Minari is a 2020 film written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung. It tells the story of a Korean family who moved from California to Arkansas in the 1980s to try to set up a farm. The father’s called Jacob (Steven Yeun) and is a very good chicken sexer, but he’s fed up with his work and against everything and everyone he puts his heart and soul into cultivating the land. Unfortunately, his wife Monica (Yeri Han) is also against him, as she would like to live in a better place to raise their two children Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan S. Kim). Little David also has a heart problem so living closer to a hospital could save his life in case of complications. And soon Monica’s mother, Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn), goes to live with the family.
What about this film? I saw it at the cinema in April 2021, when some cinemas in my city miraculously reopened (and unfortunately closed again on Sunday 18th of the same month) and I liked the film even if just for the mere fact of being in a movie theater. But I admit that it didn’t completely convince me…
It’s well-shot and well-made, but in my opinion its script is a bit weak. There are many premises and threads that either don’t get resolved or do so in an unsatisfactory way. I understand the message that Chung wanted to send, and I also find it interesting and reasonable: We should react in the face of adversity, and don’t accept a defeat even when we hit rock bottom. To tell the truth, Minari is even too explicit in conveying this message (think of a phoenix being reborn from its ashes in the end). Even the title itself refers to a metaphor in the film, that of a Korean plant (minari, in fact) that manages to find its own spot to grow up in Arkansas, just like Jacob and Monica’s family do.
In any case, seeing a glimpse of Eighties’ Arkansas with its religious rural community is worth the price of the ticket. Will Patton is perhaps too over the top in playing Paul, who helps Jacob cultivate the land, but he’s certainly effective and, actually, also quite credible. And the local church-goers and the father of David’s little friend are even more frightening than he is…
As mentioned, however, this film hasn’t completely convinced me. The character of the grandmother, for example, although likeable, exists only to create the final climax but has no real development whatsoever. And the finale itself seemed very forced to me: after a ten-hour journey (round trip), is it possible that Jacob and his family return home just in time to try to put out the fire started by mistake by his grandmother? I understand that something was needed for husband and wife to work together for a common purpose, since they argue the whole time from the beginning of the movie, but it seemed a bit too “simple” for that something to be a family catastrophe (now that I think about it, this is the same criticism I made to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2017).
In other words, it seemed to me that all the development of the characters is left to the triggering event of the fire. Thus, the structure of the movie is one hour and a half of unresolved conflicts, then a catastrophe, and then the finale in which the family finally works together (more than working together, it’s just Jacob surrendering to his wife, since he even hires a water diviner, something he was completely against doing at the beginning).
There are no real resolutions to the stories about the danger of snakes, little David’s heart problem, the risk of tornadoes, the incapacitated grandmother, the conflicts between husband and wife, the huge financial problems… Nothing! These things are introduced and then are either abandoned or closed in a hurry.
I conclude by saying that, despite being an interesting film, Minari struck me more for its potential than for the film itself. Sure, it’s well directed, it’s well photographed, and it has an excellent cast, but it didn’t really convince me. It’s interesting to watch for sure, but I don’t think I’ll revisit it anytime soon. Ciao!
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