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Minari – Movie Review

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Minari – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Elevation Pictures

Some of the most heartfelt films can be ones about a family just living their life and connecting in their own unique ways. When handled properly, we can learn so much about them and become engaged in their story. Minari succeeds beautifully at that, especially when the grandmother enters the picture. Director/writer Lee Isaac Chung gives the film a lovely and soothing quality, while enthusing it with comedy and drama in the needed spots. Most importantly, there’s an empathy for everyone in this clan. We see the troubles they face, but Chung never goes over-the-top with the situations and finds the right tone.

The family dynamic is an important part of the film’s success. The interactions feel natural and realistic, whether it’s the parents arguing about finances or the older sister trying to teach the younger brother how to behave. Not one character feels underdeveloped and it never feels like they’re taking screen time away from the other. There is also a rooting interest in hoping the father Jacob succeeds with his farm. It’s genuinely heart breaking when things take a turn, because the audience does grow to care about the Yi family. Steven Yuen properly portrays Jacob’s desperation and Han Ye-ri is similarly sympathetic as his wife Monica.

The stand-out storyline belongs to the young son David and his interactions with the newly arrived grandmother Soon-ja. They have some humorous exchanges, as this Korean-American lad isn’t sure what to make of his Korean grandmother. Minari can be quite funny at times as Soon-ja is aware her untraditional ways are throwing him off. Chung especially handles one scene that goes from shocking to serious and then back to funny really well. It’s an example of how much he knows these characters and how they might react in a given situation. Alan Kim and Youn Yuh-jung also deserve credit for how they handle David and Soon-ja, respectively.

Noel Kate Cho similarly deserves a mention as the sister Anne. There are some lovely scenes of Anne helping David and doing her best to be a good older sibling. Although there are the occasional squabbles, which contain the needed realism. Chung and director of photography Lachlan Milne do a lovely job of filming the Oklahoma scenery filling in for Arkansas. There is a soothing quality to many of the scenes and they use the locations to excellent effect. The beauty of the land comes through nicely and by the end of the movie, it also feels like we know every nook and cranny of the Yi family’s home.

Minari is an example of how cinema can be used to explore the lives of other people in a way that doesn’t feel sensationalist. The drama isn’t played up and the humour feels natural. Most importantly, the Yi family is developed with the needed depth and there is an understanding of who they are not long after we meet them. Lee Isaac Chung wants us to feel empathetic towards them, but nothing comes across as forced. The two hours go by smoothly, as Minari shows us the different situations they face.

Stefan Ellison
THE SCENE