The Movie Waffler New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - MINARI | The Movie Waffler

New Release Review [Cinema/VOD] - MINARI

minari review
A Korean-American family attempt to establish a farm in rural Arkansas.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Lee Isaac Chung

Starring: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton

Inspired by his own childhood, writer/director Lee Isaac Chung's 1980s set Minari is an immigration tale that arrives at a moment in time that makes it a hot-button topic, but ironically it has more in common with Hollywood cinema of the 1930s and '40s than with its contemporaries. The ethnicity of its protagonists aside, Minari evokes American classics like The Grapes of Wrath and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In narrative terms it offers a conventional meal, but its particular, personal spices give it a flavour of its own.

minari review

Having lived in a Californian city since arriving in the US a decade earlier, Korean husband and wife Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Yeri Han) have made the move to rural Arkansas with their American born children, six-year-old David (Alan S. Kim) and his older sister Anne (Noel Kate Cho). What Monica didn't realise is that the new home her hubby has purchased is a trailer situated on a clump of land he plans to turn into a farm on which to grow lucrative Korean vegetables. With Monica already annoyed at how Jacob looked after his parents financially rather than his own immediate family, this puts an extra strain on a marriage already in turmoil.

Jacob and Monica take a job at a chicken hatchery, continuing a line of work they practiced in California. The noise is unbearable to untrained ears - a combination of chicken screeching and that industrial rumble that soundtracks David Lynch's Eraserhead – but Jacob and Monica have learned to block it out. Jacob is focused on the goal of building his mini farming empire, recruiting a local elderly Evangelical Christian oddball, Paul (Will Patton), to help him work the land. Monica has no such distractions however, and feels isolated in her new home. While Jacob wishes to leave the old world behind, Monica pines for Koreans, if not Korea.

minari review

You might expect an immigration drama to focus on the struggles of natives to accept new arrivals, but Minari is quite the opposite. Initially, Jacob sees himself as superior to his Arkansas neighbours, dismissing their religious ways as superstitious nonsense. But he gradually learns that such an attitude is a middle class privilege he can't afford. Working class folk are forced to get along despite their differences, because at some point you're going to need your neighbour to drive you to the emergency ward, and in that moment you're not going to give a damn who they voted for or what God they believe in. Chung sucks his liberal target audience into this notion, with Paul initially coming off as the village idiot, but as the film progresses, we realise, along with Jacob, that he has much to teach the young Korean.

It's this aspect of community integration that's most refreshing about Minari, particularly in these increasingly divided times. What a relief to see white working class rural Americans portrayed with empathy rather than disdain or suspicion. Like another recent immigration drama, the Scottish set Limbo, Chung's film portrays prejudice in daringly nuanced fashion, with a local boy subjecting David to offensive language before immediately befriending him.

minari review

If Jacob's story of accepting help from those he looks down on makes for the film's strongest narrative, it's offset by the arrival of Monica's mother, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung), who with her constant swearing and Rodney Dangerfield manners, seems to have wandered in from a much less refined film. As the hip grandma, Soon-ja comes off as clichéd, and too much of her dialogue is of the "life lesson from an elder" variety. Much of the running time is devoted to her relationship with David, who is so American at this point that he struggles to accept Soon-ja's old world ways. It's certainly a cute dynamic, but all too conventional. Conversely, too little time is offered to Monica, who is largely relegated to the dated trope of the materialistic wife who won't allow her husband to follow his dreams. Anne, meanwhile, is practically a glorified extra.

 is on UK/ROI VOD and in UK cinemas now.

2021 movie reviews