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Storyline (warning: spoilers)
Named after a remarkably hardy Korean herb, Minari is a lightly fictionalised autobiographical
film by Korean-American writer and director Lee Isaac Chung. It’s his childhood as seen through
the eyes of Jacob and Monica’s seven-year-old son, David (Alan Kim), an opinionated, curious
child who is adjusting well to his strangely fascinating new home until he learns he’ll be sharing
his bedroom with his grandmother, Soonja (Yuh Jung Youn). Soonja doesn’t make cookies; in
fact, she can’t cook at all. She likes playing cards, watching wrestling on television, and
swearing. David complains that she “smells like Korea.” The fractious relationship between
David and Soonja (Yuh Jung Youn) begins to lose its edge as they realise their shared
stubbornness and strength of will make them natural allies.
The key sequence of events that comprise the overarching narrative are triggered by a decision
made by Jacob, David’s father. The knowledge that he may well be the fastest chicken sexer in
the West is of little consolation to Jacob. Pushed to his limits by boredom, he decides to leave
the chickens and the factory farm where he works in California and uproot his family in search
of a better life in the Ozarks hill country in Arkansas where he hopes to grow Korean produce.
It’s an anecdotal film with a rhythm framed by the highs and lows of farming life - the relentless
and remorseless realities of nature are ever present. A small mistake can quickly snowball into a
major setback and disaster is always waiting ready to consume everything and everybody.
The family’s story is told with a gentle and authentic familiarity that accepts that in reality there
is no “immigrant experience,” beyond the pure, grounding and universal human reality of
finding yourself adjusting to a new environment. The film portrays many different reflections on
isolation and loneliness, on masculine pride and duty, on the pure weird and wonderful
experience of just being a child, not to mention the child of immigrants. Whilst it’s specific in its
setting, its messaging is universal and engaging.