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A Korean family struggles to make ends meet after starting a farm in Arkansas in . Jacob Yi () is a Korean immigrant, who has just moved from California to Arkansas with his wife Monica () and young children David (Alan S. Kim) and Anne (Noel Kate Cho). Jacob hopes to make a better life for his family by starting a farm and he spends much of the family's savings preparing the land and hiring local man Paul () as a farmhand. Stressed out over Jabob's choices, Monica flies in her mother Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung) to help with taking care of the kids, with Soonja slowly developing a connection with David.

Minari is a semi-autobiographical drama from writer/director Lee Isaac Chung, with the story of the film influenced by Chung's childhood memories of growing up on a farm in Arkansas. Set during the 1980s, we are introduced to the Yi family, as they pull up to the new plot of land bought by patriarch Jacob, with his wife Monica instantly turned off by the fact that their new house is little more than a trailer. Wanting to get away from the menial labour of sexing chicks at a hatchery, Jacob dreams of creating a prosperous farm, even of the start-up costs risk sending the family into debt. Meanwhile, Jacob's son David, who suffers from a heart condition, slowly begins to bond with his grandmother Soonja, who teaches David about simple pleasures, such as the growth of the Korean herb Minari along a nearby creek.

Probably the simplest description of the plot of Minari is that it's a drama about a Korean immigrant family trying to achieve the American dream on their farm in rural Arkansas. Previously known primarily for his role on The Walking Dead, Steven Yeun has spent the last few years reinventing himself as a dramatic actor, with films such as this and 2018's Burning. As the Yi family patriarch Jacob, Yeun plays a man who is desperate for financial success, even if it means neglecting the very family he is trying to provide for. This results in Jacob having many fights with his wife Monica, who ends up flying in her mother Soonja to lessen some of the load around the household.

There's part of that wishes I didn't have to point out that Minari is the very rare example of an American produced film, including Executive Producer , that is set in rural American, yet is told entirely from the perspective of a Korean family, complete with the fact that less than a quarter of the film has English dialogue. At the very least, there is the hope that Minari is the type of film that opens up a dialogue about what exactly it means to be an American film. As a Canadian, I'm used to having a very-cultural national cinema scene, which goes between the official languages of English and French. Hope, with films such as Minari, our neighbours to the south can learn that a film can be predominantly in another language and still be American, though, given some recent controversies, I doubt that will be the case.

However, I will still say that overall that Minari is still an affecting drama about the search for the American dream.

Minari is now available on Premium VOD.

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Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly
Sean Patrick Kelly is a freelance film critic and blogger based in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.

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