The fourth feature film written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung Minari is a film he always wanted to make. He longed to tell a story about his family's journey because of what he learned as a child of immigrants, regarding his family's choices and the impact it had to take residence in a country not their own. Chung's deeply personal story relates to his South Korean heritage. The son of South Korean immigrants, Chung grew up in Arkansas. In Minari he attempts to reveal the reconciling of two different worlds together with an endless love for both.
Chung recalls, "The storyline began out of a longing to tell my daughter about where I came from, what it took for my parents to come to America, and what family-in all its messiness but also its mysterious grace notes-means to me." He notes that he started by writing down "eighty visual memories" he had when he was about the age of his daughter. Some of these visual memories are similar to scenes in the film. Chung describes his moving picture as a possible love letter to his parents. In addition Chung adds, "I hope that it is a love letter to all parents who make a stab at hope for their children's futures."
Chung continues, "Though the film is not a factual representation of my childhood, I hope it might both pay homage to my parents' tenacity in forging an unwritten American life and be a gift to my daughter as she comes of age."
I found it fascinating that several parts of this film, Chung incorporates a two-fold message theme representing two sides to a story. For example, the name of the film Minari is also the name of a Korean peppery herb that thrives best in its second season. It often grows wild in damp, humid climates. It is also sometimes labeled as Chinese celery or Japanese parsley. It’s a symbol of second chances possibly meaning that the best is yet to come.
Another example is the land of Arkansas, the American soil, is a character Chung uses and the power of it is woven in his narrative. He observed that his father believed in the American Dream and to work his own land to gain promise. He was convinced that the yield would bring a good life for his family. Chung recalls that it was ultimately harder than the romance of toil. The earth isn't always forgiving and the commitment to the task of farming can be risky. Chung wanted to show that there are two sides of this character and by contrast he notes, "...nature so often offers grace."
Chung captures another form of grace in Minari that comes from trusting someone different than himself. Trusting a foreigner! Trusting a native! An amazing journey of friendship is revealed when ways of two different cultures from two different men are open to collaborate instead of collide.
Producer Christina Oh says, "The film threads a needle of bringing welcome recognition for Asian American families while touching broader chords." She continues, "For my generation of Korean Americans, this is a celebration of what our parents did for us." Adding, "I'm excited that immigrants, not just Asian immigrants, may feel heard and seen in this story." The story also shares how difficult it is to keep family together. The generations experience their new world differently but if there is love in the family, she notes, "Loving people is a lot of work, and things go awry at times, but at the end of the day you have that love and it's real and so meaningful."
In the 1980s, Jacob (Steven Yuen) uproots his young Korean family from California to the Ozark Mountains in Arkansas. Jacob has purchased his own plot of land to farm and reap its benefits. He sees Arkansas as a land of opportunity. His wife, Monica (Yeri Han), his young son, David (Alan Kim), daughter, Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and mother, Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn) together think he has lost his mind. None of them are happy about their new home and fight with Jacob constantly about his decision to relocate the clan.
It is the help of his neighbor, Paul (Will Patton) that Jacob can see the glimmer of hope he has been working toward. However, on the home front, the youngest, David, age 7 and the oldest, grandma Soonja are at war with each other. Both are unruly, defiant, and grandma's foul mouth takes its toll. Monica and Anne also succumb to being disgruntled. Oddly, in the midst of the Korean family's stressful journey, the two unlikely family members start to let down their guard and begin to discover that they not only have the same negative personality traits, they have similar positive ones. While their world is imperfect, the two start to form a unique bond. It's their magical happy place where both begin to learn from each other's age and cultural experiences to enlighten them respect for the past and embrace the unknown of the future.