Minari is as American a tale as any, which is what sparked outrage at last week's Golden Globe nominations, where the film was only deemed eligible for Best Foreign-Language Film, not Best Picture. (While characters speak English in Minari, a larger proportion is in Korean, which, per Globes rules, stipulates the film be limited to the foreign-language category — rules critics argue need overhauling.)
Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, the film — one of Yahoo Entertainment’s best movies of 2020, an achingly beautiful story that is alternately charming, funny and tearjerking — follows a 1980s Korean American family of four that relocates from California to rural Arkansas where Jacob (Steven Yeun) hopes to make a new career farming produce, much to the chagrin of his wife, Monica (Yeri Han). When the overwhelmed parents need support, Monica’s eccentric mother Soonja (Yuh-jung Youn) arrives from Asia to live in their tiny home, sparking a grandmother-grandson rivalry with young David (Alan S. Kim) — one that includes some very memorable moments involving Mountain Dew.
It’s a deeply personal story for Chung (Munyurangabo), based on his own childhood. “I’m so tired of crying over this movie,” the filmmaker recalls saying at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, where Minari won both the dramatic Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award, in an interview with Yahoo Entertainment (watch above). “And that’s kind of what it felt like making this thing. There are just so many moments where the emotions well up… But it is what it is, I made it as personal as possible so those things just naturally crept up. … So hopefully that honesty was worth it. For me, I do feel like I needed to do it and I needed to make it.”
Han points to the universality of the story. “I’ve never lived in the States, and I haven’t visited the States often either, so it was just a new experience being in Tulsa [where the film was shot],” the Korean actress tells us through a translator. “But I think this film can resonate with everyone. I don’t think that this story is exclusive to just immigrants.”
Now projected as a major Oscar contender, the film — produced by Brad Pitt’s Plan B Entertainment (Moonlight, The Last Black Man in San Francisco) — is the latest to boost the visibility of Asians and Asian Americans onscreen, following box-office hit Crazy Rich Asians and Best Picture winner Parasite. It also paints realistic, empathic portrait at a time when hate crimes against Asian Americans are spiking.
“I think in general, I’m just so supportive of any effort to show that our human experience is much more varied and diverse and particular than we think,” Chung says. “There’s no monolithic norm in this country. If we can be part of that, and not just to push forward Asian Americans but really every single person in whatever walk of life if they’ve lived on the quote-unquote margins or as outsiders, in a way that they haven’t been portrayed on the screen, I’d love to see more of those stories.”
“I represent whatever I represent ‘cause I can’t change my face,” says Yeun, an actor best known for his work on The Walking Dead, who’s made a string of acclaimed indies in recent years (Okja, Burning, Sorry to Bother You). “I love to operate from this place continually and I hope that we get to see more Asian Americans, Asian actors get their shots and do their thing and really push the boundaries of how to connect all of us together.”
Minari is now playing in theaters and on-demand.
Watch the trailer:
— Video produced by Jon San and edited by Jason Fitzpatrick
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