• February 5, 2023

‘Minari,’ An American Story Of Uncommon Warmth And Grace : NPR

A family of Korean immigrants settles in Arkansas at Sundance favorite and Golden Globe nominee Minari.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

A young family, a fresh start, lots of chicks, and a grandmother who’s got to stay – critic Bob Mondello says Golden Globe nominee “Minari” has everything it takes to be the most heartwarming film of the year.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Monica and Jacob Yi have spent the past decade in California separating male and female chicks in a chicken processing facility. It’s not the life they hoped for when they emigrated from Korea. And now that they have two young children, Jacob has promised his wife a fresh start. At the beginning of the film, Monica gets her first look at her new home, a double-wide trailer in the middle of a field in Arkansas. The kids are excited.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MINARI”)

NOEL KATE CHO: (as Anne Yi) wheels. These are wheels. It’s like a big car.

STEVEN YEUN: (as Jacob Yi) (speaking Korean).

MONDELLO: Monica less. This farm is not the new beginning that she envisioned. Jacob, played by Steven Yeun, looks at the five acres he bought and tells the kids …

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MINARI”)

YEUN: (as Jacob Yi) David.

MONDELLO: … you will have a garden …

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MINARI”)

YEUN: (as Jacob Yi) (speaks Korean)

MONDELLO: … which gets him a little blow from his wife.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MINARI”)

YERI HAN: (as Monica Yi) (speaks Korean)

YEUN: (as Jacob Yi) No, the Garden of Eden is so big.

MONDELLO: Writer / director Lee Isaac Chung recreates elements of his own childhood. His father moved his family to Arkansas when Chung was six years old. And the filmmaker tells this story through the eyes of 6-year-old David, who does not always understand the family tensions …

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MINARI”)

YEUN: (as Jacob Yi) (speaks Korean)

MONDELLO: … but who has a strong point of view. When Monica’s mother comes to them and brings peppers, anchovies and other Korean delicacies, David immediately reacts that Grandma smells of Korea. And after she’s been with them for a while, he decides she isn’t even a real grandma.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MINARI”)

ALAN S KIM: (as David Yi) (speaking Korean).

MONDELLO: Real grandmas bake cookies, he says. And they don’t swear.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MINARI”)

YUH-JUNG YOUN: (as Soonja) Oh, pretty boy, pretty boy. Quite…

KIM: (as David Yi) I’m not pretty. I look good.

MONDELLO: Sure, they’ll be friends. There is also a Pentecostal worker played by Will Patton, who knows enough about working the land to be useful, even if everything to him is religious, including planting cabbage.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, “MINARI”)

WILL PATTON: (as Paul) Do you know what an exorcism is?

YEUN: (as Jacob Yi) Yes.

PATTON: (as Paul) In the name of Jesus. Out in the name of Jesus – out.

YEUN: (as Jacob Yi) (laughter) OK. Now things will grow.

PATTON: (as Paul) How come you put them so close together? You don’t want to put them as close together as …

MONDELLO: The filmmaker named his film “Minari” after a Korean herbal grandma brought along who was resilient and grows wherever it is planted – a nice metaphor for immigrant families. The Yi family certainly has its challenges. Little David has a heart murmur. Mom is not happy to be uprooted. Papa tries to prove himself. And there are natural challenges.

(SOUNDBITE OF THUNDER)

MONDELLO: But they are resilient and will grow. Her dream is the American dream and her story in “Minari” is an American story of unusual warmth and grace.

I am Bob Mondello.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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