May 10, 2021

Film review: ‘Minari’ tugs at the heartstrings while celebrating the American dream

Strong performances propel this tale of a Korean immigrant family

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“Minari” is probably the most accessible subtitled film that you’ll ever watch. Although mostly in Korean, the film has a universal appeal. It’s about family. It’s about hard times. And it’s about love.

“Minari,” written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, follows a Korean immigrant family that moves from California to rural Arkansas in hopes of starting a farm that will help them fulfill the American dream.

Steven Yeun of “The Walking Dead” stars as the father, Jacob Yi, who thinks he will be able to grow Asian vegetables to sell to Asian community stores in Arkansas. His wife, Monica (Yeri Han) isn’t too thrilled to be thrust into mobile home in the middle of nowhere, with her two children, Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan Kim).

To make ends meet while planning their first crops, the father and mother go to work in a chicken factory, where they sort young chicks by sex. The visualization of this is rather funny, but it’s no secret that both parents aren’t thrilled with the job.

Back at the ranch, so to speak, the 7-year-old Kim, playing David, steals most of the early scenes. He has a heart murmur and has to avoid rowdy play, but he follows his dad around in the search for water sources and other chores. He’s the essence of cuteness. And he has a mischievous streak.



Before long, the mother announces that her mother — Soonja (Youn Yug-jung) — is coming to live with them. And it’s not like there’s much room in the mobile home. So the mother also announces that Soonja will share David’s room.

David is not amused, and he is ready to resist any attempts my his grandmother to be friends. The grandmother, however, is no pushover, as David soon discovers. Before long, the audience will realize that the struggle to build a farm is taking a back seat to the struggle between two forces of nature — the child and the granny.

I watched this movie with a person who disdains subtitles. But “Minari” had this guy laughing — and fully engaged.

It’s a sweet tale about an immigrant family that’s pursuing a dream. And if you’re wondering about the title, Minari is an Asian vegetable, similar to parsley, that grows well near creeks.

The grandmother has smuggled the Asian vegetable into the country and decides to begin her own secret garden, with David being her helper.

Amid all of these family mini-dramas, the father makes friends with a neighbor and so-called water-witcher who uses a stick to locate the best spot for a well. Will Patton plays the neighbor, who’s also an evangelical who makes a pilgrimage along the rural roads with a cross on his back.

If it sounds like “Minari” is riddled with clichés, then I’m giving you the wrong impression. The storytelling is sophisticated, and the acting is superb.

“Minari” is sure to be a contender for multiple Oscars. It’s the kind of movie that audiences love, and it’s a timely ode to the American dream in a time of deep division.

In Austin, it’s playing in several theaters as well as streaming on the Austin Film Society’s website, austinfilm.org, or at afsathome.org.

In theaters, it’s playing at the Tinseltown 20, Hill Country Galleria 14, Cinemark Cedar Park 12, Moviehouse & Eatery and the iPic at the Domain.


Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy
Charles Ealy is a former movies editor for The Dallas Morning News and Austin American-Statesman.

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