The new movie “Minari” follows the Yi family, Korean Americans in the 1980s who moved to Arkansas with little money but big dreams. Steven Yeun plays Jacob, an immigrant determined to turn a small plot of land into a thriving farm.
Jacob and his wife Monica find themselves isolated and struggling in an unfamiliar land. To help with their two young kids, they bring Monica’s wisecracking, card-playing mother from Korea. Her arrival changes everything for the family.
“Minari” is written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, who goes by Isaac. Chung was raised by Korean immigrant parents in Arkansas in the 1980s, though the story is not strictly autobiographical.
He’s joined by Christina Oh, a producer at Plan B, the production company founded by Brad Pitt and run by Dede Gardner and Jeremy Kleiner. Plan B has backed Best Picture winners “The Departed,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight.” Oh started at Plan B a decade ago as Dede Gardner’s assistant and has credits on movies including “Okja” and “The Last Black Man in San Francisco.”
Before “Minari,” Chung directed three features that weren’t exactly big at the box office. At that point, Chung figured it was time to walk away from the industry, and went to South Korea to work as a professor.
But before he left, he wrote one last script. The screenplay for “Minari” ended up in the hands of Christina Oh, and somehow, in less than a year, the finished film was playing at Sundance.
They tell us how they did it, and describe the emotional Sundance premiere with their families, where “Minari” won two big awards. It’s a major player in this year’s awards race and was named one of the 10 best films of 2020 by the American Film Institute.
“Minari” is a very American film. But the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, which was lashed in a recent LA Times investigation, nominated it for Best Foreign Language Film because most of the dialogue is Korean. Chung and Oh explain why that categorization was a hurtful mistake.