A little movie with big themes, Minari crosses paths with Grapes of Wrath and other stories about a derailed American dream. Set in Arkansas during the 1980s, Minari follows a family who flees economic hardship in Korea to find a better life farming their own land. So hopes Jacob Yi, who steadfastly refuses to accept the unrelenting challenges of nature and other inequities of life.
Requiring a day job to support the farm, Jacob and his wife work with other Koreans at a factory where they determine the sex of newly hatched chicks. Writing the story from some of his own experiences, director Lee Isaac Chung recalls such details from his past with heartfelt accuracy that makes his project feel both specific and universal. Not all families spend their day separating boy and girl chicks, but many do drudge work in the hope of improving their world.
Director Chung also casts a strong eye on family dynamics, pulling together a mother, father, daughter, son, and grandma whose interactions feel natural in any language. Facial expressions rather than dialogue tell much of the story. Steven Yeun, part of The Walking Dead’s 2016 season, silently captures Jacob’s obstinance and frustration as he deliberately puts his family through hardships that seem unnecessary to them. Alan Kim proves engaging as the family’s youngest, a boy suffering from a heart condition. Meanwhile, Yuh-jung Youn stands out as the kind of grandmother many recognize, a woman whose life experience makes her try to correct areas where the kids go wrong.
Grandma’s input includes harvesting minari, an herb with a parsley flavor used to spice Korean food. Like the minari grandma discovers, the Yi family can take root and flourish in a challenging environment. As a film, Minari absolutely flourishes, emanating a sweet freshness that sets it apart as a distinct reminder that the world is full of many flavors. Minari opened in theaters, with a February 26th streaming date.