Grandma Smells Like Korea
Minari | A24 | Drama | 1H 56M
By Majed Hakawati
Minari was written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung. It has raked up considerable critical acclaim and 6 Academy Award nominations for this Oscar season, including Best Picture, with Chung up for two Oscars for writing and directing. His filmmaking background consists of smaller festival films. This picture has put him on the map as a filmmaker to watch out for.
The charm and magic of Minari comes from the authenticity of its’ story, as it follows Chung’s own childhood. Chung was raised by Korean immigrants on an Arkansas farm, and he crafted this film from his heart and his lived experiences. The premise is a simple one: “A Korean family starts a farm in 1980s Arkansas” (IMDb). The film stars Steven Yuen and Yeri Han as the parents, Jacob and Monica, with Alan Kim and Noel Cho as the children: David and Anne.
Having migrated to California from Korea, the couple worked as chicken sexers to make ends meet while living with their children in the city. Jacob makes a big move for the family as they leave their city life and move to rural Arkansas to start a farm on 50 acres of grass. The couple’s relationship becomes contentious at best, as Monica is highly skeptical and discontented with Jacob’s plan. Then Grandma Soonja played by Yuh-Jung Youn moves from Korea to live with the family. A playful, and optimistic character, she has an important role in the family dynamic. She is also an atypical grandma, as David is fast to point out. Youn fills the role beautifully - hers is the standout performance of the film.
Minari explores the dynamic of the American immigrant family. With the young children being more adapted to the host culture than their parents. David associates difference with being Korean. “Grandma smells like Korea!”, he proclaims. Most of the film’s dialogue is spoken in Korean, and the film is a transparent display of the Korean American identity. The story expresses the importance of hope and labour despite adversity. Jacob does not want to give up on his dream of making a living from the earth by growing vegetables for Koreans. Above all, the movie shows the importance of simple acts of love, and how they can sometimes flourish to bear more fruit than back-breaking work.
Watching Minari, I almost forgot I was watching a movie. I felt like a fly on the walls of the trailer-home where the family lived. The pacing is not centered around particular plot beats; it flows freely in the way that life flows from day to day. The authenticity of the characters’ plight, and the details in the setting maintain the viewer’s attention at every moment. The story and cinematography radiate the charming and earthy atmosphere of a rural life. The themes are universal and thought-provoking yet understated and not forced. Chung does not linger too long on one scene or issue - to the movie’s strength. The subtle ending left me with something to think about long after the credits rolled. Emile Mosseri’s score is also notable, particularly when he uses sound to simulate the feelings of characters. In my opinion, Minari is suitable as a family movie. I thoroughly enjoyed Minari and recommend it as a must watch film.
Source for Background information: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10633456/?ref_=nv_sr_srsg_