Why "Minari" is a Must See

Minari is the story of a Korean American family as they seek a new life in rural Arkansas inspired by director Isaac Cheung’s upbringing. Jacob Yi, played by Steven Yeun, moves his family, which includes his wife, Monica, and two kids, Anne and David, from California to Arkansas to live in a motorhome and start a farm. Monica (Han Ye-ri), sorts chicks while her mother (Youn Yuh Jung) takes care of Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and her younger brother David (Alan Kim). Together, the family experiences trials and tribulations as they pursue the American dream. Minari explores the ideas of cultural identity, family, and what it means to be a true American. 

One character of specific importance is the grandmother who the kids call Halmeoni. She flies out to Arkansas from South Korea to help the family selling all of her belongings to afford the trip. She led a difficult life. Her husband died in the Korean War, and she worked hard to provide for her children. Halmeoni is met with disdain from David who is less than enthused to share his room with his grandma who “smells like Korea.” David disapproves of his Halmeoni’s swearing and the fact that she doesn’t bake cookies like normal grandmas. Despite his resistance, Halmeoni dotes on him, and they become close. Later in the movie, Halmeoni suffers from a stroke and is left partially paralyzed, but she still tries her hardest to help around the house. While the family is out making a business deal, Halmeoni hobbles outside to light the trash on fire. The flame escapes the trash can and quickly ignites the dry grass below, eventually spreading to the shed where the crops are stored. Halmeoni watches in horror as the shed is engulfed in fire, and she walks away in shame implying that she would not be returning. David and Anne run out to find her, yelling “Halmeoni!” in the darkness. The kids persuade their grandmother to come back, and they hold her arms as they guide her. 

Minari is especially relevant today. We’re witnessing an increase in anti-Asian hate crimes, specifically targeting the elderly. Vicha Ratanapakdee (84) was beaten to death in broad daylight in San Francisco. Noel Quintana (61) was slashed across the face on a subway in New York City. Yng Ngov (56) was robbed and beaten unconscious outside of her pizzeria in Pennsylvania. Nancy Toh (83) was spit on and punched in the face, knocking her unconscious in New York. Minari’s portrayal of Halmeoni was nothing out of the ordinary. Many Asian elders have experienced similar lives, persisting through challenges and sacrificing the comforts of home for a new life. I thought of my grandparents, who immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea with my young father and his two siblings having to learn English on their own. In Asian culture, it is a virtue to keep your head down and not complain even in the face of hardship. For years, the Asian community has silently endured racism and hatred from Americans, and the coronavirus pandemic manifested harmful thoughts into deadly action. Minari shares valuable insight into the life of elderly Asian Americans, providing a face for all the victims that have suffered from hate crimes this year. It seems especially cruel that the elderly are being targeted because they’re the ones who already risked so much to become Americans, only to be spit on and killed in the streets while living quietly.