- Emma Simmonds
- 24 February 2021
GFF 2021: Beautifully judged semi-autobiographical drama from Lee Isaac Chung
A father's folly and its knock-on impact on his family is rendered with the utmost empathy in this achingly gorgeous, 1980s-set film from Lee Isaac Chung – the winner of two major prizes at Sundance 2020 and now a Golden Globe nominee. Although Minari is made with real sweep and style, the scenario is somewhat based on Chung's own upbringing and the underlying authenticity and sincerity he brings to every scene sets it apart.
Following his similarly superb and much more sinister work in Burning, Steven Yeun continues to take big strides away from his dull character, Glenn, in The Walking Dead. Here he plays Korean-American Jacob Yi. Jacob has a dream and he's damned if he's going to give up on it. Along for the ride and not too thrilled are wife Monica (Han Ye-ri), daughter Anne (Noel Cho) and seven-year-old son David (natural born scene-stealer Alan S Kim). Jacob has moved his family from California to rural Arkansas to fulfil his ambition of becoming a vegetable farmer. His wife's reaction to their mobile home – which might be sitting on a plot of land, but which is not as described – is priceless.
Later, and quite marvellously, Monica's mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) is thrown into the mix. Meeting her for the first time, David is horrified by a woman who, with her fondness for swearing, men's underwear, cards and wrestling, is nothing like his idea of a proper grandma. Will Patton has a great role, too, as the mentally fragile and devout Paul, who offers his wisdom and assistance to Jacob and finds acceptance of sorts.
Radiantly shot by Lachlan Milne (Hunt for the Wilderpeople), as if imbued with Jacob's optimism and little David's wonder, it's an affectionate portrait of trying to scratch out an existence and build something from nothing, of simply wanting and striving for a better life. Although there's curiosity and cultural insensitivity from the locals, there's friendliness too and the film is wonderful at capturing the complexity of the family's situation. The performances, particularly from leads Yeun and Han, are impeccably restrained, yet laced with conviction, with all their frustration bubbling believably under the surface. Grabbing you from its opening frames and holding you tightly throughout, Minari is a masterful piece of cinema, a film absolutely stuffed with humour and heart.
Available to watch via Glasgow Film At Home for 72 hours from 7pm on Wed 24 Feb, as part of the Glasgow Film Festival 2021. General release TBC.