Advertisement
Film

Minari makes America seem like a land of opportunity again

A family’s move from California to become farmers in rural Arkansas is an absorbing and heartwarming depiction of the American dream, says Graeme Virtue

Crop irrigation and the fine art of chick sexing might not sound like promising cinematic ingredients. But in the hands of writer/director Lee Isaac Chung, these prosaic rituals become part of something quite magical.

Minari is his semi-autobiographical story of a Korean-American family attempting to become farmers in rural Arkansas in the 1980s. We join them as they roll up to their new home: a battered trailer in a remote, scraggly-looking field. Dad Jacob (Steven Yeun) practically vibrates with enthusiasm over “the best dirt in America”; the brittle body language of mum Monica (Yeri Han) tells you all you need to know about her feelings. Their two young kids Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan S Kim) simply see a huge mucky playground.

It’s a fresh start but a precarious one. After years in California spent gazing at chicks’ backsides to determine whether they were male or female, the couple saved up a decent nest egg. Now the plan is for Jacob to raise vegetables on their expansive plot despite knowing nothing about farming (poor Monica has to stick to sexing chicks). For young David, who has a heart condition, living so far from a hospital also seems risky.

As childcare becomes a pressing issue, the arrival of Monica’s mum Soon-ja (Yuh-jung Youn) from Korea further stirs the pot. David suddenly has to share his cramped room with this mysterious, cackling pensioner who seems far removed from his idea of a stereotypical American grandma. Slowly the mismatched pair develop a cultural exchange: he introduces her to sugary but addictive Mountain Dew while she teaches him cards and some colourful curses.

The family mostly speak in Korean but their interactions – and underlying tensions – seem so universal and familiar that the subtitles practically melt away. It is impossible not to become invested in their struggle to make things work.

Advertisement
Advertisement

This deeply personal tale, captured in understated but gorgeously gauzy cinematography, makes America seem like a land of genuine opportunity again. As he goes about his gruelling work, Jacob sports a tattered red baseball cap, a subtle repudiation of Trump’s wretched and insular MAGA project. It is just one heartwarming grace note in a film overflowing with them.

Four stars out of five

Minari is on VOD from April 2

Lockdowns have taken income away from hundreds of Big Issue sellers. Support The Big Issue and our vendors by signing up for a subscription.

Advertisement

Support your local vendor

Want to buy a copy of the magazine? We have over 1,200 Big Issue vendors in the UK. Each vendor buys a copy of the mag for £1.50 and sells it for £3, keeping the difference. Visit our interactive map to find your nearest vendor and support them today!

Recommended for you

Read All
Elvis review: The paradox of American myth-making
Film

Elvis review: The paradox of American myth-making

Top songs: a guide to Tom Cruise singing cheesy tunes in movies
Film

Top songs: a guide to Tom Cruise singing cheesy tunes in movies

The Lost Girls: 'This movie represents my own process of growing up'
Film

The Lost Girls: 'This movie represents my own process of growing up'

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a radical reminder that older women are sexual beings
Film

Good Luck to You, Leo Grande is a radical reminder that older women are sexual beings

Most Popular

Read All
Exclusive: BT call centre sets up 'food bank' for its own staff
1.

Exclusive: BT call centre sets up 'food bank' for its own staff

Prince William: 'Why I wanted to work with The Big Issue'
2.

Prince William: 'Why I wanted to work with The Big Issue'

Rainn Wilson emailed Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to say Harry Mudd would 'fit right in'
3.

Rainn Wilson emailed Star Trek: Strange New Worlds to say Harry Mudd would 'fit right in'

The UK approach to replacing the Human Rights Act is just as worrying as the replacement itself
4.

The UK approach to replacing the Human Rights Act is just as worrying as the replacement itself

Keep up to date with The Big Issue. The leading voice on life, politics, culture and social activism direct to your inbox.