural Korean Americana

Inspired by writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s own childhood, Minari is the portrait of a Korean American family struggling to succeed in rural Reagan-era Arkansas. Starring Steven Yeun and Han Ye-ri as Jacob and Monica, young Korean immigrants who have moved east from California to fulfill his dream of growing and selling Korean vegetables, the story is full of pathos, humor, and the quiet moments of life. Alan Kim is wonderful as their son David, small and weak but full of stubborn spirit—and a deep resentment of his grandmother Soon-ja (Yoon Yeo-jung), who has suddenly appeared in their lives and invaded his small bedroom.

As Jacob works himself ragged trying to make the farm yield a living for them, Monica tries to keep the family from falling apart, and David and his sister Anne (Noel Kate Cho) encounter the rural wildlife, human and otherwise, the film works its way under and inside your heart like something close and precious.

The story is at once incredibly specific and completely universal. It portrays three generations living in one house and learning to understand each other, with the wounds to show it; the deep, wearying weight of poverty and upheaval on even the most loving marriage; the moments where you’re too tired to even consider continuing on, but refuse to give up anyway. And the film does it all with a beautiful spareness—not a single frame is wasted, and every line of dialogue hits home. It’s truly a film to be experienced with the heart.

It’s no surprise that Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri and Yoon Yeo-jung, giants all three, are the cornerstones of this film, but little Alan Kim was so natural and charming as the adorable anchor of this little family, who constantly watch and worry over him. Yeun’s performance as a hardworking, stubborn young dad who refuses to give in to defeat is incredibly moving and, as a second/third generation immigrant, honestly a little triggering. Jacob speaks volumes just with the posture of his silhouette in the fading light, as the sun sets over his fields.

Han Ye-ri, too, is her usual superlative self—she embodies Monica, holding her thin body steady against the constant blows of disappointment in her life. Holding her mother’s hand for the first time in years, unable to hold back tears. And of course, Yoon Yeo-jung just slays me with every project; why would this one be any different? I love Soon-ja’s rocky relationship with David, the two exchanging barbs and insults as they grow to understand each other.

I can’t let this review end without mentioning how funny this movie is. It doesn’t shy away from the difficulties this family faces, but alongside that is the absurd, the ridiculous, the joyful—all the little moments of humor that occur along with life. Lee Isaac Chung brings it all to the screen with a light touch and a lot of empathy, neither mocking any of the characters nor being too precious about them. The film aims to see clearly a slice of Korean American life that feels so real I can almost taste that Arkansas dirt, and feel the heat on my face.

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Oh yay!
I've been keeping an eye on this gem of an indie film for a long time.
I don't know why I feel so proud like I'm of Korean descent or something 😂.

After being impressed with Kim Bora's "House of Hummingbird" I've been on the look out for upcoming indie films.

“Fighter” and “Short Vacation" on my list this year.

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Thank you for the review, @laica.

I finally managed to watch Minari, and it did not disappoint. Best film of 2020, for me. What a cast! I've liked Steven Yeun since The Walking Dead, and he was stellar here as was Han Ye-ri. Yoon Yeo-jung is a gem, and I hope she can get that historic Oscar nomination. Alan Kim is a real find.

I hope we can get more films like these.

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watched this tonight, loved it!

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Thanks for the review! In before-covid times I would have already seen this indie in my favorite art film theater. Now I will go in search of where I can watch legally. Lovely interview with director Lee in the NYT today.

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There are also a number of very heartfelt interviews given by Steven Yeun available by search.

For me, Yoon Yeo Jung was the biggest star of the film and I do hope she is recognized by the awards shows. Also, they deserve all Best Ensemble awards.

It’s a lovely movie, I’m glad I was finally able to see it.

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Yoon’s English is great! I’m so impressed.
I love her to pieces. She reminds me so much of my mom. I cried when she brought my favorite native foods from home.

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I did too, even though I was somewhat askance at carrying a big bag of anchovies! Han YeRi’s reaction was so striking.

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Thank you for this review. We watched it as a family tonight. It was very well done. I was only sorry that it stopped where it did. I would have liked the story to go on.

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I'm so proud and happy for this films success esp. for Korean Americans!! While Asians in Hollywood/larger media are still discriminated against, it is really nice to see films like get some major love/awards buzz. I do hope that it gets more love/attention come awards time/box office too. Rooting for Minari!!! Thanks for this review!

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It is indeed a moving tale. Well, the tale is not new but it’s the way how that tale is told that makes this a gem. It really brings the audience into that household going through their trial and tribulations. It’s intimately filmed and felt by us viewers. At its climax, I can hear the sobbing in the cinema. I’m glad the movie ends on a positive note.

Oh, I want to watch it again!!

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Any story that is told in the pure language of sacrifice and love resonates with me.
As an immigrant I felt like I was watching part of my journey to this foreign land that I now call home.

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I felt that too ❤️

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@laica, @kiara, @missh, @spazmo,
@jossie4cheryl, @bbstl, @lindag,
@soulsearch12,

Excellent Minari Q&A between Issac Lee and Bong Joon Ho: https://youtu.be/1BugGSvhxII

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Oh, and the interview between Alan Kim and Ms Youn is darling. I just love her.

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thanks for this link!!! fascinating!

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Thank you!

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