It isn’t often that a movie can be described as endearing, yet that was the feeling that permeated MINARI (Lee Isaac Chung). The film has a ‘slice of life’ presentation, as it follows a tumultuous period for a Korean family.
Moving from California, we join the family in their car, as they follow a moving truck of their possessions to their new home. An oblivious child drifts in and out of sleep, a passenger escapes in a novel, the driver checks the rear view mirror with doubt in their eyes. The destination is a mobile home in a meadow.
Knowing little at the start, one might expect racial tensions, but obvious stereotypes are only referenced by clueless children, as things they obviously overheard from adults.
They quickly meet a small assortment of locals. One is named Paul (Will Patton), shown to be an overly enthusiastic Christian, whose simplicity is contrasted by farming knowledge and genuine care. There are times he chants in tongues, though more likely gibberish, and we see his Sunday ritual of carrying a literal cross. It’s left to the viewer’s decision if he is truly seeing the devils he casts out in a shamanistic style.
Home life isn’t easy. The plot of land is far from town, and we see them labouring to do household chores. They fight about money, as most people do, and there’s a sense that they’re living on the brink. Their new home has a chequered past from the previous owner, and bits of tragedy are intermittently revealed.
It’s noted early on that one of the children has a heart condition. This knowledge does tend to overpower a few moments, especially since the family is shown to exist in a world of such hardship and suffering.
Perhaps as a product of culture, we see that Jacob (Steven Yeun), the father and husband, is also the decision maker for the family. Transforming the land into a profitable farm is not only a ticket out of unfulfilled employment, but a desire to make his children proud of him. His wife’s mother, Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung), soon moves in with them. Her character is a bright star in so much discontentment, and is very memorable.
Nearly every scene is accompanied by moments of natural stillness. MINARI is a reminder that there’s beauty in so many places, especially those that don’t make the travel brochures. Some things work out, as others don’t, but there’s always hope. Hope for new beginnings, and hope as a language that all can understand.
The film’s title represents a Korean herb. We don’t learn much about the actual use. It’s as much a symbol as a food. Described as “Wonderful”, we see joy and bonding when Minari is around.
MINARI is now available for digital rental on Apple TV and the Cineplex Store.