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Minari is a beautifully told family drama loosely based on the childhood experiences of writer and director Lee Isaac Chung.
In the 1980s, a Korean immigrant family leaves California and moves to rural Arkansas to start a farm. Jacob (Steven Yuen) and wife Monica (Yeri Han) have spent the last decade working in chicken hatcheries with little to show. Jacob brings his family to Arkansas with the hope of creating a “Garden of Eden.”
Minari first seems like a story about immigrants trying to fit into “hillbilly” society. We see funny cultural gaffes: The children and their grandmother (Yuh-Jung Youn) drink copious amounts of Mountain Dew thinking it “water from the mountains.”
But Chung largely focuses on the family’s inner workings. With the challenges of starting a farm, cracks in Jacob and Monica’s marriage widen. Even when their circumstances improve, they remain unhappy.
Minari explores why chasing the American dream can still leave us dissatisfied. In the film, the grandmother plants the film’s namesake, minari, a Korean herb. Once planted, it appears to die. But if a committed gardener keeps caring for it, the herb thrives the following year. Jacob and Monica have to choose whether they will pursue faithfulness, commitment, and gratitude—despite their circumstances—to eventually grow something beautiful.