Korean American “Jacob” (Steven Yeun) and his wife “Monica” (Yeri Han) take a leap of faith by moving from California to rural 1980’s Arkansas in search of a better life, with their two children “Anne” (Noel Cho) and “David” (Alan S. Kim),
The couple work in a factory farm “sexing” chickens which is not as weird as it sounds but in many ways still is. Manually inspecting chicks to ascertain boy or girl with the boys ending up as smoke particles in short order, fortunately off-screen.
The new family home is actually on wheels, initially a novelty but not in a good way to Jacob’s wife. Realization of the work the family needs to do to create a livable home rapidly follows, albeit never tornado proof. What they do have is land, realizing Jacob’s dream of growing vegetables for the increasing US Korean population, supplying ingredients unavailable elsewhere.
The film follows the trials and tribulations as water is found, without American help, turning the soil and preparing for planting. A devoutly religious local neighbour “Paul” (Will Patton) agrees to help for a decent wage. He gently adds a US slant to planting and tending, in between bearing a cross on Sundays albeit with the help of a wheel, which feels like penitence “lite”.
The family attend the local church and are universally welcomed, the audience expectation of a “racist” tinge to events only occurring once, which transforms ultimately into a friendship. How truly reflective of the times is debatable but the story is largely based on director Lee Isaac Chung own experiences, also taking writing duties.
Adding to business start up anxieties, young David has a heart condition that requires managing, hampering his ability to run and the decision is made to allow Monica’s mother to live with them to help out. “Soonja” (Yuh-Jung Youn) arrives with seeds and herbs, including the titular Minari from South Korea, which would send 2021 customs staff into a tail spin.
The family adapt and gradually move forward as a unit, until events transpire which threatens to turn this close knit family upside down.
A gentle story, which only works with superb naturalistic acting, luckily this is uniformly on display from the entire cast. Yeun portrays a man wanting the best for his family but blinded by his own desire to succeed. Han sketches a patient wife wanting to be supportive but only to a point. Standouts are Kim as young David, stealing every scene he is in, especially when interacting with his grandmother, Youn plays this perfectly and displays an extensive range as her characters arc plays out.
This is a small film partially subtitled which should put off nobody and is thoroughly enjoyable, with beautiful pastoral scenes highlighting the dream Steven is chasing. The only caveat being the ending which comes too soon, feeling like a story only half written, rarely has a black screen been such a shock.
A beautifully realized and acted story, where nothing much happens only marred by an abrupt ending which suggests the film being “Part 1”, with the rest of the family’s story still to come.