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The Golden Globe award-winning film, which was written and directed by Chung and released in select theaters last fall, tells the story of a Korean-American family’s move from California to a farm in small-town Arkansas in the 1980s. The cross-country jaunt proves to be a bumpy transition that finds the Yi family working to acclimate to a new environment, while cultivating their own version of the American Dream.
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“Minari” stars Steven Yeun as the family patriarch, Jacob Yi. Han Ye-ri plays Jacob’s wife, Monica, while Noel Kate Cho portrays the couple’s daughter, Anne. Alan S. Kim, the eight-year-old breakout star of “Minari,” plays the Yi family son, David. Rounding out the cast is Youn Yuh-jung, a Veteran South Korean actress who delivers a standout performance as the scene-stealing grandmother, Soonja.
At its core, “Minari” showcases the nuance of family dynamics, regardless of circumstance. As IndieWire’s film critic David Ehrlich wrote, “Gentle as the stream that flows through the Yi’s property, and yet powerful enough to reverberate for generations to come, Chung’s loving — and immensely lovable — immigrant drama interrogates the American Dream with the hard-edged hope of a family that needs to believe in something before they lose all faith in each other. Jacob is too proud to settle for somebody else’s terms; he’ll do anything to prove that he’s leading his family to the promised land, even if no one else shares his vision of success. As clenched and corporeal here as he was loose and elusive in “Burning,” Yeun is spellbinding as the engine driving the Yis into a new home so unstable that a tornado could pick it up and fling it across the country.”
The film has already made an impressive showing this awards season, but not without a little controversy. “Minari’s” Golden Globe win for Best Foreign Film attracted criticism, due to its categorization (despite the bi-lingual dialogue, “Minari” is an American film, from an American director). The film was also blocked from being entered into the Best Picture category.
Although “Minari” was inspired by Chung’s own childhood, he made the film for his seven-year-old daughter, who was seated with him as he won a Golden Globe last Sunday.
“Minari is about a family,” said Chung during the virtual acceptance speech. “It’s a family trying to learn how to speak a language of its own. It goes deeper than any American language and any foreign language. It’s a language of the heart, and I’m trying to learn it myself and to pass it on, and I hope we’ll all learn how to speak this language of love to each other, especially this year.