It’s not often that a movie with a Northwest Arkansas setting generates Oscar buzz, but last year’s Minari not only did so but also won one (Best Supporting Actress for Youn Yuh-jung). As a result, I’ve been looking forward to reviewing the movie as soon as we received the DVD at the library, and I’m so excited to post this because it’s been one of the best new movies I’ve watched in a long time!
In the early 1980s, the Korean Yi family relocates from California to rural Washington County, Arkansas, because the father, Jacob (Steven Yuen, The Walking Dead) is determined to start his own farm. Jacob sees this as the perfect opportunity to break away from a lucrative but very boring job as a chicken sexer in California to being an entrepreneur in Arkansas.
Specifically, he hopes to raise Korean vegetables to resell in larger metropolitan areas with Korean immigrant communities, such as Dallas. It’s the American Dream, but his wife Monica is skeptical about the feasibility of creating a profitable farm, worried about the prospects of their young children (David and Anne), and, well, miserable with the isolation. As a compromise with Monica, Jacob agrees to bring her hilarious mother Soon-ja (Youn) to the farm from Korea. Her Americanized grandkids are initially skeptical of this grandmother who doesn’t conform to their ideal of a grandmother. Rather than baking cookies, she prefers to play rowdy card games and watch wrestling.
Largely told from the perspective of the young David, who has a heart murmur that greatly concerns his mother, Minari tracks the family’s adventures in Arkansas, both the hilarious and the heartbreaking. I don’t want to reveal too much about the plot except to say I found the movie really engaging. I particularly loved the characters. There are no villains here–all the characters have very understandable motivations, and all the actors do a great job in their performances. The only complaint I had was that I sometimes felt like the daughter, Anne, was a bit overlooked compared to the other characters, though I could also understand the reasoning for it.
I also particularly enjoyed that, though the movie has a universal appeal in its themes about family, it also does a wonderful job of depicting its very specific setting and world. This is probably because the movie is actually autobiographical in many ways for the director, Lee Isaac Chung. Like David, Chung’s Korean parents relocated to Lincoln, Arkansas, in the 1980s to start a farm.
I’m unfortunately not very familiar with Korean culture, but the film is a wonderfully evocative depiction of a Korean-American family, and when I learned more about some of the specific details shown (from items in the house to specific behaviors to terms of endearment used in Korean), I appreciated all the more how rich the narrative and characters were.
The movie was not filmed in Arkansas, but it was filmed close by in Northeast Oklahoma, so the terrain will be familiar-looking to any Ozarker, as are many of the setting-specific details, such as the poor Yi family naively wondering why the sky is green right before a nasty storm.
I highly recommend this movie! It’s a really moving story and exceptionally well made film.
Have you seen Minari? What are you watching? What was your favorite movie from last year? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information on any of these items or to place them on hold.