The American Dream is a concept we are all somewhat familiar with, if not actively in search of in our own day-to-day lives. The notion that anyone can achieve anything should they put their mind to it is alluring and addictive, the impassioned drive to do whatever you want and that it will come to fruition if you just believe and work! Writer-Director Lee Isaac Chung understands this all too well, having both lived and created it, a recipe which serves up his fourth feature film Minari.
Set in 1980s Arkansas, Minari is the tale of an immigrant Korean family starting up their own farm, a decision which will test their love for each other and resolve to push through whatever may be thrown at them. It’s a story of immigration and heritage, of love and sacrifice, and over the course of its near two hours audiences will be charmed and fatigued in equal measure.
Steven Yeun follows his delightfully sinister performance in 2018’s Burning with a softer presence as Jacob Yi, the patriarch of a traditional nuclear family trying to forge their own path in the world. His wife Monica (Yeri Han) and children Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and David (Alan Kim in an adorable comedic role) are his support, however their struggles to maintain a healthy work/life balance leads to grandmother Soon Ja (Yuh-jung Youn) coming to help with childcare and other housekeeping requirements.
Minari plays out as a plotless family drama with dashes of comedy, focusing in on the lives and connections between its main cast of characters. Lachlan Milne’s wandering cinematography floats right out of a Terrence Malick picture with just as much wonder and fascination towards whatever is going on around it – whether it be a troublesome storm, a morning at church or even a stroll through the grass, it’s undeniable that the film is a beautifully picturesque watch; a tragedy given the current restrictions that one cannot see it on the biggest cinema screens across the country.
Chung draws on personal experience to craft a passionate, empathetic tale of the quest for more; how planning for the future can distract you from the necessities of now. Yet in doing so he has crafted a piece that is sadly not as well rounded as one might hope with mother and daughter occasionally left in the dust of their more charismatic counterparts. More often than not, the film splices Yeun’s paternal work ethic with the amusing back-and-forth between sweet, naïve David and his foul-mouthed grandmother, but such a joy are these scenes that any shortfalls elsewhere are easily forgiven; leave them wanting more as the old adage goes.
Despite recent controversy regarding the Golden Globes policy on what can and cannot be considered for their “Best Picture” categories (Minari was deemed ineligible due to the majority of it’s spoken language being Korean), Chung’s family portrait appears to have the wind in its sails. A frontrunner for the bigger prize – the Academy Awards – it is a wonderful choice as opener of 2021’s Glasgow Film Festival, giving audiences hope and sincerity to get them through the final months of what has been a laborious period of time. Of course, one hopes that in future we won’t have another festival like this one, but an opener of equal measure? Well, that would be just fine.
Screening as part of Glasgow Film Festival 2021