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Minari (2020)Film Review | The Korean American Dream | Oscars 2021

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Today I’m going to be reviewing Minari directed by lee Isaac Chung. A story with so specific a time place and culture runs the risk of alienating the audience but it focuses on universal human feelings. So hold your mouth and you and hear me out

Minari (2020)Film Review And My Opinion

In the 1980s Minari tells the story of a group of Korean immigrants living in America, who are making the move from California to Arkansas. The father wants to start a farm selling Korean produce. The mother struggles with the move and invites her own mother to join the family and help take care of the children.

Minari is a semi-autobiographical story based on the childhood of director lee Isaac Chung. He is the son of Korean immigrants and grew up on a rural farm in Arkansas just like the family does in the film. Although his experience is shown through the character of David the little boy.

The film focuses on every character’s role within the family at different points. The driving force of the events that unfold is Jacob, the father whose dream of making his own business is the reason why the family move in the first place. As is the case with all the characters in the film especially the family members.

Jacob leads a divided life on the one hand. He is a father who needs to provide for his family as instructed by tradition. On the other hand he is a follower of the American dream, wishing to find a purpose that fulfils him emotionally.

There is Monica, first she is a mother who is constantly worried about her son’s health and reminds Jacob of what is at stake for the family. Second she is also trying to follow the American dream in her own way. She tries to improve her marketability as a chicken sexer a career, i did not know existed until this film. She does this in order to provide for the family especially in the event that she has to do so as a single mother.

Monica initiates many of the arguments between her and her husband because of the contradictory approaches they have to living their new life. This will feel particularly poignant to every immigrant watching this film, especially those who are first generation and who are doing it between two countries with totally different languages. There seems to be three attitudes to immigrating that i can identify.

  • One of total assimilation becoming copies of the people that make up the society that now surrounds you.
  • Another of total rejection finding a community from your original culture and creating a life very similar to the one you had previously known.
  • The third attitude which feels like the most common one and is certainly the focus of this film is wanting to create a balance between the two cultures.

This is a task made even more difficult for first generation immigrants with children who bear a responsibility often imposed by the older generation to make sure their children retain the culture that their family has come from.

In Minari we are shown the three generations. There is the grandmother that has flown from Korea by Monica’s request in order to be part of the children’s lives. This is even the first time that she is meeting the youngest of her grandchildren David. She brings with her GoChujang herbal remedies and the Minari plants to grow. She is actively bringing parts of the Korean culture for her daughter and her family.

On the other end we have David and Anne. The children who are mostly just concerned with having fun and fitting in with the other children. They have perfect American accents when speaking in English and teach their grandmother new vocabulary, as well as introducing her to mountain dew.

If we picture the family as an old-fashioned scale, on the one side we have the grandmother and on the other side we have the grandchildren. In the middle are the parents whose every action determines how much the scale is tipped. As a second generation immigrant myself i recognized a lot of what this family experiences.

In my own family i understood more the conflict that existed for my parents. When my sister and i were growing up and better appreciate that i was taught Bulgarian and can speak with my relatives. This is something i would be interested in understanding more, how does language play a part in this film. For me i hear Arkansas English, accented Californian English, and Korean. There is undeniably more distinction in how each character is speaking Korean that only a native speaker would pick up.

This film won’t just appeal to immigrants though. The family dynamics displayed are quite universal. This is especially true in how grandson responds to grandma saying that, she is not a real grandma because she wears men’s underwear, doesn’t bake cookies and swears.

I loved how Soonja didn’t care about being the perfect grandma. She owns her identity and this is something that Jacob struggles with throughout the film. The writing simultaneously grows the grandson and grandma relationship whilst also asking the audience what makes your grandparents unique.

Minari focuses on traditional ideas of the perfect family structure. One male and one female parent with one male and one female kid. It is a template that no longer represents contemporary families as the definition of what makes a family becomes more fluid. This film does definitely represent the idyllic view of the American dream within the context of the 1980s.

It’s a thoughtful drama all about nuance, for example when Jacob and Paul discuss whether the Korean or American arrangement for planting crops is best. When David criticizes his grandmother for calling him pretty instead of good looking. And then within the profession of chicken sexing Jacob is praised for his speed which must be a talent based on recognizing nuance.

Speaking of Jacob actor Stephen young who is most well-known for his role in the walking dead plays the role beautifully. In the scene with Monica in the parking lot of the Korean shop, he displays such an honest desperation even just using his eyes which made me side with him, because he’s just a person looking for a unique place in this world.

The whole cast does an outstanding job. The trust and support on Chung set must have been strong to inspire such performances from the children, especially the adorable Alan Kim who steals the show on multiple occasions.

Through the cinematography, Minari also brings to life the lonely landscape that surrounds this family. Chung has definitely interwoven a love for his rural childhood within the visual language of this film. It is through the careful taming of this wilderness that Jacob seeks to find purpose.

Conclusion

In the end, it is that wilderness and his Korean roots symbolized by the Minari plants that save him and his family. Overall Minari shows the internal and external struggles of a family caught between two cultures. Each character’s voice is unique and captivating. It is a film that gently inspires you to consider what parts of your own cultural makeup are most important to you.

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