Minari - A-
Rated PG-13, 115 minutes
In English and Korean subtitles
The touching, well-acted new drama "Minari" from director and writer Lee Isaac Chung ("Munyurangabo") is an intimate portrait of a young Korean family's struggle to achieve the American dream. Though the fish-out-water premise isn't a new one, Chung's heartfelt, often funny view makes it worthwhile.
In the 1980's, a Korean-American family (led by "The Walking Dead's" Steven Yeun and Han Ye-ri, and Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho as their children) moves to a tiny Arkansas arm in search of their own American Dream. The family home changes completely with the arrival of their unpredictable, but incredibly loving grandmother (South Koren actress Yuh-Jung Youn).
The poignant "Minari" is semi-autobiographical and based on Chung's own experiences growing up in Arkansas, is filled with strong performance and a sensitive tone. It could've easily gone a comedic route or a sentimental route, both of which have already been covered in similarly-themed projects such as TV's "Fresh Off the Boat" and last year's "The Farewell," but he strikes a tone somewhere in between, which gives a fresh perspective into the struggles of a Korean family who desperately wants a better life in the U.S.
Chung's grounded, level approach helps, as does the strong performances from Yeun and Ye-ri as the parents, not to mention a scene-stealing Youn as the grandmother, whose influence is questionable at first until you realize her commitment to her family. The film's title, which a reference to a water-based Asian plant and is planted near their new home by their grandmother, is an insightful, symbolic reference of reminders of home but that home is what you make of it, no matter the location.
A couple of subplots, including one with a religious neighbor (Will Patton, excellent), takes a little too much time away from the film's central focus, but it wisely remains secondary to the lives of the family, which are the highlight of the film, including the fun relationship between grandmother and grandson, so well-played by Kim. There are also a handful of very touching scenes that are well-incorporated into the film, especially one near the end of the film between Yeun and Ye-ri after an encouraging health update on one of their children.
"Minari" often takes its time, but its fresh, entertaining and moving. Winner of the Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and Dramatic Audience Award at this year's Sundance Film Festival, it's definitely worthwhile and will stay with you after the is over.