A nuanced portrait of home, faith and family

STORY: Minari is a semi-autobiographical take on writer and director Lee Isaac Chung’s life in a family of Korean immigrants in Arkansas in the 1980s. The story follows the Yi family — father (Steven Yeun), mother, their two children, and grandmother — who move to Arkansas where the dad decides to become a farmer. His former job as a chicken sexer doesn’t pay him much.

REVIEW: With no monetary backup, the wife isn’t pleased by the sudden change in location and mode of income but decides to support her husband nonetheless. Quickly welcomed into a relatively white neighbourhood, the Korean-American family must find a way to survive while asking themselves where do they truly belong.

Minari is deeply personal yet universal, uplifting yet melancholic and traditional yet contemporary. It’s a lot like us. We are bits and pieces of everything. Like this year’s another Oscar contender Nomadland, Minari too explores what home truly means. It’s not always about possessing a palatial property but living in a house on wheels, sleeping together on the floor and giggling all night long or sharing a warm little room with your grandmother. The film makes you revisit your childhood… the time you assumed your parents had their lives all figured out. Also the phase when you thought you knew more than your grandparents. The Yi family does not have enough money, water or even 24/7 electricity but they have each other. Kids who believe their risk-taking, hard working father’s a hero despite his hasty decisions and a family that won’t stop trying no matter the recurring failures.

Despite the brouhaha around the ethnic identity and inclusivity in Hollywood, Minari is essentially a human tale. Reminiscent of the Indian culture, we see grandparents passing on their words of wisdom to the young and a family’s togetherness being its biggest strength. The Korean language drama at no point romanticises hardships or financial troubles. It presents a clear picture and reiterates that the journey is never easy but is worth taking if you have your people around. The title is metaphorical and signifies our ability to restructure and regrow as humans. Life always finds a way.

Child actor Alan Kim will make you fall in love with his honesty. Steven Yeun is compelling as the frustrated but hopeful father and veteran actress Yuh-Jung Youn is terrific as the feisty and funny grandmother. Lee Isaac Chung’s simple little film about a family finding its place in the world is rooted in reality and Korean culture. It smells of earth and rain and our sense of belonging to the land that feeds our stomachs.

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