The Reel Review


A family of Korean immigrants start a farm in 1980s Arkansas, in this semi-autobiographical drama from writer/director Lee Isaac Chung. Minari explores such topics as loneliness, isolation, and masculine pride and duty. Minari, by the way, is a popular Korean watercress that is one of the ingredients in bibimbap, and under optimal conditions, grows at an astonishingly quick pace.

Alex S. Kim and Steven Yeun in Minari.

Minari is an intimate story about a family undergoing upheaval – not only the obvious culture clash between their Korean heritage and their new rural American life, but an even larger one, involving the entire family’s uncertain future and a resetting of expectations about what their new life will be. It is a slow moving but impactful story for anyone who has struggled with the disorientation associated with major life change.

Han Ye-ri and Steven Yeun in Minari.

Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead, Burning) and Han Ye-ri (Haemoo) both give stellar, nuanced performances as the couple trying to sort out their future. But it is Youn Yuh-jung, as their grandma who arrives from South Korea to help raise the children, who steals the show with her sunny, make-the-most-of-each-day attitude and different approach to farming.

Minari is a subtle, thought-provoking film about how we create the place we call home. Although a bit more clarity would have really made its unambiguous final message more clear, even so, the film will still linger, and like minari, grow on you long after you see it.


• Lee Isaac Chung says he wrote Minari as one final screenplay before he was to start a new career as a teacher. He says he was inspired by American novelist Willa Cather, whose success began when she stopped trying to emulate writers she admired and started to remember and write about her own experiences.

• Although it won the 2021 Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, Minari’s exclusion from being considered in the Best Picture category, because more than half of its dialogue is not in English, has sparked claims of discrimination by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. Minari IS eligible to compete for a Best Picture Oscar.

Alan S. Kim and Youn Yuh-jung in Minari.

• Youn Yuh-jung quit acting at the peak of her career when she married singer Jo Young-nam in 1975 and moved to Indiana then Florida, returning to Korea in 1984 to resume her acting career in middle age. She has starred in such films as 2003’s A Good Lawyer’s Wife, 2010’s The Housemaid, 2012’s The Taste of Money and 2016’s The Bacchus Lady. 


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