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'Minari', meeting ground between Korean immigrant story, American farming story

Clockwise from top left: Youn Yuh-jung, Han Ye-ri, director Lee Isaac Chung and Steven Yeun appear for an online press conference Friday. (Pancinema)
Clockwise from top left: Youn Yuh-jung, Han Ye-ri, director Lee Isaac Chung and Steven Yeun appear for an online press conference Friday. (Pancinema)

Ahead of the March 3 theatrical release of Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari,” the cast and director shared the joy and surprise at the reception of the film. The movie won 74 awards in film festivals around the world, and Youn has won 26 awards for best supporting actress so far.

“Minari” depicts the story of an immigrant family of four from Korea who move to the middle of the US in Arkansas. Jacob, played by Yeun, and Monica, played by Han Ye-ri, pursue their American dream while Monica’s mother Soon-ja, played by Youn Yuh-jung, comes from Korea to help with the kids.

“I tried to tell a very personal story with this. I am very surprised at the response,” said director Chung during an online press interview Friday. “As I reflected on why this film connected with a wide range of audiences, I feel it’s not because it’s about me, about immigrants, about this particular situation socially. I think it has to do with human beings and relationships, I think as we all as people around the world wrestle with what Yi family is wrestling with: the idea of how do we love each other in a difficult situation.” 
“Minari” (Pancinema)
“Minari” (Pancinema)

For Chung, creating the semi-autobiographical movie wasn’t at all easy. He tried to combine the Korean immigrant story element with the element of what it was like to be in America at the time.

“I needed to find the meeting ground between the Korean immigrant story and also the farming story that happens in America,” he said. “It was very stressful to make this film. I don’t think I let myself feel relaxed until the very end.”

“Even though it was difficult, we made it. We made it as a team, as a family.”

For Yeun, what set this movie apart from others about minorities was the different point of view the director took in approaching the immigrant story.

“The thing that was really refreshing for me was just how confident it is of its point of view. For me as a Korean American actor, usually when you get scripts about people of color and minorities, it’s usually explanatory. People usually explain the culture to the viewer because the viewer is assumed to be a majority white audience. And so there is a level of always seeing yourself through the gaze or the lens of the white majority of America,” said Yeun. “So when I read Isaac’s script it was just about this family, and to me, it felt like reading a script from Korea. It felt like people as people that happened to be Korean and so that was incredibly refreshing.”

Youn, who is one of the early favorites in the competition for the Oscar for best supporting actress, also expressed surprise at the film‘s reception.

“To me Minari is a work that shocked me and surprised me. When I took the film, I only had the thought of going to a cool place after getting the shooting done. When I saw it at Sundance and everyone liked it, I was a little surprised,” she said, referring to the Utah film festival where it premiered in January last year. “When people say I received so many awards, it’s amazing. I didn’t act imagining all this would happen.”

However, the esteemed actor said the glory of winning 26 awards could not be felt just yet.

“I only got one physical award. I can’t feel it just yet,” she said. “I am not a Hollywood actress and have no such experience, so I just think that since the country is large, there are a lot of awards.”

“Ultimately with directing and filmmaking, it’s all about trying to help people be artists. Everybody involved is an artist,” said Chung. “Everything we see in the film is the work of a whole. It’s a collaboration. It’s not my own vision trying to execute this. Hopefully we all did it very well as a team and I am very proud of what everyone did.”

By Lim Jang-won (ljw@heraldcorp.com)
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