To be truthful Minari, a story of a Korean American family that moves to rural America for a better life is an experience that loses its validity veracity and vibrancy in the description. So the best advice is to watch the film instead of reading about it. You will come out of it a better human being. There are no blacks and whites in Minari, only real people who speak to one another in Korean but are American. These are immigrants who have moved far away from their roots and are not quite sure if their adopted home has any real place for them. But the film is not a dark immigrants’ story. It is remarkably lighthearted and at times, killingly funny.
The core of the drama is the Korean family consisting of Jacob (Steven Yeun) his wife Monica (Yeri Han), daughter Soonja and son David. We meet the family when they make the move to Arkansas. Their new home is a commodious trailer and little son David cannot get over the wonder of living in a home with wheels. The adventure of an undefined future often blurs into a hazy bundle of contradictory emotions, as the two children have to deal with their parents’ heated arguments by throwing paper planes at their parents with ‘Don’t Fight’ written on them. Into the life of uncertainty comes Monica’s mother. Little David’s excitement about meeting Grandma soon evaporates and turns into a kind of muted horror when he realizes she is nothing like what a grandmother is supposed to be. She watches endless wrestling on television and encourages her grandchildren to be unruly when their parents are out. She even talks about David’s “damaged penis” since he wets his bed.
“It’s not my penis. It’s my dingdong,” the exasperated 5-year old corrects his ungrandmotherly grandmother who insists on pulling his cheeks and calling him “pretty boy”. David’s scenes with his grandma are the heart of this heartwarming film. And both the actors Alan S Kim and Youn Yuh Jung are delightful although the latter is a good 75 years the former’s senior. Their chemistry is a joy to behold.
Somehow the rest of the film’s not-irrelevant dramatic conflicts pale into shades of insignificance when David and his grandmother are not around. The kindness of the closely-knit farming community (no hint of a racial bias here except for the curious kids asking David silly questions about his culture), the eccentricity of a farmer from the neighbouring farm and a major catastrophe at the end, couldn’t convince me that this remarkable film was written for any other reason than to celebrate the little boy’s experiences with his grandmother, who refuses to behave like a grandmother in a film that has the characters speak Korean but refuses to be categorized as Korean.
Directed by Lee Isaac Chung, Minari gets 3 and a half stars.
Image source: Instagram/minarimovie,youtube/A24/Madmanfilms
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