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Mario Bautista, has been with the entertainment industry for more than 4 decades. He writes regular columns for People's Journal and Malaya.

Mar 1, 2021



AFTER ‘PARASITE’ last year, another Korean film is making Oscar buzz this year, “Minari”. But this one is not made in Korea, but right in America, written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung. 

It is about a Korean family who migrated to rural America in the 1980s. “Minari” is a word for a Korean vegetable that is akin to celery. 

The film stars Korean-American actor Steven Yeun who hit it big in the thriller series, “The Walking Dead”. 

He also starred in the acclaimed films, “Burning” and “Mayhem”. In “Minari”, he plays Jacob Yi, a Korean in search of his own American dream. 

He left California with his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri), daughter Anne (Kate Cho) and son David (Allan Kim) who has a heart ailment, to till his own farm growing vegetables in the Ozarks of Arkansas, while he and his wife also work in a poulty hatchery.

They live in a small, humble trailer home, which Monica resents. 

To help them look after their kids who were born in America, while they are at work, Monica asks her mom Soon-ja (Youn Yuh Jung) to fly in from Korea and join them in the farm. 

David resents her grandma’s intrusion, he cries: “Grandman smells like Korea”.

 And he doesn’t like the fact that his grandma doesn’t bake cookies and he has to share his little room with her, even if she just sleeps on a mat on the floor while he’s on the bed. 

Soon-ja doesn’t speak English but tries her best to bond well with her grandkids by playing cards and watching wrestling with them. 

She also goes with them to the nearby stream where she plants the titular Minari, a very resilient vegetable that grows easily.

Jacob encounters lots of hardships in his goal to be a successful farmer, even with the help of a kind and religious man, Paul (Will Patton). 

The well that supplies water to his farm runs dry and the vendor in Dallas who promises to buy his harvested produce suddenly cancels his orders. 

Monica wants them to just return to the city and this puts a strain on their marriage. 

To top it all, her mother has a stroke and gets disoriented, leading her to do something that adds up even more misery to what the family is already going through. 

“Minari” is really a heartbreaking tale of woes. The main bright spot is when the metaphoric Minari, that grandma planted, grew to be lush and abundant, ready for harvest. 

But the touching family drama also shows the heartwarming love and resilience of the Yi family despite all the suffering, pressure and difficult challenges that they encounter. This remind us of the local classic, “Biyaya ng Lupa”, which is also about the travails of a family.

Well crafted, the film offers great cinematography that gives the outdoor scenes and its pastoral heartland setting liberal graceful bursts of light and color. 

Yeun is great as the caring husband and father who relocates his family from the city to a harsher environment as he searches for his own place in the sun. 

Giving great support is Alan Kim as the ailing but bright-eyed little boy who loves Mountain Dew. 

He seems unaffected by all the intricacies of life faced by his parents who have contrasting views in their struggle and assimilation in America where they are the only Asians in the very white Arkansas town where they settled in. 

One of the most racist comments in the movie is when a friendly but ignorant white boy asks David: “Why is your face so flat?” But David just ignores him, obviously unable to perceive how hurtful the statement can be. 

It is little moments and scenes such as this that build up imperceptibly and add up to make the movie a bittersweet, beautifully nuanced chronicle about the immigrant experience in America. 

So we're wondering why it's nominated in the best foreign language film category when the lines are both in English and Korean and it's set in America, produced by Americans, with Brad Pitt as one of the producers.