Friday, January 31, 2020

Sundance with Abe: Minari

I’m thrilled to be attending and covering the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah for the seventh time. I’m seeing as many movies as I can each day and will post reviews of each as I can, as well as video reviews uploaded to YouTube.

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung
U.S. Dramatic Competition

Immigrants in America are a frequent focus of cinema, particularly when it comes to the Sundance Film Festival. Each country and culture brings with it different elements and challenges, highlighted ever so starkly when compared to the traditionally American way of doing things. Prosperity is assuredly not immediate, and those who have worked in well-paying and high-ranking jobs may be relegated to manual labor and basic tasks to earn a living. What they maintain of their old lives serves as a tether that keeps them going, determined to succeed, even if the road there is long and difficult.

Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Han Yeri) move from California to Arkansas with their children Annie (Noel Cho) and David (Alan Kim). Jacob plans to have a vast garden where he will grow Korean vegetables with the help of eccentric war veteran Paul (Will Patton), while both parents work at a local chicken hatchery. When Monica’s mother Soonja (Yuh Jung Youn) comes to America and joins them, David begins acting out because he doesn’t think she acts like a real grandmother. As the family lives together in close quarters with only distant neighbors, they begin to wonder whether the American dream is both attainable and worth it.

Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung based much on this film on his own experience growing up in Arkansas as the child of Korean immigrants. The authenticity comes through in this endearing portrait of a family trying to adjust, plagued far more by boredom and isolation than any sort of discrimination. Jacob’s devotion to his big business idea also serves as a source of conflict between him and Monica, who spends more time on caring for David’s heart condition and working to be extremely efficient in a work environment that doesn’t demand the same speed and productivity she grew accustomed to in Korea.

The cast here is exceptional, led by Yeun, best known for “The Walking Dead” and “Burning,” who turns in a reserved performance as a patriarch committed to providing for his family. Youn is entertaining as Soonja, providing plenty of welcome humor in her commentary on the distinction between American and Korean valued. The real breakout is Kim, who steals all of his scenes as a selectively precocious child. This film is an affirming and affecting story of hard work and unpredictability, tied together compellingly by great characters and a very worthwhile story.


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