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Review: Minari

Watched Minari via A24’s online “screening room”—certainly not my preferred viewing method, but it’s still safer than venturing out to the movie theater in the midst of an ongoing global pandemic.

Writer/director Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical drama confronts the complexities of the “American Dream” through the eyes of the Yis, a family of Korean immigrants. Their perspective on such archetypal, idealized, and oft-illusory ambitions as raising a nuclear family, cultivating one’s own plot of land, and attending church picnics on Sundays enriches and elevates the material, putting it into a more honest and truthful context. Chung’s versatile visual style perfectly complements the narrative, shifting in accordance with the tone and mood. In some scenes, for example, the camera gracefully swoops and soars to the rhythm of Emile Mosseri’s musical score, elegantly capturing the magical, ethereal quality of a childhood memory; in others, when the full weight of reality comes crashing down on the protagonists, the frame becomes uncomfortably static and claustrophobic, evoking the sensation of being caught in a figurative trap.

While the characters’ heritage is obviously important, however, it doesn’t completely define them; many of the conflicts with which they grapple (marital, financial, intergenerational) are universal, allowing all viewers—regardless of race—to recognize themselves reflected in the Yis. In light of recent events, this underlying humanist theme (celebrating both common experiences and cultural differences) makes Minari feel even more relevant and significant. I find it unfortunate that my country needs a film like this right now… but at least the critical acclaim that it has earned is encouraging.

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