Minari is a film with a bit of controversy around it – most of the dialogue is spoken in Korean, so the Academy is not sure how to pigeonhole Lee Isaac Chung’s work, despite those involved proudly proclaiming Minari as distinctly American cinema. But the Academy will get analysed by those far more invested than I. I like Minari on its own merits, not just because it’s frustrating the tastemaker-on-life-support sensibilities of the Academy.
Minari is about the American Dream, and the sacrifices made in support of one’s family in order to claim a piece of that dream for themselves. The cast is perfectly decided – Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Youn Yuh-jung and Will Patton each play their parts with the beautiful faith central to the story. Despite being an American film, it does lovingly borrow some classic Korean cinema tropes. It is family-centric, about as subtle as a Looney Tunes anvil, and is an intensely emotional experience from the moment Yeun and Ye-ri first hint that their youngest son has some issues that threaten to blot Yeun’s dream of self-sufficiency.
I am extremely dense with subtext! It did not occur to me until the final moments that Minari is about much more than the Dream and one’s ties to family, it is as much of an exploration about faith, religious or secular. Most sentimentally, it’s about what it means to ask others to have faith in you, and the lessons we go through in building that faith over time.