A 50-acre open field, carpeted by thick natural grass and surrounded by forests with hidden ponds. This is where the Yi family, having immigrated from Korea to the US, has decided to set up after leaving California for something better. It is rural Arkansas, far away from any hospital and from the city itself, and they hope to begin their own farm, growing Korean vegetables and fruits while also working in the daytime at a chicken hatchery. They live in a home set on bricks and wheels – a mother, a father, and two children, and the children’s grandma just in from Korea. The father, Jacob, is adamant that he will attain the American dream despite whatever feuds it may cause. This Minari review will contain some SPOILERS.
Minari tells a story most people have heard before, but importantly distinguishes itself via the viewpoint of a Korean immigrant family. It shares the struggle of fitting into a society with an entirely white demographic. Interestingly, it does not create a struggle out of blatant racism and xenophobia and instead gives a mostly accepting environment with people who hold onto more mild stereotypes and a misunderstanding of other cultures. That, to me, is one of the more unique aspects of the film. While it is not necessarily the more common experience, it is one that isn’t explored nearly as often.
The acting specifically from the grandma (played by Youn Yuh-jung) and the son (played by Alan Kim) was not only genius, but created a perfect character study on two very different types of Korean immigrants. It showed the diversity of experiences that people within the same general group would undergo when faced with this situation. Of course, the mother and father were both two other great examples of this, and while the sister was not as fleshed out as these others, she still played her part in the dynamic as well.
Unfortunately, despite the wonderful dynamic between all the characters within the movie, the story did not take any risks and was altogether predictable. I said it was a story we have heard before with an important change of perspective, however, the fact still remains that it is a story we are all too familiar with. There did not seem to be any risks taken in narrative style or character actions and instead, the movie seemed to hit pre-conceived plot points: the grandma comes to live with them which causes conflict with the child; the parent’s fight over the life of the family versus the hope to achieve the American dream; the inevitable but preventable tragedy that strikes at the end brings every member closer together than before and more willing to understand one another.
This tragedy that strikes also feels too contrived. It relied on a few too many coincidental events lining up with one another to be believable. The main outcome of the tragedy (the couple coming to understand each other’s desires and needs in the face of a calamity) was too sudden as well. After the events of the entire movie, watching them fall further and further apart, a single event, no matter how intense, could not have fixed everything so easily. The actual event itself also felt incredibly extreme, not in the fact that it was too depressing, but that it destroyed everything the family had come to build immediately after they were about to succeed off of it.
These complaints do not in any way make me think it is a bad move, they simply take a movie that could have been great and force it to remain simply good. Although, from a purely filmmaking perspective, it is a beautifully crafted movie. The cinematography is gorgeous as it is able to show the fertile countryside of Arkansas – both the distant shots of the land and the close-up shots of the grass, the crops, and the people. The music choices are expertly done, the script is well written, and, as I said, the acting is superb. But because of those negative aspects, the movie’s artistic value seems to end after one viewing. One caveat is that I can assume people who like this type of movie more than I do would absolutely love it (and rightly so). So if this style is your thing, it may be one of the better iterations of it yet.
See my Letterboxd review here: Letterboxd
See other movie reviews or what I plan to watch next here: Movie Review