REVIEW: ‘Minari’ offers breathtakingly authentic performance



Still from “Minari,” directed by Lee Isaac Chung.

One of the darlings of awards season this year — Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” — is a daring look into the life of a Korean immigrant farmer and his family in rural Arkansas. Beautifully led by Steven Yeun, his character Jacob swings his family into a new life in 1980s rural America, where his family battles the elements and the growing pressure around them to break even with the farm. With fantastic performances across the board, “Minari” is one of the most authentic films in recent memory.

Jacob and his wife Monica (Yuh-Jung Youn) are at a crossroads from the start of the film and on. When they drive up to the beat-up trailer on their new property, Monica looks at it with shock and a bit of disgust, while Jacob launches the stoic, positive attitude he wears throughout most of the film. The family dynamic at hand is an interesting one. Jacob and Monica will find just about anything to fight about, and in the tight-knit new home, their kids Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan Kim) can’t avoid it. 

Jacob’s intentions are revealed throughout the early stages of the film. He and his family lived in California, making enough money chick sexing to support themselves and remain close enough to hospitals for their son David, who has a heart condition (some sort of septal defect) that keeps him from being able to do much physical activity. “David, no running” is a phrase used a lot throughout the film. Jacob’s plan is to move to Arkansas and grow Korean vegetables to build up a more generational wealth. 

What he finds is how difficult it is to take the risk of investing in equipment and taking large loans to try to build up the farm, especially as the growing pressure going broke looms, as well as being far from a hospital, an anxiety that sticks through the film as Jacob and the viewer worry about David. But Jacob’s stoic nature keeps a hopeful feeling, contrasting with Monica’s anxieties over the money and their kids. 

The family structure is interrupted by the arrival of Monica’s mother from Korea. She is what David calls “not a real Grandma” because she’d rather gamble and watch professional wrestling than bake cookies. It also raises Monica’s fears that her kids aren’t in touch with their Korean culture enough, having lived in the U.S. for as long as David has been alive. These anxieties are a major part of the film’s central themes. 

The film looks beautiful; cinematographer Lachlan Milne (“Stranger Things,” “Hunt for the Wilderpeople”) captures the rural ‘80s very well. It’s a movie worth seeing on the big screen. Yeun’s nature is captured through the slow shots of him taking a cigarette break, looking out into the acres of land he hopes to turn into his “Garden of Eden.” 

The way that Chung methodically reveals each passing plot point and moves the story forward is incredible. There’s a lot of misdirection and smokescreens going up, keeping the viewer guessing about what will happen next. The anxieties the characters feel are often unspoken, but as a viewer, you feel them alongside the characters. 

The film is semi-autobiographical, tapping into Chung’s own experiences as a second-generation immigrant in Arkansas. This is what led to the authentic feeling of the film that powers the story and its characters forward and makes it special. It’s a great step forward in his film career, as he’s also been tapped to do the remake of the famous anime film “Your Name.” For Yeun, this is one of his best roles since his critically acclaimed role in “Burning.”

The mixture of authenticity, a deep and complex screenplay, as well as the fantastic performances and pacing, make this one of the best films in recent memory.