Lee Isaac Chung’s Sundance-Winning narrative feature, Minari, has found itself at the center of a controversial awards season decision. The Golden Globes surprisingly declared that Minari must compete in the Foreign Language Film category, making it ineligible for either of the ceremony’s two most heralded Best Picture awards (Drama or Comedy/Musical). This classification was given due to the fact that the film fails to meet the minimum threshold of 50% of its spoken dialogue being in English, despite the film being produced by American studios, directed by an American filmmaker and filmed on American soil. While all of this public outrage and debate has garnered the headlines, there’s still one thing everyone can agree on; Minari is an amazing film that stacks up against all of the year’s best in cinema.
After migrating across the Pacific Ocean from Korea to California, Jacob (Steven Yeun) uses every penny he has to purchase a large plot of land in Arkansas and uproot his family to the Midwest. With a wife (Yeri Han) who doubts him, a son (Alan S. Kim) who’s uncontrollably drawn to mischief, and a Mother-in-Law (Youn Yuh-jung) he somehow can’t escape, Jacob tries to stay focused on pursuing the “American Dream” of owning and operating his own farm. But as he endures a barrage of personal and financial hardships that begin to threaten his homelife, Jacob struggles to find stability and keep his dream alive.
Minari not only tells a poignant tale of the immigrant experience, the film places the audiences directly into the uncomfortable shoes of its central family. This inevitable and empathetic immersion of oneself into the characters and the life they’re fighting to build is a direct result of Chung’s passion for the subject. As not only the director, but also the writer of this semi-autobiographical screenplay, Lee Isaac Chung’s devotion to his characters and familiarity with their experiences creates a personal aura that engulfs the viewer, making them feel like they're part of the family. This soulful examination of life and the pursuit of happiness stands tall on a firm foundation of love, humor and pain that circulate throughout every scene of the film. Minari isn’t just a wonderfully crafted story, it’s a complete film that boasts breathtaking cinematography and picturesque landscapes, as well as the year’s finest collection of performances. Steven Yeun (Okja and The Walking Dead) anchors the ensemble and Yeri Han delivers a sensational turn as well, but it's youngster Alan S. Kim and veteran Youn Yuh-jung who add a comedic flair that propels the film to a whole new level. Minari is beyond worthy of all the acclaim it has received up to this point, and something tells me there is plenty more to come.