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Film / Minari

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"Remember what we said when we got married? That we'd move to America and save each other? Instead of saving each other, all we did was fight."

Minari is a 2020 dramedy written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung.

It is a semi-autobiographical take take on Chung's childhood growing up on a farm in Arkansas. The story is set in the 1980s and follows Korean-Americans Jacob and Monica Yi (Steven Yeun and Han Ye-ri), who have come to Arkansas along with their children Anne and David. After years working in California sexing chickens, Jacob grew weary of being a wage slave and moved the family to Arkansas, where they could start a farm growing Korean produce. Monica is extremely skeptical about this plan; she generally hates living in rural redneck Arkansas, and she's specifically worried about David, who has a heart murmur. She wants to go back, but Jacob insists that they stay, and pursue their piece of the American Dream.

Will Patton plays Paul, a rather odd fellow who lives in the area and befriends the Yi family.

Minari contains examples of:

  • Based on a True Story: The film is partly based on director/writer Lee Isaac Chung's childhood, whereby he also grew up in a farm in Arkansas.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Jacob's produce gets destroyed in a fire accidentally started by Soon-ja, but the whole family has come closer together at the end of the film and there's still hope for them to find success. Specifically, Jacob should be able to sell the minari that Soon-ja planted by the river, which has come in quite nicely.
  • Blade-of-Grass Cut: Bees flitting about the tall grass. Later, close-ups of the various vegetables that Jacob is growing on his farm.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The steel drum where the family has to burn their trash, previously used for a gag when City Mice Monica and Anne are uncomfortable with it. Soon-ja, who is moving with difficulty after she suffers a stroke, accidentally drops some burning trash on the ground. It starts the fire that destroys the family's barn and most of the crop that Jacob has harvested.
  • Ching Chong: A girl comes up to Anne at a church social, says "Stop me when I say something in Korean," and actually starts off with "Ching chong" before babbling a lot of other nonsense. But when Anne tells her that she actually said the Korean word for "aunt", the white girl is thrilled.
  • City Mouse: Part of the tension between Jacob and Monica is that Monica straight-up hates living in Arkansas farm country in a trailer where you have to dig a well for water and burn your own trash. She wants to go back to California and civilization - it's implied she had a lot more friends in California (which is true - Korean-Americans are one of the biggest immigrant groups in California, especially in the eighties), and was also much more of a city girl back in Korea.
  • The City vs. the Country: Much of the movie deals with Jacob and Monica's opinions on living in Arkansas, and even their life back in Korea as a whole - Jacob is wholly optimistic about his farm and loves it a lot more than California (where he made a pittiance - Truth in Television), feeling there's greater resources and freedom, while Monica despises it - she's away from the community and friends she cherished, and the medical aid that David needs is far away. Later, the farm nearly fails after a Korean company in Dallas reneges on a deal to buy Jacob's vegetables and instead buys from California, leaving him with rotten crop and rising costs. During a moment of anger, he screams to never trust Koreans from cities.
  • Cool Old Lady: Soon-ja's cursing and gambling alone proves she's not your conventional grandmother, but she's still a good-natured woman who cares deeply for her family.
  • The Determinator: Jacob on getting his farm to thrive. To the point that he decides to focus more on his farm than his family.
  • Divorce Is Temporary: Possibly. Near the end, Monica and Jacob agree to get a divorce because their priorities about their family have become too different. They're shown sleeping alongside each other and their kids after working together to try to save the produce from the fire, hinting at possible reconciliation, but the movie ends without revealing whether or not they changed their minds.
  • Down on the Farm: Combined with Fish out of Water as a Korean-American family tries to start a farm in rural Arkansas.
  • Dowsing Device: Early in the film a local tries to get Jacob to hire him to use a dowsing rod to find a place to dig a well on the farm. Jacob dismisses this as nonsense. In the end, out of sheer desperation, he's hired the guy to find his well.
  • Ensemble Cast: David, Jacob, and Monica can all be described as leads, with the former arguably being the main character. However, focus is shifted frequently between the main cast, with no one person truly being the center of the film.
  • Hiding Behind the Language Barrier: Anne and David are finding it hard to relate to their Korean grandma Soon-ja. As the three of them walk towards the creek Anne carps in English "You know she can't even read." David agrees, saying "She isn't like a real grandma." Soon-ja manages to pick up a couple of words in David's sentence, turns around, and says in her very limited English, "You like Grandma, thank you."
  • Hope Spot: It seems the news of David's heart condition clearing up and Jacob at last finding a buyer for his wares will save the farm and the marriage. But it doesn't solve their underlying problems, especially the moment during an argument when Jacob chose the farm over his family, which convinces Monica that the marriage won't survive.
  • An Immigrant's Tale: A story of the blend of American and Korean culture as demonstrated by immigrant parents who speak Korean as their first language, and their children who were born in the United States and are more assimilated.
  • Innocently Insensitive: The white kids who come up to Anne and David at a church social. One says "stop me when I say a word in Korean" to Anne, and then starts babbling "ching chong" gibberish—but she's genuinely excited when Anne tells her she stumbled on the Korean word for "aunt". A boy comes up to David and says "why is your face so flat?" David says it isn't. Then the boy introduces himself, they make friends, and the other boy eventually invites David to his house for a sleepover.
  • Match Cut: David yanks on a stuck drawer and pulls it completely out of a chest. This is matched to a shot of Jacob, who is exhausted because of the grueling labor he's putting in on the farm, dropping a crate of baby chicks.
  • Multigenerational Household: Jacob and Monica live in a trailer with their two young children, Anne and David, and Monica's mother from Korea.
  • No Ending: The film ends after much of the crop is lost and after Jacob and Monica have one final argument where they agree to split if things go sideways. The film offers no concrete answers - is the minari crop that Soon-ja planted enough to save the farm? Will their business fail, like a thousand other immigrant hopefuls in the US?
  • Parents as People: Jacob and Monica love their children dearly, but it's clear raising them has taken a toll on the two. Monica hates being away from the city (and this isn't a selfish thing - they had much more support and a community back in California) and that Jacob is constantly spending money at a loss on the farm, while Jacob argues he's trying to provide for his family.
  • Pursue the Dream Job: Why the family is in Arkansas in the first place. Jacob, tired of sexing chickens, has a daring but risky idea to start his own farm growing Korean vegetables.
  • Real Men Love Jesus: Paul, who helps out in Jacob's farm, is a devout Christian, who even carries a wooden cross on Sundays, performs an exorcism, and speaks in tongues - it's implied he's part of the Holiness movement, which includes rural oddities like snake-handling churches. Jacob himself is a devout Protestant (accurate to Korean immigrants)
  • Title Drop: Grandma plants minari, a Korean vegetable, by the creek bed. The ending reveals that her seeds have bloomed into a bumper crop.
  • Trashy Trailer Home: Monica is horrified when she learns that their new house "has wheels", and it's one of the main things she complains about to Jacob. When her mother comes to stay, she uses the trailer as a primary example of why she's ashamed that her mother can see "how they live now".
  • When You Coming Home, Dad?: Jacob is so obsessed with his dream job as a farmer that he's willing to let his family move back to California without him.