Monday, June 21, 2021

In the Reels: Coming of Age reimagined in “Minari”

This year’s Golden Globes nominations caused controversy online as “Minari” was only nominated for Best Foreign Language Film. It prompted Lulu Wang and Daniel Dae Kim to speak out online against the categorization. How could a film that was shot in America, made by a director born in America, and distributed by an American company end up in a category with the word “foreign” in it?

In Jan. 1944, the Hollywood Foreign Press Association held the first Golden Globes awards ceremony. It would take five years for the awards show to start including an award for Best Foreign Language Film. The categorization is straightforward because the majority of the film’s dialogue has to be a language other than English. This comes with a caveat. A Foreign Language Film is not allowed to be nominated for the two other Best Picture awards at the Golden Globes. While the rule does provide an opportunity for more films to be nominated for “Best… Film” of the year, this separates the films from English speaking and non-English speaking.

“Minari” tells the story of a Korean-American family adjusting to life in Arkansas after moving from California. Jacob Yi, played by Steven Yeun, purchases a farm and mobile home for his wife and two children. Yi tries to follow the American dream by creating something from the bare green field. This pursuit runs the risk of Yi losing sight of what is most important along the way. The family’s dynamic is shaken up more when Jacob’s mother-in-law, Soonja, played by Yuh-jung Youn, arrives.

At the core of the story, David, played by Alan S. Kim, is coming of age. He is dealing with other white kids and their passively racist comments. They may not mean to cast hatred, but their comments and questions are insensitive. It’s a sad accuracy for the period of the late 1980’s. He’s trying to figure out what it means to be “American,” while his relationship with his Korean grandmother affects that process.

David is a stand-in for writer-director Lee Isaac Chung. His autobiographical connections were disclosed in a recent piece written by himself and published in the Los Angeles Times. He writes, “I knew about snakes and tired farmers, about fields you pass by every day that, on golden occasions, transform under moving clouds to reveal every inexpressible thing you want to say about life.”

In an interview between Variety and the seven-year-old actor, Alan S. Kim explained his motivations for coming on to this project: “I wanted to get a chance to be famous.”

Both of these men accomplish their goals. Chung’s direction and work with cinematographer Lachlan Milne bring the farm landscapes to life. The sun-kissed fields and warm blue skies are a sight for sore eyes in the middle of this bleak winter. In a way, it is the perfect escapist late February release.

Kim has also become a star through “Minari’s” popularity. His Instagram account has 4,000 follower. He has been profiled by Vulture Magazine and he is on the longlist for the BAFTA nominees for Best Supporting Actor. His youthful humor and excitement is on full display in the film. It is impossible to not be won over by Kim’s performance.

Both of these components complement each other as the audience sees the world as David experiences it.

“Minari” is one of the best films of the year, and it is baffling that it can’t compete in the main categories at the Golden Globes this year. While last year’s awards success for “Parasite” was a great step towards inclusion, there is still a lack of diversity.

To quote Bong Joon-ho at the Golden Globes last year, “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

 

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