To spend time with Minari is to be in the captivating company of a single household for a couple of hours. On the surface it is a simple story of a mother, a father, a daughter, a son and a grandmother working and living in rural 1980s Arkansas but dig a tiny bit deeper and it is also an analysis of the American Dream and an identifiable examination of humanity and family. The title is the Korean word for a herb that is commonly grown and used in East Asia (the English translation being Water Dropwort which is a less poetic name for a movie). The plant does feature literally in the film but also as a metaphor for the characters, Korean themselves, who are similarly trying to make roots and grow in a country they are also not indigenous to.
In terms of the narrative we see Steve Yeun’s Jacob move with his wife and children to a plot of land he has bought with the intention of growing Korean vegetables to sell to fellow immigrants in nearby Dallas. His partner Monica, played by Yeri Han, isn’t really on board with the plan but their kids think it is a bit of an adventure especially seven year old David who has a heart defect so isn’t even allowed to run let alone do anything more exciting. Apparently the story reflects aspects of Yeun, Han and director Lee Isaac Chung’s own lives in the States as they try to succeed and fit in with a local community.
There’s little value in describing the action in any more detail and there are treats in discovering it for yourself but needless to say it isn’t all plain sailing for the family. The downs are expertly handled though so as to make you appreciate the ups and the way the family supports one another. With literally five minutes to go before the end of the film it all feels like a bit of a tragedy but then it deftly bring events and the audience back and leaves you valuing this, and quite probably your own, group of relations.
Minari is one of those movies that feels quite straight forward but requires great skill to keep and reward its audience. This is in the writing and the performances, all of which have been recognised at the film festivals and now in awards season. The film has just opened the Glasgow Film Festival (which runs online until 7th March) and has a scheduled UK release date of 2nd April which means most other people here will probably also see it through streaming.
It is worth catching it when you can. I wrote recently about sci-fi film Space Sweepers which took South Korean cinema off in new directions but this also feels like a progression into new areas with the country’s output now covering every genre including the kitchen sink. Even without of this though it is a rewarding, realistic and ultimately delightful and romantic look at domestic life, personal ambition, marriage and parenthood.