Film Reviews

“A Well-Executed Film” – Film Review: Minari

Alex Watkin

Last year’s Parasite deservedly won best picture at the 2020 Academy Awards. At first glance this year’s Academy Awards nominee Minari appears to be cut from the same cloth, and it is therefore an exciting prospect.

The film is set in 1980s Arkansas and follows a Korean family who sacrifice living in the city for a trailer in the middle of nowhere to start a farm. Minari directed by Lee Isaac Chung is an excellent film; it’s sophisticated and manages to resist temptations to overly spell itself out. It trusts its material and it trusts its audience.

The film is a defined single story and it is coherent

Despite an ensemble cast, the film is a defined single story and it is coherent. The film distributes its 115-minute runtime between the family members (except the sister played by Noel Cho) relatively evenly. Unlike many ensemble films, every member of the ensemble and the time the film spends to develop them feels necessary. The moments the film selects are all tied thematically to an exploration of growth, both in terms of a pursuit of the American dream and the growth of a child.

Minari’s best trait is constraint. So, I will show some constraint too by not discussing the film’s themes further; I will only do it a disservice. I implore you to watch it and come to your own conclusions. It’s good to see a smart film that doesn’t ruin itself by shouting in the face of the audience about how intelligent and profound it is. Its constraint is refreshing and shows a confidence in the story and visuals, which does more than any lame platitudes ever could. Yes, some sleepier audience members may find the film a little vague and nod off, but given the proper time and attention, the film is rewarding and does deserve its runtime.

Similar to Parasite, Minari is a piece of social realism and is also an ensemble cast, rather than a film about a single protagonist. However, Minari is still very distinctive; Parasite, to a certain extent, is a flashier film and has a level of zip and zap that Minari doesn’t. Isac Chung’s film is more, you could say, straight down the line.

Within the parameters of Minari’s style there are astounding cinematic moments

This is not an issue, simply a stylistic difference, but this will naturally cause preference either way.  Within the parameters of Minari’s style there are astounding cinematic moments, in particular sentimental and tender moments. There is no doubt that this is because Minari has autobiographical elements for Director Lee Isaac Chung. Yet once more, the film shows good restraint and never indulges in sentimentality for the sake of it. 

The performances from the cast are all well-grounded and extremely believable. I’m not familiar with any of the cast so this definitely helps to only see the characters rather than the actors. Yet once more the lack of ‘stars’ only demonstrates trust from Lee Isaac Chung in the material of the film.

Clearly, the standout performance is that of Alan Kim (currently 8 years old) as son David. Kim’s performance is both heart warming and humorous. David’s relationship with his grandma (Yuh-Jung Youn) brings heart to the film and balances the solemn struggles of dad Jacob (Steven Yeun) and mum Monica (Yeri Han).

Minari in all departments is a well-executed film

Minari in all departments is a well-executed film. The film finds human universality through specificity of context and character, all while not hitting you over the head with its brilliance. It is a pleasure to watch and fully deserves the awards recognition. What it lacks is difficult to decipher, I think it’s simply a matter of personal taste that will determine the film’s staying power for respective viewers.

4 stars

Alex Watkin

Featured image courtesy of Pedro via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @minarimovie via No changes made to these images.

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