Tuesday, April 27, 2021


Lee Isaac Chung: 미나리 / Minari (US 2020) with Steven Yeun (Jacob Yi, father), Noel Kate Cho (Anne Yi, daughter), Alan S. Kim (David Yi, son) and Yeri Han (Monica Yi, mother).

    US © 2020 A24 Films. PC: Plan B Entertainment. EX: Brad Pitt, Steven Yeun. P: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh.
    D+SC: Lee Isaac Chung. DP: Lachlan Milne – colour – 2,39:1 – source format: CFast 2.0 – ProRes 4444 XQ (3.2K) – master format: 2K. PD: Yong Ok Lee. Cost: Susanna Song. M: Emile Mosseri. S: Dmitri Makarov. ED: Harry Yoon. Casting: Julia Kim.
    C: Alan S. Kim (David Yi, son), Yeri Han (Monica Yi, mother), Noel Kate Cho (Anne Yi, daughter), Steven Yeun (Jacob Yi, father), Darryl Cox (Mr. Harlan), Esther Moon (Mrs. Oh), Ben Hall (Dowsing Dan), Eric Starkey (randy boomer), Will Patton (Paul, Pentecostal farmer, Korean War veteran), Yuh-Jung Youn (Soon-ja, grandmother), Jacob Wade (Johnnie), James Carroll (Brother Roy), Jenny Phagan (Bonnie), Tina Parker (Debbie), Chloe Lee (June).
    Translator to Korean: Hong Yeo-ul.
    Motto: "To all our grandmas".
    Loc: Tulsa, Oklahoma – the Ozarks region.
    Languages: Korean and English.
    115 min
    MPA 52483.
    Festival premiere: 26 Jan 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
    US limited release and virtual cinemas: 11 Dec 2020.
    US general release: 12 Feb 2021.
    Finnish premiere: 7 May 2021, distributed by Finnkino, Finnish / Swedish subtitles by Jaana Wiik / Charlotte Elo [the credits flashed past too fast].
    Corona security: max 6 capacity, face masks, distancing, hand hygiene.
    Press screening at Tennispalatsi 3, Helsinki, 27 April 2021.

Press notes: " Minari grows, comes in the pockets of immigrants, dies in the first year, thrives in the second, purifies the water and the soil around it. "

Minari (oenanthe javanica) is also known as Korean minari, Java waterdropwort, Indian pennywort. Japanese flat leaf parsley, water celery, water dropwort and Chinese celery.


Minari is an outstanding family drama, settler tale and immigrant saga made by Lee Isaac Chung, an American director and screenwriter born into an American Korean family. Minari is not a piece of autofiction, but it was inspired by Chung's childhood experiences and his need to tell his young daughter about where he came from. The characters of Minari are not based on Chung's family, either, although some elements are based on his memories, including the parents' arguments, a farmer dragging a cross and a grandmother burning down half of the farm.

The story takes place in 1983. The father Jacob has had enough of working at hatcheries, sexing chicks, that is, separating male chicks from females. (A constantly fuming smokestack reminds us of what happens to males). Jacob's dream comes true when he buys a farm in the Ozarks with the business idea of growing Korean produce to the rapidly increasing Korean population in the US.

The rest of the family is reluctant to follow to the new dwellings: a dour, large, used trailer home. Jacob is a young and vigorous man – but also an old-school patriarchal father who has neglected to agree on the new way of life with his wife Monica. She is disappointed to live in the middle of nowhere in a dilapidated trailer. The parents are arguing constantly.


What Chloé Zhao did to the Western imagery in Nomadland, Lee Isaac Chung achieves in the tradition of the settler saga. A different way of looking at things helps create a great and novel American movie.

Minari reminds us of films such as King Vidor's Great Depression drama Our Daily Bread. Nordic parallels can be found in Jan Troell's epics The Emigrants and The New Land. Troell's films take place in the age of American Indian Wars (American Frontier Wars / First Nations Wars). John Ford's settler saga Drums Along the Mohawk was set even earlier in the past, during the American Revolution War / War of Independence.

No violence is involved or needed in Minari, a drama based on a set of several dynamic conflicts. There is Jacob's dream vs. reality. Constantly felt is a cultural clash between Korea and America. The family quarrels stem from a conflict of patriachy vs. equality.

There is also the generation clash. The whole point of Jacob's exercise is to enable a better life for the new generation. Anne and David, the children, are people of the future. The grandmother Soon-ja (Monica's mother; her father has died in the Korean War) is a character from the past, an embodiment of tradition – and also something more complex, mysterious and wilful.

Soon-ja is met with scorn and ridicule by her grandchildren Anne and David. The hard-swearing Soon-ja is the opposite of the sweet and lovable grandmother type who pampers kids with treats in the kitchen. Slowly and reluctantly David learns to love Soon-ja who teaches him card games, bandages his wounds, soothes him to sleep, offers words of wisdom (about over-protection: "hurt belongs to childhood", about scaring away a big snake on a tree trunk: "it is better to keep it visible; the ones who hide are dangerous"), and praises his physical strength ("has nobody told you about that?"). David has a heart condition which is why parents have protected him from effort and exercise. But Soon-ja is the first to detect that a change is taking place to the better. Perhaps it is the Ozarks: the air, the forest, the spring water.

Minari is both a tale of pastoral dreams and a realistic account about the power of the earth. The risks and hazards of farming are met at each stage, from irrigation to market deals. This settler saga is a study in sisu (Finnish for true grit). Sometimes sisu is not enough. When it gets really tough, the strain to the marriage reaches a breaking point. Jacob puts success above marriage, Monica loses faith in him, and they agree to separate. "We came to America to save each other", but their union now seems broken beyond repair.

At this turning-point, the parents learn that David is on the road to recovery and that they are about to get a good deal for their produce. But Soon-ja, alone on the farm, accidentally ignites a fire. The barn and the hard-won crop burn to ashes. Having apparently lost everything, Jacob and Monica realize that they still have what matters most and decide to start anew, together.

Soon-ja has brought minari seeds with her and planted them by the riverside. In the finale we register a beautiful minari crop growing without any effort except finding the right place to plant the seeds.


Well directed, well produced, well acted and well written with special care taken to an authentic mix of Korean and English dialogue, Minari also boasts an attractive score composed by Emile Mosseri. On the soundtrack are also vintage Korean songs about which I would like to learn more. One of them seems to be called "I Love You". All actors are worth praise, but let's single out the formidable Yuh-Jung Youn in the role of Soon-ja.

Minari was shot on location in the Ozarks. The interiors were shot in the challenging circumstances of an actual vintage trailer. Even the fire was real, no visual effects were used. All this pays off in a feeling of authenticity. The cinematographer Lachlan Milne shot the film resorting to available light, preferring "the magic hour" in the morning.

This was my first cinema visit in six weeks. I enjoyed the splendid scope cinematography from the middle of the first row of Tennispalatsi 3. Nature is the hardest challenge for digital. In Minari, the challenge is being met beautifully.

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