Travels With JB

Travels With JB

Travel news and reviews

Moving your family from suburban California to rural Arkansas during the 1980s would have been challenging enough for any family.

The cast of Minari, from left, Steven Yeun, Alan Kim, Yuh-Jung Youn, Yeri Han, Noel Cho. Photo Credit: Josh Ethan Johnson/A24

But when that family is Korean/American and includes a child with a weak heart then there are even more challenges and conflict.

Most of the conflict in the movie Minari occurs between Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica (Yeri Han).

Monica has her doubts about the wisdom of Jacob’s decision to move their family to follow his dream of owning a farm, growing Korean vegetables.

Yeri Han and Steven Yeun. Photo credit: Josh Ethan Johnson/A24

These doubts escalate when Monica and her children, 12-year-old Anne (Noel Cho) and 7-year-old David (Alan Kim), arrive at the property – “50 acres of good American dirt”, to quote Jacob.

The farm is kilometres from any town and even more shocking for Monica is the accommodation – a very basic trailer home.

David’s health issue – a heart murmur – adds to her concerns. To support their farm and family, Jacob and Monica continue the work they undertook in California – sexing baby chickens. Jacob is a whiz at this, while Monica is far slower, which impacted on her job security in California.

The more money Jacob pours into the farm, the more Monica worries and pushes to return to California.
Alan Kim and  Yuh-Jung Youn. Photo credit: Josh Ethan Johnson/A24

Conflict also occurs when Monica’s war-widowed mother, Soonja  (Yuh-Jung Youn ), arrives from Korea to help the family, especially her mischievous and observant grandson David.

Soonja, who doesn’t speak English, is not what American born and raised David is expecting or wanting. Instead of baking cookies, this granny gives David foul-tasting liquids to drink; she also swears, plays cards aggressively, loves television wrestling and teases him.

Much of the Yis’ story is told from David’s perspective, which isn’t surprising considering Minari is drawn from the childhood of the film’s writer-director, Lee Isaac Chung. His family moved to Arkansas in the 1980s to make a go of farming and his grandmother also looked after the family.

The interaction between David and Soonja is one of the joys of the movie and provides its comic moments thanks to the impressive acting of Alan Kim and  Yuh-Jung Youn. Both Yeun and Han are very believable as Jacob and Monica. Will Patton gives a wonderful performance as Jacob’s employee Paul – an evangelical Christian who regularly praises Jesus.

Will Patton and  Steven Yeun. Photo credit: Melissa Lukenbaugh/A24

Apart from Paul, the family has limited dealings with other members of the community. The children attend Sunday school but there’s no mention of them going to school. And while David is questioned about his appearance (the only sign of any community insensitivity) both make friends. It’s Monica who seems the loneliest.

Minari (which takes its name from a Korean herb that thrives if given time) is very much the story of a family’s personal journey.  While Jacob and Monica disagree on their future and life is tough, it’s clear they both have their family’s best interests at heart.

It’s easy to understand why this slowly unfolding, authentic-feeling movie won dramatic grand jury and audience awards at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. It has also been nominated for the Best Picture Foreign Film Golden Globe Award.

Minari releases in cinemas around Australia on Thursday February 18.



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