Minari, an extremely affecting story about a Korean family’s experiences in America, is one of the best films of the year according to Film Critic Samantha Hicks

Film Editor and final year History student.
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Set against the backdrop of 1980s rural America, Minari tells the moving story of six-year-old troublemaker David (Alan Kim) and his Korean-American family as they settle into a new life in Arkansas. Primarily a film about the enduring strength of family bonds, director Lee Isaac Chung gives an intimate insight into the tension between pressures to assimilate and the need to retain a strong connection to their South Korean heritage. Chung’s semi-autobiographical tale of what the vision of the American Dream can mean for immigrant families is nothing short of a masterpiece.

After purchasing a plot of land in the middle of nowhere, patriarch Jacob (Steven Yeun) moves his family from California with the dream of setting up his own farm to produce Korean vegetables. Minari does not shy away from the realities of uprooting a family: Jacob’s relationship with his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) is rocky, and their children David and Anne (Noel Cho) rely on one another for company. These dynamics are further put to the test when Monica’s mother, Soon-ja (Yoon Yuh-jung) comes from South Korea to help with the childcare responsibilities. Speaking very limited English, and not conforming to David’s image of a ‘real grandma,’ Soon-ja too has to adjust to a wildly different life alongside her grandchildren.

Minari does not shy away from the realities of uprooting a family

The title of the film is a reference to the plant that Soon-ja grows in the nearby creek with the children. Whilst sowing the seeds, Soon-ja explains to the children that the minari plant (also known as water celery) is resilient, and will grow very well in the creek. In this sense, the minari plant perfectly parallels the journey of the Yi family: despite being placed in an unfamiliar setting, the roots of their family are strong enough to endure adversity and thrive. This is just one of the many messages Chung weaves into his film, but it is clear from this alone how carefully he has crafted this film. He leaves no stone unturned while ensuring his message of overcoming adversity as a strong family unit is present throughout the film.

Each scene is an immersive experience: low camera shots paired with views of hazy sunlit landscapes embody a sense of childlike innocence, as though the audience is watching through David or Anne’s eyes. Set to a beautiful, sombre piano score, Minari is constructed in such a way that the imagery alone evokes the strong sense of hope and optimism felt by the family. Alongside this, the colour palette is gorgeous and perfectly captures the rural summertime setting: warm, deep orange tones and luscious greenery brings the audience truly in touch with Jacob’s dream. Paired with a flawless screenplay and an outstanding cast, this is a tender story that will stick with you for a long time after watching.

Being a semi-autobiographical film, getting the cast right was clearly important for Chung. From the audience’s point of view, the casting of the family members is perfect. The strong family dynamic created by the cast feels so natural as a viewer – an impressive feat considering the young ages of the child actors. Yoon Yuh-jung’s performance as Soon-ja was a particular highlight, showing a deeply intimate portrayal of the experiences of old age and navigating a completely different setting to her home in South Korea. The relationship that unfolds between her character and Alan Kim’s character David is pure and authentic and speaks to the talents of both actors. The casting of the film is a huge strength of the film – each actor gives an astounding performance, even down to the secondary characters.

Each actor gives an astounding performance, even down to the secondary characters

Minari is a beautifully crafted film that gives a heart-wrenching, touching, and thoughtful view on life as an immigrant family in rural America. It does not shy away from difficult issues such as the pressures to assimilate or the alienation that can be felt in rural areas, but it also makes sure to explore the human relationships and experiences fostered in this setting. Above all, it feels real. Minari tells an incredibly important story, one which is seldom told in mainstream media.


Minari is a truly special film and a tender portrayal of the strength of family bonds. It will undoubtedly break your heart, but it makes sure to leave you feeling warm and hopeful as you follow the Yi family’s story. There is no denying that it lives up to the praise and critical acclaim it has received thus far. I cannot recommend it enough!


Minari premiered in the UK at the Glasgow Film Festival and will be available to stream from March 19th on VOD.

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