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Minari

Year: 2020
Production Co: Plan B Entertainment
Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Writer: Lee Isaac Chung
Cast: Steven Yuen, Yeri Han, Will Patton, Yuon Yuh-jung

I had exactly the same reaction to this film as I did to Farewell. I'm sure it was created in no small part because of some executive or production company head desperate for some of the diversity cred Hollywood Awards is throwing at anything that doesn't have a white American lead.

But before you think I'm an anti-woke right winger, I'm equally sure writer/director Lee Isaac Chung poured his heart and soul into what was undoubtedly a deeply autobiographical tale in the vein of Farewell or Roma, evoking the sights, sounds and smells of (somebody's) rural US heartland upbringing as an outsider.

Steven Yuen is Jacob, a young Korean man who's moved to the backwoods of Arkansas to be a farmer. It seems his wife Monica (Yeri Han) was none too happy about his plan but went along with it, even less so when she sees the half-built, tear down hovel he intends for them to live in.

In between both of them going to work for a local chicken processing plant, endlessly checking the sexes of chicks to send them either to market or the furnace, Jacob works his fields, assisted by the good-natured local nutjob Paul (Will Patton) who works for him.

The couple's kids try to make the most of their new school, and early on they decide to bring Monica's mother Soonja (Yuh-Jung Yuon) over from Korea to help with the running of the house and family, a charming woman who's somewhere between a ditz and a firebrand.

Like Farewell the drama is quiet, understated and unobtrusive. I kept expecting the Yi family to be subjected to horrific racism but everyone around them is supportive and wishes them well. The only real conflict comes from the land itself, Jacob realising he's in over his head, his wife losing interest in their marriage and his family slowly splintering.

When the incident that causes the climax comes, it's almost off-the-cuff happenstance, precipitating a pivot in the plot so the final scene can end on a note of hope instead of the downhill struggle the family's faced during the rest of the film.

It's quiet and subdued but kind of dry, and if you're in the mood for a simple family drama the filmmaking is fine enough (though nothing outstanding). Forget everything you've been led to believe over the last handful of years about how any movie about races other than whites is automatically brilliant and important just by existing and judge it on its merits.

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