Lee Isaac Chung‘s Minari premiered during the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The well-reviewed film has since collected many award nominations, and is finally opening today (2.12). I reviewed it on 10.30.20 — here are portions of what I wrote:
A hard-knocks family drama about a South Korean family trying to succeed at subsistence farming in 1980s Arkansas, Minari qualifies as a “modest” Spirit Awards thing. And yet something about Steven Yeun’s complex character (i.e., Jacob) and performance really got to me.
I’m speaking of a proud, obstinate man determined to make a stand and not be pushed around by bad luck. In moments of stress and self-doubt he’s clearly weighing two ways of responding to the situation. He may have chosen the wrong path, but he’s determined to stick to it regardless. That makes him a possibly tragic figure and definitely an interesting one.
I’m not sure if Yeun’s touching performance will yield a Best Actor nomination, but it could. Or should I say “should”?
A while ago Variety‘s Clayton Davis was all excited about the possibility of Yeun possibly becoming the first Asian actor to be Oscar nominated for a lead role. That’s the wrong emphasis. Yeun has given a very strong and sad performance in a pretty good film, and he might snag a Best Actor nom for his trouble. But his South Korean heritage should be anecdotal, not a cornerstone of his campaign. Wokesters see it differently, of course.
I loved the grandmother (Youn Yuh-Jung) and the two kids (Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho). Especially the little boy.
And Paul (Will Patton), a flaky but good-hearted Jesus freak whom the somewhat insensitive Yeun doesn’t sufficiently respect. I dislike Christians for their evangelical leanings and support of Donald Trump, but if I was acquainted with one and he/she offered to pray for me, I would respond with respect and gratitude. Because such a gesture would mean a lot to them.
Jacob’s wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) is a good person but not exactly a portrait of steadfast marital support. She has this shitty, dismissive “I don’t like this” attitude from the get-go. They’re in a bad marriage.
I didn’t get the water situation. Jacob has bought (or rented?) a place with no water supply or sewage system? Isn’t is super-expensive to install your own sewage system and septic tank? Jacob presumably buys his own water heater, but in one scene he doesn’t have $500 to pay a professional well digger? Jacob has drilled his own well with Patton’s assistance, but the water supply is limited — not enough to nourish the crop and also provide shower water, kitchen water and whatnot.
There are all kinds of basic engineering questions that bothered me somewhat. They’re subsistence farmers while also working at a chicken-sorting company. They have to store their vegetables in some kind of sanitized refrigerator, but how long could the vegetables last? What is the name of the Arkansas town they live close to, and how many miles from town are they? They had some sort of medical coverage, which plays a key role when the health of two family members becomes a concern. But what kind of savings do they have, if any?
I think it’s a wee bit inconsiderate to not give the audience all the basic financial and engineering facts.