Saturday, February 27, 2021


First generation immigrants Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Han Ye-Ri) decide to move from California to Arkansas. After years of chick sexing, he invests their savings in a plot of land he intends to turn into a farm growing Korean produce. She is not so comfortable with the idea of relocating to a small town, even more so with the delicate heart condition of their young son David (Alan Kim). Faced with lack of water supply, tornado warnings, and a shift to a more conservative society, their new life is not without its challenges. It is a good thing that her mother Soon-Ja (Youn Yuh-Jung) finally follows them to the US and helps in raising the children. She brings with her some goodies and treats from the homeland, including Minari seeds which she plants in a small plot of land by the creek. The family must try hard to reconcile their traditional Korean upbringing with the conventional values of middle America.

Perhaps what is confusing about Minari to most people is how it can easily be branded as a Korean movie, which is a reasonable observation because the script is almost entirely in Korean, with the clear exception of those scenes that involve interaction with the American cast. Even then, the film’s main storyline is American to the core, that of a migrant family coming to terms with their new reality in a country that is alien to them, the prototype of the contemporary American dream.

But this is a good move, to be honest, even more so when you juxtapose it to the silent plight of Asian-Americans in the US. Name a film or a TV series aside from The Joy Luck Club or Fresh Off the Boat that actually tackles the origin of the Asian diaspora in the United States. You probably won’t be able to quickly name anything off the top of your head. Why so? Because this sector of society is underrepresented at best, and most people probably assume that these migrants have always just been there.

As for the specifics of how and when, most of them don’t really care. That might be a good case of indifference, but it sets a dangerous precedent. The natural reaction of society to something or someone it doesn’t understand is animosity. Nowadays, that easily escalates to violence. With more films like this being released, at least we can begin to hope that somehow it will foster a better understanding of the Asian-American origin story in the context of US society. That way, racial violence will hopefully decrease over time.

Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. But then again, cinema is always open to various interpretations. For most of us at the outside looking in, it is always an educational experience to learn about the struggles of first-generation immigrants in a country where they are always portrayed via mere stereotypes. For those who belong to that demographic and living that reality, it’s one step forward to being recognized as an integral part of society and eventually being deemed as not an “other.” While this particular narrative is specifically Korean, getting it out there does pave the way for others to follow suit.

Acting-wise, Yeun and Youn got lucky to be recognized in the awards circuit for their performance. For Yeun, his nominations are already the win, riding the wave of the call for diversity in the industry. Youn, on the other hand, is the bright spot in the rather gloomy overall ambiance of the film. In contrast to Glenn Close’s similar role in Hillbilly Elegy, Youn has the advantage of bringing to life the clash of cultures this narrative entails, making her character more interesting despite the profile being mostly similar.

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