COMMUNITY MOVIE REVIEW
Written by an Ambassador of BE SEEN
Minari, a strikingly intimate portrait of Korean American life, is an immigrant story that anyone can relate to. The movie follows a Korean American family, the Yi family, who consists of the father, Jacob (Steven Yeun), the mother, Monica (Yeri Han), the son David (Alan Kim), daughter, Anne (Noel Cho), and grandma, Soon-Ja (Youn Yuh-jung).
Minari finds a happy medium between Korean and American life – carefully illustrating the intersections of both identities. This film is filled with simple meanings that require the audience to pay close attention to the tenderness of family love while they face obstacles from the outside world. Rather than explicitly and blatantly showcasing the conflicting struggles between Asian and American identity, the movie reveals the families’ identities as they are.
As a Vietnamese-American, I was initially drawn to the movie because of childhood nostalgia. I am amazed at how the director was able to evoke powerful emotions from a simple story that follows the daily routine of the Yi family. I felt a strong connection to the storyline. These connections were portrayed in the home-cooked meals, intermixing of two languages, microaggressions from others, and learning to accept both cultural identities. There was also a deep appreciation for my parents as I watched the interaction between Monica and Jacob. The scenes where they expressed their doubts and fears made me rethink my own relationship with my mom and dad. When I was younger, I saw my parents as invincible, however, now in my mid-twenties, I can comprehend how human they are. For me, the biggest takeaway would be the shift in perspective as the plot unravels the experience of many immigrant families.
Even though I don’t identify as a Korean American, I found that Minari paints an incredibly realistic picture of immigration to the United States. It isn’t pretty or romanticized. The “American Dream” isn’t as dreamy as it could be. Instead, Lee Isaac Chung chose to focus on the slow, consistent realities of being an immigrant – the highs, the lows, and the mundane. Chung carefully weaves Korean and American culture throughout the movie, in ways that only immigrants can understand.
In particular, minari, a plant commonly used in Korean dishes, is known for its resilience. The viewers aren’t introduced to minari until the family’s grandmother moves in with the family. While Jacob works relentlessly to plant, water, and grow Korean crops, the grandmother thoughtlessly plants minari seeds by a nearby creek. The plants grow on their own, spreading like weeds. What many people don’t know is that minari is best used as its second crop, after the first crop is cut off. Chung uses minari as a powerful metaphor to demonstrate the sacrifices that many first-generation immigrants make for their children to thrive in a new country. The story revolves around the perseverance of the Yi family moving away from their home country to chase after the American Dream.
Every interaction leads up to understanding the generational gaps between parent and child, poverty as a first-generation immigrant, and racism in a rural city in the 1980s. The Yi family took great risks to move to Arkansas. Throughout the movie, the parents constantly remind themselves why they chose to leave Korea and California. Their relationship is a reminder of the reality of the American Dream – a shared struggle.
The movie doesn’t overhype the Asian American identity to emphasize representation – something that many movies in the 21st-century miss. While movies such as Crazy Rich Asians broadly introduce the U.S. movie scene to Asian American identity, Minari takes a completely different direction. The story is much more universal, with themes that anyone can understand. It accepts the family’s identities as both Asian and American, without questioning either and without setting higher expectations for their representational value. The result is a jarringly realistic depiction of life in the Midwest as an Asian-American.
I would highly recommend watching Minari. The movie gives a beautiful glimpse into the Asian American journey across generations. For many Asian Americans, this is a moment to feel seen as main characters – not overdramatized or gaudy – it’s a moment to bask in the everyday beauties of our struggles. For immigrants, Minari strikes a tone of perseverance, courage, and risk-taking that many can relate to. But most of all, Minari carves out a timeless tale of familial love and the sacrifices we take to make our dreams come true.