Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan Kim, Noel Cho, Youn Yuh-jung
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What might have been mere soapie melodrama becomes something more substantial because of the finer details…
Set in Arkansas during the Reagan years – but essentially timeless given its look, setting and primal themes – this is an engaging drama about a family who’ve left Korea in search of a better life. Having fallen decidedly short of that in California, they move to a new home (a large trailer house on wheels) on “a big piece of land”. For the foreseeable future, would-be farmer Jacob (Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica (Yeri Han) must continue working as chicken sexers. Neither of them is thrilled at this prospect, but their differing attitudes to the situation are a source of considerable discord. Then there are their daughter Anne (Noel Cho) and son David (Alan Kim) – and David’s chronic heart problem…
Into this volatile and fragile mix comes Monica’s elderly mother Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung), who is mildly eccentric and incongruously coarse but well intentioned. There’s a quorum of subsidiary local characters, and a nice line in gentle humour at the expense of the irrationality and idiosyncrasies – or idiocies, depending on your attitude to these things – of both the Bible Belt and mainstream American culture in general.
Minari is a rather simple story, but successful in its own limited terms and sometimes really droll. What might have been mere soapie melodrama becomes something more substantial because of the finer details, and largely avoids mawkishness. The style is clear and the tone is sparse. It’s well told, particularly well acted and – in at least one key scene – very moving.