[Screen It]


(2020) (Steven Yuen, Yeri Han) (PG-13)

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Drama: A Korean family moves from California to Arkansas where the father hopes to start a thriving farm which puts a strain, along with other issues, on the various members.

It's the 1980s and Jacob Yi (STEVEN YUEN) has moved his family -- wife Monica (YERI HAN), daughter Anne (NOEL KATE CHO) and her younger brother David (ALAN S. KIM) -- from California to Arkansas in hopes of creating a better life for them in America. But Monica isn't impressed by the remote old double-wide trailer they're going to call home or Jacob's plan to start a farm, grow Korean vegetables, and sell them to the increasing number of Korean immigrants in the area. Undeterred, he gets assistance from local farmhand Paul (WILL PATTON), but must work alongside his wife at the local hatchery sexing chickens to make ends meet.

With David having a heart murmur and the kids needing someone to watch them while the parents work, Monica's mom, Soonja (YUH JONG YUON), arrives on the farm to help. But with Jacob throwing everything into his farming plan, that and other matters end up putting a strain on his marriage and the family overall.

OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10

I have a work acquaintance and Facebook friend who shocked all of us about a year ago by executing a long-gestating secret plan of pulling up his roots in America and transporting them to a small Indonesian village to marry a woman he, up to that point, had only met via online platforms. They've since had a kid and it's fun reading his well-written short tales documenting his new life in that faraway land.

That took far more guts, courage, and chutzpah than I could likely ever muster, but doing something like that is not as uncommon as some might think. Of course, and regardless of who's waiting "on the other side," it's still a scary move. That said, I don't know which would be worse -- doing that alone or moving one's family in such a way. While there'd (presumably) be built-in support not to mention familiar faces to see every day, there would also be a lot of mouths to feed, backs to clothe, and so on.

One such person who was born in the U.S. but otherwise grew up as a foreigner in a foreign land is Lee Isaac Chung. He's the director of "Minari," a family drama that paints a portrait -- based on his own childhood -- of a Korean dad, mom, and their two kids who try to assimilate into American life in rural Arkansas.

When we first see them, mom Monica (Han Ye-ri) is less than pleased to learn that the new house purchased by her husband, Jacob (Steven Yeun), is actually a double-wide trailer out in the middle of nowhere, and certainly too far from a hospital should their son, David (Alan Kim), need medical care regarding his heart defect.

He and his older sister, Anne (Noel Kate Cho), don't seem to mind the new place too much, but their mom is fit to be tied as she doesn't see this as a move up -- or even sideways -- from the life they had in California where at least their expenses were low and they could save up money from their chicken hatchery jobs.

Here, they'll be still doing the same work, but with a bigger mortgage due to all the land Jacob has purchased to create and grow a Korean vegetable farm to profit off all the Korean immigrants moving to the area. Local farmhand and uber-religious Paul (Will Patton) doesn't think it's the greatest idea in the world, but he needs work and thus does what he can to get the farm biz off the ground.

Being so far away from everyone else, they decide to have Monica's mother, Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung), fly over and move in with them to take care of the kids. But the non-cooking, card playing, occasional profanity spewing older woman doesn't really seem like a grandma to the boy who isn't shy about letting his disdain for the woman show.

Of course, as oft will occur with films like this, the relationship eventually blossoms and grows between the two, leading to some heartwarming but also heartbreaking developments courtesy of Chung's script (and for which I don't know how much is accurate and how much has been fictionalized for dramatic effect).

The performances are all good across the board and cinematographer Lachlan Milne's lensing is both beautiful and stark, visually depicting hope and despair that the family experiences. I liked the film quite a bit, but must admit that it's a bit of a downer concerning what the family goes through and how things ultimately play out (especially in a tough year like we've gone through this latest lap around the sun).

Even so, there's more than enough to admire here and Chung's direction is sure and steady and grows on you, much like the title plant easily roots itself in a nearby creek bank and grows with abandon. Not exactly a cheery movie but a well-made and performed look at immigrants trying to live the American dream, "Minari" rates as a 6.5 out of 10.

Reviewed December 1, 2020 / Posted December 10, 2020

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