That was why many were watching this year’s Academy Award nomination announcements with baited breath, because the Academy had a dilemma with the film Minari. Directed by Lee Issac Chung (Lucky Life), Minari is a film where 80% is spoken in Korean but it is technically an American film – it even stars one of the most recognisable Asian American actors with The Walking Dead’s Steven Yuen.
That led to an interesting dilemma for Academy voters, a dilemma that had film journalists right around the world watching on with increased interest. Would the Academy allow Minari to go up alongside the supposed “big boys” in the Best Picture category, or would they do what they had done so many times before and place it in the Best Foreign Film category?
In what has been seen as a win for cinema right around the world Minari found itself with a coveted Best Picture nomination as well as five other nominations, which included nods to Chung as director, Yuen as lead actor and Youn Yuh-jung (The Housemaid) for her supporting actress role.
As a film, Minari deserves its Oscar nominations. Taking its name from a popular Korean herb the film tells the story of Jacob (Yuen) and his wife Monica (Yeri Han – Sea-fog) who emigrate to America in the 1980s with their two children Anne (Noel Cho) and the extremely ill David (Alan S. Kim – Latchkey Kids).
Jacob wants to achieve the American dream that he has read and heard about it. He hasn’t moved to America to be a chicken de-sexer, even though he is very good at it and has steady employment, he wants the American dream of being able to have his own house and run his own business – in other words he wants to make his own way. So Jacob buys a farm in the middle of nowhere and sets about growing Korean vegetables and herbs that he plans on selling to various sellers in the big cities.
One the other hand, Monica is sceptical. She thinks that Jacob’s business is set to fail. She is concerned that he is putting them in debt and is worried that by being so far from a big city the life of her son is in danger. She is so worried that she asks her mother (Yuh-jung) to come over and help.
If you are looking for big action sequences or massive thrills then Minari really isn’t the film for you. This instead is a film that relies on realistic drama, emotion and great acting to get it by. This really is a film with heart and it is the kind of film that can easily have you crying a tear or two if you are not careful.
Chung’s screenplay, which also received an Oscar nomination, makes the family at hand a likable family. Jacob is the kind of guy that you want to have as a friend while Anne and David are the kind of kids that you hope your kids are drawn close to. Yes at times as an audience you do get frustrated with Monica but never once do you ever wish harm on her, you just want to see Jacob overcome every obstacle thrown in front of him so he can have a big ‘I told you so’ moment at some time with her.
It is little wonder that Yuen has been praised for his role here. He goes above and beyond anything we ever saw him produce in The Walking Dead and here we see him as an actor that you feel could pull off any role that he was given. He is well aided here by Alan S. Kim who puts in one cute, scene-stealing performance that you will remember for a long time.
Minari is a truly beautiful film. It will have some stiff competition in its Oscar fight with the equally brilliant Nomadland but it is still a film that no serious movie lover should miss.
Minari opens in Phuket cinemas on April 1 – it has yet to be classified but is for an adult audience.
David Griffiths has been working as a film and music reviewer for over 20 years. That time has seen him work in radio, television and in print. You can follow him at www.facebook.com/subcultureentertainmentaus