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The Beacon

The Student Newspaper of MAST Academy, since 1991.
The Student News Site of MAST Academy

The Beacon

The Beacon

Senior Issue 2024
June 5, 2024

“Minari” Review: New beginnings through a Korean-American lens

By Alexandra Fadel
Staff Writer

The American dream is an idea many people look to pursue, but few are able to achieve. Lee Isaac-Chung touches on just this by exploring a Korean-American family’s experience assimilating to a small rural town in his semi-autobiographical drama Minari. With a serene soundtrack and a visual feeling of warmth, Chung sets the audience up for a riveting journey. 

The film begins with Monica (Han Ye-ri), Jacob (Steven Yeun), and their children arriving at their new mobile home in Arkansas. Jacob is immediately thrilled after having a look at the land, which he plans to grow Korean vegetables on, while Monica is appalled at the location they have moved to. Their children follow closely behind, with their son, David (Alan Kim) confused but curious, and their daughter, Anne (Noel Kate Cho), obediently shadowing her parents. The family had previously lived in a Korean-influenced community in California, which made this move more uncomfortable than their first. 

The Yi family arrives at their new home (Photo by A24 production).

Early on in the film, a new character is introduced when Monica’s loneliness is felt by her husband, who sends to Korea for her mother Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung). She arrives with bags of Korean plants (including Minari –a type of celery she later plants in a nearby creek), food, and toys for the children, opening luggage in a scene nostalgic, immediately recognizable for any immigrant away from and longing for their home country. Soonja is quickly judged by her grandson, David, who becomes skeptical of her foul mouth and sly behavior as an elder. 

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The relationship between David and his halmoni (grandma) is an important and accurate portrayal of the resistance and internalized hatred many immigrants adopt as they assimilate with the culture of the United States. David often communicates this to his grandmother, telling her to be a “real grandma” and bake cookies, not watch boxing and say bad words. However, David eventually finds a friend in her and her untraditional ways, surpassing his initial uncertainty and rather embracing both of the cultures in his life. 

The Yi family overlook their field after Soonja arrives (Photo by John Ethan Johnson/A24).

The real conflict of the film, however, lies in the struggles of Jacob and Monica. Like many other immigration stories, Minari showcases the hardships and sacrifice required to relocate and look for a sense of home again. Ye-ri most strongly depicts these sentiments, carefully but strongly building up Monica’s sense of helplessness. 

She arrives and immediately is unhappy with their living conditions, but maintains the stability of their household by consistently supporting her husband in his endeavor throughout most of the film. Her feelings of uncertainty escalate as time goes on and money gets tighter, wanting to return to their life in California. 

The small discussions the couple has barely scratch the surface of the deeper sentiments they internalize but do not convey to their children. Their dynamic creates tension and immerses the audience in the sacrificial aspect of the film, digging deep into the emotional difficulty of relocation and change.

The warm but tense atmosphere of the hot days and hard work of a family trying to find a new home is quickly palpable through the screen. Chung presents snippets of his childhood to the audience in a vulnerable, but not overly-personal way. In his conversation with Bong Joon-Ho, writer and director of Parasite and Okja, Bong applauds Chung for his approach to the story. 

“What I appreciate about this film is that it doesn’t wallow in nostalgia. It’s about you, but there’s a sense of distance too,” Bong said. Chung does just this, placing himself in the movie as David, but not telling the story from his own perspective. He uses his experiences to capture the sentiments and details that make a specific Korean-American experience, but tells a story about passion and persistence that becomes universal. 

This film has been described as “universal” by many, but is a prime example of the xenophobia still rampant in the western film industry. For the 2021 Golden Globes, it was not considered a film made by a director born in Colorado and taking place in the South. Instead, it was placed in the Foreign Language category, a testament to just how tone-deaf barriers still are in the artistic world. 

However, Minari was nominated for six Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Directing. Steven Yeun also made history as the first Asian-American nominee for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role. The film was rightfully recognized for its excellence, making its success historic.

In many aspects, Minari encapsulated the stories of many immigrants, all of which make up the American people who make this country so special. It brings a raw portrayal of a family’s experience, highlighting the importance of the everyday in a world that overlooks the beauty of the little things.  

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“Minari” Review: New beginnings through a Korean-American lens