Nominated for six Academy Awards, Minari joins a group of extremely stiff competition for Best Picture. Taking on the untold story of Korean American immigrants moving to rural America to fully satisfy the American dream, Minari is a sweet and simple film with a lot of heart and integrity.
The film is not nominated for cinematography which is unsurprising considering the beautiful americana captured by director, Lee Isaac Chung. Featuring sun kissed American flags, prominent familiar looking red caps and cowboy boots clomping through high grass, the subversive conservatism of the film is its major beauty and its major triumph. I’m sure the Academy doesn’t know what to do with itself choosing between shunning conservative values and uplifting the story of American immigrants. Identity politics can be tricky sometimes, the poor things. Sad!
But who cares what the Academy thinks. The Conservative Critic will answer the questions: “Is it entertaining?” “Does it have intellectual/artistic value?” and “Is it liberal propaganda?”
The Conservative Critic, Oscar Watch: Minari, Meter Check:
Overall Rating: Good
My personal taste in film leaves a lot of leeway for the slow moving and quiet pieces that display more as pieces of art than forms of entertainment. Minari definitely favors that style but even for me was a little too meandering which is why, despite its incredible artistic and intellectual value and its strong conservative values, the film falls just short of greatness.
Following an American family who immigrated to the west coast from Korea and recently decided to move east to the plains of Arkansas to take a plot of land and work it with their hands until it becomes food. Following the model of many of the Best Picture nominees, the story is about a true event in American history which has been primarily untold about the movement in the 1980s of Asian Americans (primarily newly immigrated Koreans) from the coasts to the midwest. Minari itself is semi-autobiographical about writer and Director Lee Isaac Chung but the concept speaks to a much larger group of Americans seeking the true spirit of America which cannot be found on the liberal urban coasts where populations are divided by race and locked in tiny apartments with little more hope than a ceramic pot in their window.
Though slow moving and seeminly directionless, its worth watching as warm broth for the heart during this time in our history where American values are being villainized as White Supremacy and everything we hold precious in our country is at stake. Its a reminder to us that American values are for all of us, and the name calling isn’t true. It is a gentle film filled with very cute child actors and it will remind you of what is worth fighting for.
Is it entertaining?
Rating: Charming but a little meandering
Minari will charm you into enjoyment while you watch a cute little boy in cowboy boots run around his family farm learning hard lessons about the difficulty of land, family, faith and life. The film is not boring if you hand yourself over to its sunrise colored sentimentality and its outstanding performances, and its tongue and cheek humor and family love. The viewer relates to the family seemingly falling apart whilst all the while growing stronger.
However, the entire point of the film is simply to display the value of freedom and agency and working with your hands and how family rises to that struggle. There is no necessity for a particular plot line and while there is a relatively simple plot constructed to deliver the viewer these values lacks urgency and it wanders in and out of itself lazily much like the titular stream where the Minari is planted.
Most viewers are likely bored or at least significantly lulled by the structure but the film remains highly watchable by its soothing and heartfelt qualities that tie the viewer back to their American roots.
Does it have intellectual/artistic value?
To say that Minari is well made is to say that the Pyramids seem fairly sturdy. Minari is a work of art which despite its nomination for Best Picture was snubbed in some of the more artistic categories in which it deserved the most recognition.
Filmed in a beautiful golden wash of nostalgia and sun, Minari takes its viewer at all levels through the excitement and fear of striking out for oneself. The viewer is allowed to view the story through the eyes of a father searching for agency and success in his new world; a mother full of anxiety for the wellbeing of her children and missing the comfort of a world she knew even if she did not love it; a young boy battling his own fears and health while experiencing all the joys of young life; and an elderly grandma new to a strange country trying to maintain her independence and wisdom as her life begins to sunset. Each perspective is perfectly woven together and seamless in transition. The viewer finds themselves not totally sure who they side with until in the end they realize they’re all siding with each other because family is as strong as the land they work on.
The acting performances are very strong and the kind where disbelief is so well suspended the viewer forgets that these figures on screen aren’t actual Korean-American farmers in 1980s Arkansas but in-fact actors from 2021.
Nominated for Best Supporting Actress (and my prediction for the win), Yuh-Jung Youn (Sense8) delivers on wise and loving grandma so believably all the viewer wants is to know more about her story. Nominated for Best Actor (he cannot beat Chadwick Boseman), Steven Yeun (Okja, The Walking Dead) is a sensation. Playing Jacob, a father with big dreams for his family in America, Yeun provides a nuanced take on the anxiety of fulfilling a dream. His breathtaking commitment to capturing optimism and understanding the context of the time and space of the story gives the character the kind of once in a lifetime life that stays with a viewer for a long time after the credits roll. Yeun is my second favorite performance for Actors this year (next to Riz Ahmed in Sound of Metal).
The children in the film are too cute to manage. Alan Kim as David will steal your heart and never give it back as he runs around his farm in cowboy boots and knee highs playing pranks on his grandma, playing with his watchful sister and grappling with the struggles of youth. If smiles could win an Academy Award he would be a ringer. Noel Cho as his sister Anne also delivers as a beautiful and stern caretaker who makes all the right choices and displays nothing but love and loyalty in the face of fear.
But the cinematography is the real star. The imagery of the conservative American dream is so strong its nearly a character of its own. The use of the color red and the golden sepia wash over the sweeping grass with the backdrop of a massive American flag is without words everything we’ve ever believed in for our country.
Director, Lee Isaac Chung uses framing to help the viewer feel optimism, fear, or security. While looking across the grass plain and rows of crops – the openness of the landscape provides the viewer with the same gut dropping sense of hope and anxiety that it does Jacob and his wife. The quiet stream protected and surrounded by trees where the Minari is planted gives the viewer the same sense of security and well-being that it does Grandma and David.
[Spoiler] When at the near conclusion of the film the bright flames engulf the barn reaching toward the sky, greedy for air and life and Monica (Jacob’s wife played by Yeri Han who absolutely should have received a nomination) drops to the ground and screams her tears after helping to save as much of the crops as she could, the viewer should recognize one of the best shot and directed film scenes in recent history.
Is it liberal propaganda?
Rating: Conservative Propaganda
It is a rare moment indeed when an Academy recognized film is a full on right-wing conspiracy. Minari is the purest and best form of right wing messaging which the readers of FPF deserve.
There is nothing more conservative than the idea that American immigrants can make a life for themselves fully integrated with American born citizens and in the same nature of following the American dream.
Throughout the film, Jacob’s wife, Monica expresses her displeasure with their move to Arkansas. Switching seamlessly between Korean and English, she derides the locals calling them “hillbillies” and asking where they can find an all Korean church. She is chastised by the film at all turns. At one point Jacob tells her “You are not better than these people because you’re from the city.” I got chills.
[Spoiler] At one point the adorable young cowboy, David, is physically healed of his heart murmur and the Doctor indicates that its likely due to the fresh air and water and lifestyle of rural America versus the city from which he came. If that isn’t straight up conservative propo I don’t know what is.
Finally – when Monica threatens to leave Jacob even after her son is healed because of her fear for her families financial future, Jacob tells her he will not leave what he started and that there is nothing more important for his children to learn than to work hard and finish what they start.
The film might as well have been a homeschool lesson taught by Ted Cruz.
If Lee Isaac Chung is not a conservative man himself, he certainly understands and celebrates the values which make up our beliefs and for that I appreciate him and his vision.
Not to mention this easter egg. This hat look familiar to anyone?
Any conservative film lover should see Minari to support Lee Isaac Chung for celebrating our values in so artful a way even the Academy couldn’t resist. Be prepared for a little bit of a slow story with subtitles but well worth it for a gentle and sweet spirit flanked by the rugged land of America.