Lee Isaac Chung’s film Minari is an autobiographical film that genuinely incorporated a warm, empathetic tone throughout the film. Minari portrays a moving experience for immigrants from all over the world living in America. Chung shares a powerful flashback from his own childhood of his own parents who also migrated from South Korea to a rural area in Arkansas. The story centers around two of the main characters, David, who plays the 7-year old son, and his grandma, who joins the family of four after they arrive and settle in their trailer on the farm. In hopes for a better life and their own American dream, they begin farming in order to create a rich harvest for survival.
We see the story take form through David’s eyes as his father brings their family to a neglected field in Arkansas with hopes of turning the field into a prosperous farm in the 1980s. Both Jacob and Monica, parents of David, work as chicken sexers – something Jacob describes as “staring at butts all day” although he is committed to working hard and making a success out of this small start. Despite Monica and David’s constant arguments about whether or not they would survive on this land, it’s heartwarming to see how Lee Isaac Chung avoided pity and sadness for the kids as they brush it off by throwing paper airplanes to their parents with the words “don’t fight” written. Monica wished to move back to California where they weren’t so isolated from people and in hopes to make her feel better and at home, Jacob invites Monica’s mother to join them in Arkansas. Grandma was one of the characters everyone seemed to love due to her graceful attitude as she calls their trailer home “fun” because of the wheels. Initially, David seems to dislike Grandma because she isn’t how they portray grandmas in movies – one who bakes cookies. Instead, Grandma likes to lie around in mens boxers, play board games, and drink Mountain Dew. After various witty incidents, they soon start to bond as Grandma and David secretly plant the Korean herb minari in the fields.
Ups and Downs
As the story progresses, we realize the unfortunate complications the family faces throughout the movie. David has a severe heart problem that forbids him from partaking in activities that get his heart racing. Being a young boy, David loves to run around and play which would only risk his condition in worsening. Our favorite chatty Grandma suffers a terrible stroke where she loses her ability to speak, yet still manages to reveal her kindly soul through an empty stare as she watches her family sleep on the floor together. David and Monica battle with their struggles, reminding themselves of the promise they made each other of going to America and saving themselves. In the end, it is the grandma who truly saves the family because of her secret planting of the minari in the fields after all of David and Monica’s hard work is burnt into ashes in an accident.
The Beautiful Ending
Lee Isaac Chung creates this wholesome love letter to his own family as he shares the similar life and struggles they experienced as Koreans who migrated to a small state in America. This beautiful portrayal of a family in flux relates to Chung’s own experiences of his father’s stubbornness and commitment to create a stable, happy life for his family, the isolation his family experienced in rural Arkansas, but all of the love, forgiveness, and understanding that comes with it all ending with a bond now forever powerful. At the end of the film, the family face a terrible accident that is immediately followed with great news, granted by Grandma herself. In the final scene, on a brand new day following the incident, David and Jacob stroll through the fields to the creek to harvest the minari – finding that it had grown successfully, filling their lives with hope once again.