The Korean immigrant experience in America, portrayed with intimacy and tenderness, and featuring two discoveries of the year— the promising child actor Alan Kim and Emile Mosseri’s ethereal score.
Dir. Lee Isaac Chung
2020 | USA | Drama | 115 mins | 2.39:1 | Korean & English
PG (passed clean) for some thematic elements and a rude gesture
Cast: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Noel Cho, Youn Yuh-jung
Plot: David, a 7-year-old Korean-American boy, gets his life turned upside down when his father decides to move their family to rural Arkansas and start a farm in the mid-1980s.
Awards: Won Grand Jury Prize (Dramatic) & Audience Award (Sundance); Won 1 Oscar – Best Supporting Actress; Nom. for 5 Oscars – Best Picture, Best Director, Best Leading Actor, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score
International Sales: A24
Subject Matter: Moderate – Family, Immigrant Experience
Narrative Style: Straightforward
Audience Type: Slightly Mainstream
Viewed: The Projector
The opening scenes of the Korean family at the centre of this wonderful new film by Lee Isaac Chung (whose 2007’s Munyurangabo is as different from Minari as night and day) driving to their new house in the heart of rural Arkansas left me welling up in my eyes, partly because of the accompanying music by Emile Mosseri, whose beautiful ethereal score is one of my discoveries of the year (‘Wind Song’ is a favourite).
The other discovery is, of course, Alan Kim, the promising child actor making his acting debut, who plays David, the young son.
Even with excellent performances by the cast which include Steven Yeun and Yeri Han (who looks like she is perpetually on the verge of tears) as the couple who must eke out a living in a new land, Kim steals the show in every scene he is in.
His interactions with his grandmother (the veteran Youn Yuh-jung), who pays them a visit, are some of the film’s most heartwarming moments.
“Remember what we said when we got married? That we’d move to America and save each other?”
As a film about the Korean immigrant experience in 1980s America, Minari is decidedly modest and intimate, locating its narrative and themes of hopes and doubts specifically in this family’s story—its specificity very much rendered universal through Lee’s tender direction (surely benefiting from the semi-autobiographical treatment) and Mosseri’s compassionate music.
This is not a film about the American Dream that has been mythologised in popular culture, but a family carving out their reality in America. It could have been set elsewhere in Canada or Australia and the main story would still likely work, notwithstanding the geographical circumstances.
As Minari accumulates more awards season momentum in the ensuing weeks, one hopes that it finds some measure of success at the Oscars.