davidehrlich’s review published on Letterboxd:
Told with the rugged tenderness of a Flannery O’Connor novel but aptly named for a resilient Korean herb that can grow wherever it’s planted, Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical “Minari” is a raw and vividly remembered story of two simultaneous assimilations; it’s the story of a family assimilating into a country, but also the story of a man assimilating into his family.
Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica (“Sea Fog” star Han Yeri) emigrated from Korea together in the early ’70s, but — after nearly a decade of scraping by as chicken sexers in California — they arrive at the Arkansas trailer home he bought for their family in separate cars. Monica drives the kids: A stoic pre-teen girl named Anne (the natural and grounded Noel Cho), and a precocious seven-year-old boy named David (newcomer Alan S. Kim, delivering one of the most crucial and transcendently honest child performances since Jonathan Chang in “Yi Yi”). Jacob drives the truck, which is full of its own precious cargo.
As he pulls up to the five-acre plot of disheveled Ozark farmland, stridently unaware that it defeated the last man who settled there, Jacob’s eyes glint with a hellbent kind of happiness; it’s the look of a man who’s about to literally plant his roots in foreign soil. He sees this raw earth as a Garden of Eden that’s waiting to be grown. A practical woman concerned about raising a son with a heart murmur in a town that’s an hour away from the nearest hospital, Monica isn’t quite convinced. How can they build a foundation for their family in a house on wheels? She glares at her husband in a way that implies a thousand unheard arguments, or the same argument a thousand times: “This isn’t what you promised.”