Minari is a Korean vegetable that grows in damp areas, highly-prized for its culinary use in kim chi and other delicacies. It is also the thread of life, linking the old ways with the new, in this is beautifully understated family saga of a Korean family who abandon chicken-sexing in California for a new life in the ‘best dirt in America’ plains of Arkansas.
Jacob (Steven Yeun) is convinced he can make the family fortune in Korean vegetables, with little knowledge of the vagaries of the weather, lack of water and of money. Luckily he has help in the form a religious war veteran nut, Paul (Will Patton), who enjoys incantations and exorcism, and celebrates his Sundays by carrying a cross up and down the local roads. Jacob’s wife Monica (Yeri Han) is mortified by being dumped in a caravan in the middle of nowhere far from schools and hospitals for her youngest, David, who has a congenital heart problem with no company save Paul.
As the kids throw paper planes inscribed ‘don’t fight’ at their warring parents, the only solution is to bring Grandma from Korea. On her arrival David declares, ‘You are not a Grandma – you smell of Korea’ as she unpacks her treasures – a pack of cards (she’s soon teaching the kids to gamble accompanied by most uncouth swearing), Korean foodstuffs including vile-tastint]g medicine for David’s condition, and some precious minari seeds. Veteran Korean comedy actor Yuh-jung Youn almost steals the show from young David (Alan S Kim) whose antipathy to this oddball Gran is quite understandable – his revenge for the medicine is hilarious. Their interactions are electrifying and provide light relief to the inevitable brewing catastrophe.
This is a film about the bonds that unite families, about death and rebirth, about acceptance and love. The action is largely seen through the eyes of the children (rather like Memories of My Father) which pares down the basics of human behaviour to what really matters. Extraordinarily, despite its rural white setting, there is not a hint of racism, only of the power of the Church, a deliberate ploy by writer-director Lee Isaac-Chung, who based the film on his own experiences growing-up and used his family minari seeds in the film. Another astonishing film breaking the Hollywood mould: t has already won several awards and is shortlisted for six Oscars and six BAFTAs – adn tehre’s more to come I’m sure.