‘Minari’ is a uniquely American story, and that’s its charm

Steven Yeun of 'The Walking Dead' stars in Lee Isaac Chung’s story of a 1980s Korean-American family that relocates from California to rural Arkansas

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Steven Yeun appears in "Minari" by Lee Isaac Chung, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.

After a recent theatrical-only release, one of the best films of 2020 is now available for you to watch in the comfort of your own home.

Writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” is such a uniquely beautiful film, and it’s more than worth your rental this weekend.

The movie tells the story of a Korean-American family that relocates from California to rural Arkansas in the 1980s. It’s an immigrant story, but it’s notably not the immigrant story.

The hyperspecificity of the story is where its charms lie. Jacob (Steven Yeun of “The Walking Dead”) moves his skeptical wife Monica (Yeri Han) and their young children (Alan S. Kim and Noel Cho) to a trailer in Arkansas with a promising but challenging plot of land.

Jacob is going to farm this land and make a living for himself and his children. This is a story of the American Dream for more than two centuries. To help with the adjustment for the children, Monica’s mother (Yuh-jung Youn) travels from Korea to help with their care.

“Minari” is presented in English and Korean with subtitles, but it’s one of the most truly American movies of the last year. It’s warm and funny and heartbreaking at times, depicting a multigenerational family and the layers of perspective therein.

The perspective of a Korean-American family in 1980s Arkansas is obviously not representative of most Korean-American families, and that’s kind of the point. It’s a largely biographical story being told by Chung, who shares his slice of American existence on a cellular level.

Much tension plays out among three generations of assimilation, and Youn is a Best Supporting Actress frontrunner for her portrayal of a sweet matriarch balancing the past and present.

The cast is uniformly wonderful, and Chung brings a warm and subtly challenging perspective-shift to pretty much all viewers.

You’ve never seen a story like “Minari” because it’s such a specific and singular story, and contemplating that there are millions of singular stories like it is probably the most important thing you can learn about America this weekend.