A24’s ‘Minari’ & the Asian-American Experience

American entertainment company A24’s latest film comes from the creative mind and authentic experience of Korean-American director and screenwriter Lee Issac Chung. Starring Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, and Will Patton, Minari is a semi-autobiographical story of Chung’s very own experience growing up in 1980s rural Arkansas. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival on January 26, 2020 and won both the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award, and it was recently nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film (Golden Globe Awards)Minari released theatrically starting Friday, Feb. 12th, but I had the wonderful invitation to screen the film the night before theatrical release, in addition to watching special Q&A with Chung and Jeff Nichols, a director, screenwriter, and Arkansas native. A very special thanks to A24 and A24 x UGA intern Taylor Potter, a fellow Grady student and Her Campus contributor, for this amazing opportunity!

What is 'Minari' About?

Ever since I first saw the trailer many months ago, I knew that I absolutely needed to watch it and was not disappointed in the slightest when I finally did. This movie made me laugh, cry, gasp—I felt all of the emotions. In the film, Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) decides to pick up his family and move from California to Arkansas in order to start a farm growing Korean fruits and vegetables. Before the move, Jacob and his wife Monica (Yeri Han) worked as chicken sexers in California, an extremely monotonous job that left them with nothing to show for it after ten years of working there.

Once in Arkansas, Jacob finds a local hatchery where he and Monica work as he tries to get their new farm up and running. This is a long process, including everything from declining the help of a local water diviner and digging up his own well to enlisting the help of Paul (Will Patton), a local man who is extremely religious and a bit eccentric. Monica finds their new plot of land and trailer home less than ideal, and she struggles to make connections with the few Korean-Americans in town.

Meanwhile, Jacob and Monica’s children, David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Kate Cho), find their new environment both mysterious and exciting, treating it as a playground to explore. David has a heart murmur, and his parents constantly worry for his safety because their new home is far from a hospital. Being both lonely and also wanting someone to look after the kids while away at work, Monica invites her mother Soonja over from South Korea. Soonja (Youn Yuh Jung) is wild and foul-mouthed, yet loving, and David is initially unhappy that he has to share a room with her. Despite the fact that he describes her as “not a real grandma” and complains that she “smells like Korea,” David and Soonja’s relationship grows as she’s the only one who really allows him to run around and be a kid, unlike his smothering mom. Soonja even plants her own patch of minari alongside a creek by their land, tending to it with David by her side. Throughout the film, Jacob and Monica constantly bicker in front of their children and Soonja. We follow the Yi family as they adapt to Arkansas life and overcome obstacles both environmentally and within themselves.

What Did I Think of the Film?

According to A24, Minari is “a tender and sweeping story about what roots us” and “shows the undeniable resilience of family and what really makes a home.” I loved Minari not just for the simple fact that it was directed and written by an Asian-American or that it told the story of the Asian-American experience using a cast of predominantly Asian actors and actresses who absolutely nailed their roles, but mostly for the fact that it made me feel something. The cinematography and shots of the landscapes as well as the portrayals of the emotions that the characters were going through made me think and feel. Alan S. Kim’s acting as David made me laugh so much it hurt, while the chemistry between Steven Yeun and Yeri Han as Jacob and Monica had me yearning for their relationship to work. And this film definitely made me think about my own life growing up Asian-American in the South.

There’s a scene where, upon Soonja’s arrival to the farm, she produces bags of chili powder and anchovies, which makes Monica tear up because of how inaccessible these products have been for her. It made me think about how, growing up, my own grandmother’s house always smelled like ginger, lemongrass, chili powder, and fish sauce. There’s another scene where Soonja tells David he’s a “pretty boy,” to which he exclaims, “I’m not pretty, I’m handsome!” which reminds me of something my grandmother told my brother when he was little and he puffed up his tiny chest and stormed off in a huff because “boys were strong, not pretty,” (as if you can’t be both!). And as an Asian-American wanting to go into media entertainment, I loved getting to watch a film featuring the Asian-American experience in an authentic, genuine way, which is something still quite rare within the industry today. Overall, Minari is a film that people of various identities and backgrounds can enjoy because it touches on subjects like family and love, while also being visually appealing with an amazing musical score.

Why Should You Watch 'Minari'?

Not only is it a great movie, but Asian-Americans could use a lot of love right now considering the violence affecting our community daily. Ever since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, violent hate crimes against Asians within this country have increased rapidly—especially towards elders. In an interview with NPR’s Ari Shapiro, VICE staff writer Bettina Makalintal describes how the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center reported that just within March and June 2020 alone “they recorded over 2,100 hate incidents against Asian Americans." According to CBS News, in 2020, “New York City alone had an 867% increase in Asian hate crime victims compared to the year before."

These violent attacks have been increasing and becoming more violent within just these past few weeks. On January 28, 84-year-old Thai-American Vicha Ratanapakdee was taking his routine morning walk in San Francisco when he was violently pushed to the ground by 19-year-old Antoine Watson, and he later died from his injuries. On January 30, a 91-year-old Asian man in Chinatown in Oakland was forcefully pushed to the ground by an unknown attacker, causing a massive uproar in Oakland and a rallying cry from the community to band together and demand justice. Actress Olivia Munn took to social media to voice her outrage about all the violence and called for support on behalf of the Asian-American community. The writing of this article coincides with the Lunar New Year, which is a huge part of Asian culture. The fact that all this has been going on in the country and I just watched such a beautiful film highlighting the Asian-American experience really made me feel emotional. It’s so nice to watch something, as much as it also has its fair share of turmoil and heartbreak, that paints Asians in a strong, resilient light.

Thanks again to A24 and Taylor Potter for providing me an opportunity to watch Lee Isaac Chung’s extraordinary film. Minari is availabile in select theaters Friday, February 12 and available for Premium Video on Demand (PVOD) starting Friday, February 26. For more information about the film and its PVOD release, feel free to visit https://a24films.com/films/minari. And for all of you UGA folks, A24 is looking to have campus screening this coming March, so stay tuned! If you want a genuine-feeling story that'll make you both laugh out loud and emotionally connect you with its characters, then I highly encourage you to go watch Minari. (And grab a glass of Mountain Dew while you're at it!)

 

Below is a list of relevant news articles and resources for information and ways to help out the Asian-American community: