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  Minari Down On Jollity Farm
Year: 2020
Director: Lee Isaac Chung
Stars: Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Alan S. Kim, Noel Cho, Will Patton, Yuh-jung Youn, James Carroll, Esther Moon, Darryl Cox, Eric Starkey, Ben Hall, Jacob M Wade, Jenny Phagan, Tina Parker, Chloe Lee, Skip Schwink, Kaye Brownlee-France, Scott Haze, Joel Telford
Genre: Comedy, DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 1 vote)
Review: Jacob (Steven Yuen) is a South Korean immigrant who has been in The United States for a while now, with his wife Monica (Yeri Han) and their two young children, Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan S. Kim), who is suffering from a hole in the heart that makes his parents worry over him. But Jacob has more worries than that: tired of making a living as a chicken sexer in California, he has upped sticks with his clan to Arkansas, with the plan to establish a small farm there. He will be growing food for his fellow Korean immigrants, as he believes there is definitely a market there he can cater for, but the best laid plans and all that...

Minari was the autobiographical tale of Lee Isaac Chung's early life - he was more or less the David character - which came to him in a flash of inspiration just as all his ideas were running out. It assuredly did well for him, winning awards and nominations throughout the world, and if it had been released in a year more amenable to visiting picture palaces it might have been a major hit in the arthouses at least. It really was a disarming work, on paper nothing special but in the act of watching the drama and comedy, the story drew itself together as a subtly critical account of the American Dream as seen by the immigrants who would buy into that concept.

After all, it was set in the nineteen-eighties, when Reaganomics were cheerleading the making of money by the little guy when it was really the big businesses and banks that were benefitting, and Chung's father must have believed every word. We are given hints that his ideas are not economically viable, most worryingly when David spends time at a friend's house and his dad mentions the last person to try farming there blew his brains out when it all went horribly wrong; quite apart from whether this was appropriate to tell the boy, it did throw a shadow over what in the main was a lightly told, gently funny story that would apply to many across the globe.

Garnering the most attention was Grandma (Yuh-jung Youn), an irascible relative who Monica has invited over since she has no other family to take care of her. David takes an instant dislike to the old lady, and we're not sure either, but Youn had a real knack of allowing us to see her humanity, and how she is doing her best in what must be difficult circumstances, so that when a reckoning arrives it is her presence that is most unexpectedly moving thanks to her shame and the way she is welcomed back and forgiven. Never mind the social commentary, this message of acceptance was what you took away from Minari, and what offered it some degree of quiet power even as it burst into arguments and ill-feeling.

This could easily have been a misery memoir, but Chung was not about to have us pity him and his folks for two hours, so there were plenty of lighter moments, many laugh out loud funny. Although the little boy is a poor soul in some aspects, he remains cheeky and stubborn because he does not understand the implications of his disability, aside from fretting over his mother's promise he will see Heaven. Religion was a topic here too: Monica is Christian and takes her family to church, yet farmhand Paul (an almost unrecognisable Will Patton) is a religious fanatic, dragging a cross around with him as some penance or other, and though he is sweet natured he acts as an example of how the Word of God can make his followers more than a little touched, David's fears of the unseen a less benevolent instance of that. But while all this was going on, Yeun was at the core of the story, the father Chung admired, yet could perceive was not in complete command of his life, and that breaks his heart a little. All in all, a lot richer than it might appear. Music by Emile Mosseri.

Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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