Review: ‘Minari’ is food for the soul

'Minari' tells the story of a Korean family who moves to Arkansas.

"Moving Day" by Gavin St. Ours is licensed under CC BY 2.0

‘Minari’ tells the story of a Korean family who moves to Arkansas.

Natalie Duerr, news staff

“Minari” is a rare film, one bursting at the seams with love and care. It is clear that this is a personal story, but unlike other Hollywood filmmakers, Lee Isaac Chung took the time to mature and perfect his craft before telling his tale. This is Chung’s fifth feature-length film, but the first to have wide distribution. Told from the perspective of 6-year-old David (Alan S. Kim), “Minari” follows a Korean family as they try to find their piece of the American Dream. Asian stories in Hollywood are still sparse, and Chung has crafted a film that is particular in the details, but ubiquitous in emotion.


Falling in line with other A24 successes like “Lady Bird” and “Moonlight,” “Minari” is a poetic and sincere slice-of-life story. The audience gets to see the minutiae of the Yi family’s new life in Arkansas, tilling the soil, setting up new bedrooms and sexing chickens at a local hatchery. His father, Jacob (Steven Yeun), has a dream of supporting his family by growing a garden full of Korean vegetables for Korean families who are looking for bits of their home country in America. His wife, Monica (Yeri Han), is worried about moving away from the city and being able to support their son, who has a heart murmur, and daughter Anne (Noel Kate Cho) in this new, risky place. 

“Minari” contrasts the most magical parts of being a child with the least glamorous parts of being an adult. Children do not often recognize the dire situations around them and find joy in nearly everything, whereas adults are consumed by their circumstances. David and Anne craft paper airplanes with the message “Don’t fight” written on them and launch them at their quarreling parents to attempt to relieve the situation. The children jump around and play, while Monica and Jacob discuss if they should separate as they struggle to make ends meet in Arkansas. It could have felt awkward to continually jump between the children and adults, but Chung’s script strikes the perfect balance of idyllic childhood and complicated adulthood.

Perhaps the most heartwarming moments come from the blossoming relationship between David and his grandma, Soonja. Originally frustrated by her moving in and blaming her for the floundering relationship between his parents, David doesn’t recognize Soonja as a grandmother. She starkly contrasts David’s Americanized concept of grandmas — she sleeps in his room, walks around in men’s underwear, swears and doesn’t make cookies. Less responsible than his mother, but still so full of love and care, Soonja and David begin to get along swimmingly and do things his parents would never let him do. Together, they explore the river area, labeled too dangerous by his parents, and plant the titular minari — a Korean herb that seems to grow wherever it is planted. 

Even when David is full of mischief and causes trouble, she is not one to seek punishment for his bad behavior. She lets him be a child and explore nature, unrestrained by his heart defect that his mother so often mentions and worries about. With his condition and her old age, it feels as if only one will survive this tale, but Chung never plays into this overdone plot device.   

By the end of the film, the viewer craves to see the Yi family outsmart their circumstances and succeed. The Yis are no longer a fictional family, but close friends to cheer on. Lee Isaac Chung has crafted a beautiful and empathetic story that will be talked about for ages to come. “Minari” is not just a story of an immigrant experience or family drama, but an honest memoir of someone’s life. Alan S. Kim carries the film with such grace on his small shoulders that it is impossible to leave the film without loving him. Steven Yeun also delivers a stunning performance, proving he is more than just his character from “The Walking Dead”. 

While “Minari” is about a Korean family, the story and lessons are universal. “Minari” may break your heart, but it will tend to you and help you grow stronger than before.