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Minari: One of the Best Films of 2020

January 3, 2021

Grade – A – Minari is an excellent film that hopefully will connect with a larger audience during awards season. I’d love to see it get a Best Picture nod at the Academy Awards.

Directed and written by Lee Isaac Chung, Minari is one of the best films released in 2020, and it totally deserves its 100% Tomatometer score on Rotten Tomatoes. The semi-autobiographical film set in the 1980s, focuses on a family moving from San Francisco to Arkansas (it has great dirt), so they can own land, own a double-wide trailer, and achieve their own “American Dream.” In San Francisco, Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Han Ye-ri) worked as chicken sexers (they sort them by their gender), which provided a steady income, but wasn’t enough for them to save or improve their living situation or give their kids David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Cho) a chance at going to a college without accruing maximum debt. So, they pack up, and move to Arkansas in hopes of starting a farm. After a rough start, Monica’s mother Soonja (an excellent Youn Yuh-jung) moves in, and things start to get super interesting as relationships strain and strengthen as the family gets used to living in the Arkansas country. 

Problems arise as the thrifty Jacob refuses to pay money to dig a proper well, which forces him to dig speculative holes that leave him unable to lift his arms high enough to take off his shirt. Since these holes can’t be relied upon to keep water running, he starts watering his crops by illegally using city water in the late-hours of the night. Refreshingly, he’s never caught, and the drama comes from the marital strain between Jacob and Monica, who are at justifiable odds over the move. What’s nice is how their troubles feel relatable, and neither one is villainized as they struggle to connect in their new surroundings. Another welcome element is how Chung draws from his experiences living in Arkansas, and doesn’t villainize the locals who are occasionally ignorant, but never outright malicious towards the newest town residents. 

The highlight of the film is the relationship between grandma Soonja and young David. David doesn’t like Soonja because she smells Korean (even though he’s never been there), and doesn’t act like a traditional grandma who should be coddling her grandson. Instead, she loves watching wrestling, drinking Mountain Dew, and planting minari crops alongside a local creek. Eventually, the two bond and form a nice duo that give us some of the best moments of 2020. One of the highlights revolves around Soonja warning David about throwing rocks at snakes while they’re working the minari crop by the stream. She tells him that it’s better to see the snakes, instead of being surprised by them, which is pretty great advice. 

What follows is a lovely film that is patient, memorable and very likable. The performances by the cast are all around excellent, and the standouts are Youn Yuh-jung and Will Patton, who plays Paul, the local farm hand. It’s neat watching them break free from boring stereotypes (stock Grandma, strict christain), and provide welcome humanity to characters who are 100% unique and likable. 

Minari is an excellent film, and I totally recommend you check it out whenever you get a chance.

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