The America we know today is a country founded by generation after generation of immigrants, coming from pockets around the world. By the late 19th century, enough people had heard that this new country was a land of opportunity so countless families uprooted themselves and found their way here to start afresh.
In that way, the Yi family is no different than any other, making their story in Minari a universal one. The much-lauded film, out on disc and streaming from Lionsgate Home Entertainment, is both broad in scope and incredibly personal. The Yis came over from South Korea, first settling in California, but as we meet them, are relocating to Arkansas. Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) sees his future in the fifty acres of farmland he has purchased, not in the manufactured home on wheels that houses his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri), Anne (Noel Kate Cho), and ailing David (Alan Kim).
They are isolated with no neighbors and live far from the handful of other Koreans in the area, all of whom seem to work for a chicken company. The adult Yis sort chicks by gender, saving the females to become McNuggets while the bored children try to stay busy. As tensions and debt mount, Jacob agrees to bring Monica’s mother Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) to America to watch the children. She’s a character, playing cards, cursing, and incapable of cooking or baking, earning her the criticism from David that she’s not a “real” grandmother.
Jacob is trying to grow Korean vegetables recognizing there is a growing market as 30,000 countryman immigrate to America every year. But, like Job, the odds remain forever stacked against him. He is so desperate to succeed in America that he treats his marriage and his family as secondary matters.
The one who seems to suffer the most is Anne, on the cusp of adolescence, she is the one relied on to keep an eye on everyone else. She lacks friends and the ability to be a kid, doing her best, and only occasionally showing her frustration.
Writer/Director Lee Isaac Chung is fascinated by the experience and initially wanted to adapt Willa Cather’s My Antonia but relented when the estate protected the authpr’s desires not to have her work used in other media. He turned inward, using his personal experiences to craft this original tale. It is filled with small touches that only someone who’s been there would know, the stress, the isolation, the lack of connection.
He is commended for not painting the white folk in the story with one brush. Instead, the community seems welcoming. Jacob bonds with Will Patton’s devout Christian Paul, who helps him get the farm up and running. On the Sabbath, he is seen carrying a large wooden cross, which he says is his church, and speaks in tongues, but is not insulted for his beliefs.
This was a small film, easily overlooked any other year. Thankfully, it shone brightly with little competition. As a result, it won the U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize and the U.S. Dramatic Audience Award at Sundance. It went on to earn six Academy Award nominations: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Original Score, Best Original Screenplay, Best Actor (Yeun), and Best Supporting Actress (Youn), with Youn winning for her performance. The film also won Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes and another half-dozen BAFTA nominations.
The Blu-ray release has a fine 1080p transfer in 2.39:1. The film’s soft cinematography, with hazy Arkansas summer air, is well captured. The film has English subtitles for the colloquial Korean moments and the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is perfectly adequate for home viewing.
The single disc features Audio Commentary with Chung and Youn which is worth a listen for additional insights. There is also the basic background piece Sowing Seeds: Making Minari (13:25) and some Deleted Scenes (3:18). There is also a Digital HD code included.