The film charmed me as it has done so many others.
A hotly tipped Oscar contender, Minari has been on everyone’s lips since its initial festival run. When I finally got a chance to see it this weekend I was surprised at the film's serious tone, having been led to believe it was an upbeat coming of age drama from the film’s sunny and warm posters. Nevertheless, the film charmed me as it has done so many others.
Directing and writing this semi-autobiographical tale, Lee Isaac Chung handles the camera with the ultimate care. Following the important moments in the story, the audience's lens is never intrusive and at times it allows the film to feel almost documentary like, as if we are watching real people. Capturing the small moments, rain leaking into cabinets, kids putting on shoes, he reminds us that it is not the big moments in life that make or break us, but the everyday mundanities that tie us to a place, to each other.
Chung also excels in his direction of his cast. A large majority of the film is shown through young child David, played by an astoundingly good Alan Kim, and we truly see the experience through his eyes. A tender and gentle approach, it allows us to feel instantly for the cast of characters around him.
The film follows a Korean family in 1980s Arkansas as Dad, Jacob, hopes to start his own farm. His wife Monica is less than impressed with their new trailer home in the middle of nowhere and worries for their son David. Concerned about David’s health and money, she invites her elderly mother Soonja to live with them and act as childcare for David and older sister Anne.
It’s a simple plot that manages to capture a whole spectrum of human emotion. Jacob’s desperation to be a success, to make it on his own. The marital strains his dream between him and Monica who moved to America to ‘save each other’. Monica’s parental worries for David’s ill health and embarrassment at showing their living situation to her mother. Though this is a semi-autobiographical tale for writer/director Chung, so much of the tale is universal. Likewise, though it is at many times tense as we feel the strain pull the family from each side, it’s filled with touches of joy and light, just as real life is. The plot points never feel forced or fake and the development of the relationships between characters is so natural, you almost miss it as it is happening – in the best way.
ACTING | CHARACTERS | DIALOGUE:
The cast is every bit as good as people have told you, and Steven Yeun is rightly receiving praise, however it’s the combination of grandson/grandmother played by Alan Kim and Yuh-jung Youn that truly sells Minari. Their chemistry, joys and horrors elevate the film beyond a typical family melodrama and instant feel reminiscent of old family tales you might hear at a dinner table. Their smiles are infectious and their developing bond throughout the film provides some of the tenderest moments in the script. Yeri Han and Noel Kate Cho round out the cast with equally solid performances, but this film belongs to Kim and Youn.
VISUAL EFFECTS | MAKEUP | DESIGN:
Set in mostly 3 locations – the trailer, the land and Jacob and Monica’s place of work, the team do a wonderful job of making them feel expansive, vast and full of possibility, whilst also feeling claustrophobic, small and suffocating. Subtle touches remind us of the times period piece nature, but it is the silly touches such as the children’s love for Mountain Dew and the use of natural light to highlight the wonder of the potential farm that again showcase how much the crew could do with very little in the making of this film.
MUSIC | SCORE | SOUND DESIGN:
Scored by Emile Mosseri, the music is soft and gentle just as the film itself is. At balancing Korean lyrics with delicate and poignant piano pieces, it perfectly encapsulates the mood of the entire piece.
Minari was not at all the film I had been expecting. But what I found was a loving tale about the raw pain at the heart of "the American Dream." The struggle, the toll and the determination within a human soul and the love within a family.