“Minari” has been the talk of this awards season. So much so, it already won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign-Language Film. But as director Lee Isaac Chung stated in his acceptance speech, “It goes deeper than any American language and any foreign language; it’s a language of the heart.” Chung explores the difficulties in securing the American Dream. But what are you willing to sacrifice along the way to prosperity?
The award-winning film examined what immigrant families face transitioning into American life. The main character Jacob, played by Steven Yeun, moves his family to Arkansas to become a farmer. But he didn’t anticipate the hardships along the way. He jeopardized major assets; his finances, family, even running water. Jacob’s character represents the inner conflict many people experience. Should you continue to pursue your dreams, even at the cost of everything you love?
Arguably, his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) faced similar struggles. Monica sacrificed her happiness for Jacob. But was their marriage true prosperity? She delves into this inner conflict throughout the two-hour film. A special moment between Jacob and Monica was when Jacob was so overworked, he couldn’t move. So, she helped him bathe. It was one of the only intimate scenes between the couple.
The Breakout Role
The standout role was none other than David, portrayed by Alan S. Kim. David is an eight-year-old who embodies the freedom of childhood. He’s carefree, with his actions and his unapologetic attitude. David also stood as the comic relief. Alongside his grandmother Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung), there was never a dull moment. He never sugarcoated his words—like calling her smelly in the middle of their church.
But David stood for something more than innocence. Throughout “Minari”, he’s constantly being told to stop running. It might be said more than minari itself. But it showed his similarity to Jacob. Both have a strong sense of perseverance to keep going on. Neither will stop, despite the cards stacked against them.
The Foreign Film Controversy
Although “Minari” is told semi-autobiographically, its meaning resonates with all backgrounds. Above all else, it tells the story of a family trying to adjust and get by. Many have tried to compare to the Oscar-winning “Parasite”. The obvious take includes the story of Korean families mostly told via subtitles. But the main similarity of both is what lengths one would go for financial stability. Both films also exposed the American film industry.
Despite its anticipation, “Minari” was ineligible for the Best Picture category. According to Entertainment Weekly, the Golden Globe winner doesn’t meet the language requirement. Although featuring both Korean and American English, it’s majority Korean. Chung’s film challenged what foreign means. It listed the USA as its place of origin, despite winning the foreign title. Director Lulu Wang notably tweeted, “I have not seen a more American film than #Minari this year.” Wang continued, “We really need to change these antiquated rules that characterizes American as only English-speaking”
Lee Isaac Chung brought attention to the lived experience of Americans. He also highlighted what’s most important in life; your family and health. Also, home doesn’t have to be a suburban American house. Sometimes it’s a leaky trailer. Other times, it’s just a station wagon. “Minari” grew more than produce, it was the soil for the personal growth of its viewers.
Cover photo curtesy Vanity Fair