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The Search for America’s Soul: Minari

26 May

In honor of Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month, I have decided to write a review of the recent award-winning Korean language film “Minari,” which had a profound effect upon me. It is a uniquely American film focusing on a family of Korean immigrants who move to rural Arkansas in the 1980s in order to pursue the American dream of starting their own farm.

The director, Lee Isaac Chung, grew up on an Arkansas farm, so the film is inherently authentic and semi-autobiographical.  His character-driven script and gentle, unhurried direction give the cast and story room to breathe. This is top-notch filmmaking from beginning to end.

As the film opens, the Yi family are moving from California to Arkansas. The father Jacob (Steven Yeun) and wife Monica (Yeri Han) are chicken sexers, which means they identify the sex of newborn chicks for chicken farms. The females are kept for eggs and poultry, while the males are thrown into the incinerator.

Jacob has purchased a cheap plot of land and the dilapidated trailer home that sits on the property. Together, they will raise their two young children and hopefully start a successful farm so that they can leave the monotonous, soul-killing work of chicken sexing behind.

There is clear marital tension between Jacob and Monica, and it is only exacerbated by the isolation and loneliness of their new home. Apparently, their life in California was much more social, because they were surrounded by other Korean and Asian families. However, property taxes were escalating and they couldn’t afford to stay, so they decide to move to rural Arkansas where the cost of living is cheaper and life is much simpler and safer.

Jacob and Monica try to ingratiate themselves into the local community in Arkansas by joining a church. Their ethnicity is a novelty, but they are mostly welcomed. They quickly find that holding down their jobs, trying to start a farm and raising two children is too much, so they send for Monica’s mother, Soonja (Youn Yuh-jung, winner of the Best Supporting Actress Academy Award), an elderly woman who instantly infuses life and humor into the household. Her first goal is to win over the skepticism of her young grandson David (Alan S. Kim) and her granddaughter Anne (Noel Cho) who is somewhat more reasonable.

But even with the new help on the home front, Jacob struggles with his farmland. One problem after another occurs, beginning with the lack of cheap water supply. However, an angel appears in the form of Paul (Will Patton), an eccentric Vietnam veteran and evangelical Christian, who offers to help farm the land. They make an unlikely, yet effective team. However, just as the situation changes for the better, Soonja suffers a stroke, throwing the family into crisis.

The anchor of the film is Steven Yeun, an actor born in South Korea and raised in Michigan who is the star of the popular TV series “The Walking Dead.”  His work in “Minari” is nothing less than masterful, a performance of subtlety and depth matched by Yeri Han (Monica) and Youn Yuh-jung (the feisty grandmother Soonja), both of whom were nominated for SAG Awards.

Just what is minari you may ask?  It is an edible Korean water plant, like a watercress, that is said to grow almost anywhere. This seems like an apt metaphor for a movie about the resilience of immigrants. However, it is so much more than that, because of the racial reckoning in America and, of course, the recent attacks on Asian Americans in New York City and beyond. It is impossible to watch “Minari” without keeping those events in mind. It is not just about the American dream; it is a search for America’s soul.

“Minari” is a poignant, heart-filling celebration of putting down roots, family bonding, and inter-racial connections that is ultimately very intimate, improbably funny and steadfastly stirring. You can borrow it from BCCLS libraries on DVD and Blu-Ray.

Written by:
Ethan Galvin
Reference Librarian

Check in for a Wild Night of Action at Hotel Artemis

17 Feb

My husband and I checked out Hotel Artemis available from Hoopla after 2020 was winding down and we were looking for an antidote for overly saccharine holiday specials (love them, but..).  The movie, set in a rioting Los Angles in the near future of 2028 (just 10 years after its 2018 release date) at Hotel Artemis, which is being used as an exclusive hospital for criminals, seemed a good choice.

Jody Foster stars as a jaded nurse with David Bautista as her assistant/bouncer.  Both provide strong and enjoyable performances.  Jodie Foster has always been one of my favorite actresses and it was interesting to see her in a noir cyberpunk action film.  Bautista is able to give a bit more range here than his simple tough guy wrestling and Guardians of the Galaxy persona.

In the film, one evening takes a pivotal turn as they must deal with everyone from a French assassin to an injured cop.  The Nurse is dealing with a loss in her past and events over the night make her question her role at Hotel Artemis.  A variety of other characters also get minor story arcs and part of me wished that the film could have been a series or miniseries to see them all fleshed out a bit more. The film reminded me a bit of the gritty black comedy Delicatessen that I remember impressing me as a teen, though my threshold for violence has lessened overtime, I would recommend checking that out as well if you enjoy this bleak, but intriguing view of the future.

Written by:
Aimee Harris
Head of Information and Digital Services

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