MINARI takes its title from a herb found in Korea. It becomes a metaphor of transplantation, of pulling up roots and putting them down in new soil.
Lee Isaac Chung’s beautiful, lyrical film of the migrant experience focuses on a Korean family relocated to America, led by chicken sexers Mum and Dad. They’re making a good living in California but the father, Jacob, fervently wants to start his own farm in rural Arkansas.
The family’s children, a daughter, Anne, and younger son, David, suffering a delicate heart condition, are happy to go along with their father’s dream, but Mum, Monica, is not so sure.
The family dynamic is further tested by the arrival of Monica’s mother, an irascible gambler and gutter mouth who upends David’s idea of what an all American granny should be. Certainly not as American as apple pie.
The relationship is at first thorny and frosty but eventually thaws. The same could be said of Jacob’s relationship with the land with the budding cropper coming a cropper, his marriage under major stress, and his self- confidence in being a good parent and provider put under pressure.
MINARI is a soil and toiler that hits pay dirt thanks to a fertile script rich in character and emotion, an alluvial narrative where the seeds of performance find purchase, sprout and flourish.
Steven Yeun as Jacob, Yeri Han as Monica, Alan Kim as David, Noel Kate Cho as Anne, and veteran Korean thespian, Yuh-Jung Youn as Grandma kindle the kindred, fuelling the quiet desperation of the drama, igniting a beautifully tailored tale of tenacity.
And then there’s the humour and humanity of Jacob’s employee Paul, a fervent Pentecostal in a perpetual state of repentance. Played in scene stealing simplicity by Will Paton, Paul’s repentance seems rooted in America’s involvement in the Korean War.
Sublime cinematography by Aussie lenser, Lachlan Milne brings an extra sheen to a film that could well be set in Kansas as Arkansas or Koo Wee Rup for that matter, and Emile Mosseri’s melancholy score infuses melody with malady, hope with harmony.
MINARI may be a minnow in the broiling waters of the blockbuster, but its emotional punch makes it a leviathan among current cinema fare.