Opened from the perspective of a moving car (and truck), the audience is served with a beautiful scenery of nature on the left and right of the road. Meanwhile inside the transportation, the family isn’t really stunned with God’s greatest gift, but focuses more on their anxiety as none of them opens their mouth in the middle of the trip. They finally arrived in a vast field of green grass and a trailer in the middle of the land. It seems that the Yi’s are having a new start symbolized by the ground with an optimistic future, only for them to realize that there are lots of obstacles to face.
Telling the story of a korean-american family, it is expected that Minari will tell the tale of fitting in as an immigrant that fits the context of American Dream. Culture clashes are featured through the management style of raising a farm as well as social life, where the Yi’s decided to come to church not because of their faith but to socialize with the citizens there. Perhaps the character of son David Yi (Alan Kim) is the most fitting figure in the description, having an idealized image of what the role of each family member should be in western tradition. However, this theme is so subtle and could be missed if not being paid attention as Director Lee Isaac Chung put the family struggle as the main story, breaking the convention of the story of adaptation and sentiment towards different races and ethnic.
Family is the core story of Minari. Several minutes after the opening, the audience found out that the father Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) and mother Monica Yi (Han Ye-ri) had different views about their future, with Jacob being optimistic while Monica being disappointed due to the hardship it brings to the family, especially since David himself has a heart condition. The situation became worse as Jacob and Monica became busy with their respective works due to funds, deciding to bring Monica’s mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) to take care of the children even if David disagreed.
Slowly, we see these families starting to separate with each other, resulting in two plots simultaneously in the filmmaking story structure that made the film feel unfocused to reach the heightened emotional potential even if it is Lee Isaac Chung’s intention to do so. It doesn’t really matter though as the focus of script and direction are down to earth for realistic portrayal. Financial issues, children’s social life, even pride over harmony are problems that families will face at a certain point, making the audience sympathize with these characters’ journey no matter what ethnic they were born in.
Another aspect that really absorbs is the cast performance. Steven Yeun playing as a father who is wary over the future for his pride really puts the stress on the character even from his physical feature of eyebags that shows lack of sleep. Meanwhile, Han Ye-ri brings out the exact opposite ideals from Steven Yeun, but nevertheless still completes each other through their chemistry. But the scene stealers come from Alan Kim and Youn Yuh-jung. Alan Kim just resembles the performance of Haley Joel Osment in M. Night Shyamalan’s ‘The Sixth Sense’ (1999), showing his mature side that never once brings out the cringe moment that most child actors fall into. Youn Yuh-jung, one of the most respected actresses in South Korea that steals the show in Im Sang-soo ‘The Housemaid’ (2010) done it again through dialogue that could burst into laughter in unexpected times. Her role as a grandmother should warm every person’s heart that ever spends moments with her as a representation to all grandmothers in the world. Other cast include Noel Kate Cho as daughter Anne Yi and Will Patton who plays Paul as eccentric yet sweet also deserve the spot to be praised.
Technically, Minari could use a simple route that realizes the advantage of story over visuals. However, Director Lee Isaac Chung exceeded my expectation on the use of what could look as a mundane shot. Sure, it does not have vibrant, breathtaking visuals but it’s enough to compensate for the peacefulness of nature thanks to Lachlan Milne. Emile Mosseri’s haunting score is also gracefully soothing to each tone. As much praise as it deserved, all of this just bogged down into the editing process filled with beautifully hollow shots and a missed tempo of editing that wasn’t able to pierce our heart to leave an emotional scar for the audience to be haunted.
Nevertheless, Minari is still a beautiful portrait of an immigrant family struggling with their daily life that subverts the expectation by using internal conflict instead of adaptations to surroundings to relate the theme of American Dream. Director Lee Isaac Chung simply put a beautiful personal touch led by powerful performance from the main cast (especially Alan Kim and Youn Yuh-jung) backed by the technical that exceeded expectation. Recommended.