Issac Chung’s Minari is a powerful tale of cultural assimilation and the impact on the family dynamic. The film gets its name from a Korean herb which can grow wherever it’s planted. In many ways, this latest gem from A24 depicts an authentic immigrant experience. Steven Yeun and Yeri Han give career-defining performances in one of the best movies of the year. Anyone who isn’t shattered by the end of the film is lacking in any emotion.
Minari is about Jacob (Yeun) and Monica (Han), who emigrated from Korea in the early ’70s to California, and their desire for a better life. It seems the answer to this lies in a trailer half across the country in Arkansas. They arrive at their new life in two separate cars. Monica drove the kids to their new home while Jacob gave his attention to their possessions. While Jacob is the head of the household, he is essentially a stranger in his own home.
Their new home in the Ozark’s might look pretty horrific to most, but Jacob sees it as a fresh start. Monica sees it as far from stable. Yeun’s character symbolizes idealism and hope, while Han’s character is a reflection of reality. The clash of these two perspectives is at the heart of the film. Monica looks around their new home with bewilderment. Is this such a better life? Was it worth moving half-way across the country?
As things seem to be deteriorating between these two, Monica calls for her mother, Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn), who makes it known rather early that she won’t just accept what Jacob says cause he’s the “man” of the house. Soonja is the yin to Jacob’s yang. These two rarely see eye to eye. Youn’s character is crucial to this narrative. Minari, at times, comes off as hazy and unclear. The film is based on the memory of a young boy. Having Soonja in the film grounds the tale in some semblance of reality because of her strong personality.
From Emile Mosseri’s piano score to the performances of Steven Yeun, Yuh-Jung Youn, and Yeri Han, there’s never a false note in this extraordinary film that will rank high on everyone’s end of year lists.