Minari reveals a true American story

Esther Lim, a&e editor

Minari: a fibrous, tough plant that grows close to a water source, thriving in its habitat without much need for attention—graceful and resilient. 

With the same name, Lee Isaac Chung’s autobiographical film, Minari, seems to be a kind of ode to the beauty of this simplistic, yet powerful plant.

Released for streaming  Feb. 12, Minari follows a Korean immigrant family of five in the 80s: Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun), his wife Monica (Ye-ri Han), their two children, Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan S. Kim) and their grandmother, Soonja (Yuh-jung Youn). Having previously suffered financial difficulty in California, Jacob moves his family to a trailer park in the middle of rural Arkansas.

Looking to settle his family’s roots, Jacob decides to farm Korean fruits and vegetables in the rich Arkansas soil. 

The story that unfolds is heart-wrenching, humorous, innocent and even gutting. It is a journey filled with dichotomies: destruction and growth, tension and reconciliation, a struggle between independence and assimilation, devastation and hope. In other words, it’s a purely American story.  

It might be hard to recognize this fact at first. Certainly, the folks at the Golden Globes had a hard time themselves, awarding the film for Best Foreign Language Film. 

Yet, what makes this film so brilliant is the fact that the movie captures the American nature of this family so perfectly. Minari is a beautiful ode to the Korean-American immigrant experience because it so genuinely characterizes the uniquely American nature of being an immigrant. 

Though the English-speaking viewer can understand the plot and characterization of the film through closed captioning, the actors’ abilities to portray the complex emotions and cultural nuances shatters the boundaries of captions. 

The performance of every single actor was awe-inspiring, but Yuh-jung Youn’s acting stands out in particular. Her character’s portrayal of the struggle between assimilation and heritage is a testament to the brilliant casting decisions of this film. Grandma Soonja’s role as the loving, tough, light-hearted Korean halmeoni (grandmother), could not have been played by anyone else.

That being said, here’s a message to Korean-American readers who plan on watching this movie: watch with your immigrant parents/grandparents. Watch closely for their reactions. Sense their heartbreak, their pride and joy at witnessing the story of their and their parents’ American experiences unfold before them. 

For all readers, Minari isn’t the “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” American Dream that we all know. The story of Minari is the true American Dream; it’s watching your hopes and dreams get destroyed right in front of your eyes, only to start again with the disheartening, yet hopeful determination that this vast, fertile country is forever your home. 

At its core, this movie is about love. So come to this film with a loving heart and open your mind; it is sure to gift you a beautiful story you will never forget.