Tag Archives: Korea

SKY CINEMA REVIEW: MINARI (2020)

SKY CINEMA REVIEW: MINARI (2020)

Directed by Lee Isaac Chung

Written by Lee Isaac Chung

Produced by: Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Christina Oh

Cast: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Youn Yuh-jung, Will Patton, etc.

Cinematography: Lachlan Milne

Music by: Emile Messeri

*** MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ***


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I missed Minari (2020) at the cinema. Which is a shame because out of all the Oscar-nominated films from earlier in the year it is now my favourite. Further, it should certainly have won the best film award. (Note: I have yet to see The Father (2020).) It has the heart and warmth and realistic hope that eventual winner, Nomadland (2020) lacked. Chloe Zhao’s powerful character study was arguably too meditative and glacially paced, without any real diversion from the plodding repetition of monotonous existence. I love slice-of-life and character-driven work, but I want some drama too. While Minari (2020) has certain meditative qualities, writer-director Lee Isaac Chung has crafted a supeb cinematic memoir of tender power and emotion.

Set in 1983, Minari (2020), centres around the Yi family. They had been working in California, but have moved to Arkansas to farm the land. The father, Jacob (Steven Yuen) dreams of growing produce to sell to fellow Korean businesses. However, the farm and static caravan he has purchased is remote with no guarantee of water to ripen the fruits and vegetables. Jacob must either pay exorbitant prices from the water company or find a natural spring underground. Alas, rain rarely threatens the Arkansas plains.

Jacob’s wife, Monica (Han Ye-ri) hates the caravan and does not share his farming dream. This marital conflict drives the much of the narrative as the two argue constantly. Monica is especially angry that her young son, David (Alan Kim) is so far from a hospital. The boy has a heart condition and like any good mother she consistently worries. Their teenage daughter, Anne (Noel Kate Cho) is too young to be a full-time caregiver to David while Jacob and Monica support themselves working at a local chicken factory. To placate Monica, Jacob brings grandmother, Soon-ja (Youn Yuh-jung) to the farm for support. Here a beautiful and funny parallel plot begins as David and his grandmother’s relationship comes to the fore.


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I watched Minari (2020) on a Sunday morning at home, relaxed and cosy, filled with breakfast and coffee. I loved experiencing the film. The music wondrously supports the beautiful photography that illuminates the green and wheats that fill the lens’ gorgeous palette. Like the masterpiece, Parasite (2019), Minari (2020) represents a working-class family striving to stay together and survive in difficult times. The main difference though is the Yi family were doing it with honest hard graft rather that grifting, ducking and diving. The Yi’s connect with nature and the land rather than skimming the city and the rich. I really rooted for the Yi’s. Jacob’s desires and battles to find water reminded me of the equally moving French classic, Jean De Florette (1986).

Minari (2020) doesn’t take the obvious route of making the Arkansas locals racists who rail against the Yi’s. While there are some scenes involving cultural clashes, much of the drama and humour derives from the families interactions with each other. Indeed, the scenes where David antagonises his unconventional grandmother are hilarious. Youn Yuh-jung as the elderly matriarch is fantastic, deservedly winning a best supporting actress role at the Oscars. Moreover, Lee Isaac Chung gets a miraculous performance from child actor, Alan Kim. Special mention for a busy, but nuanced portrayal of a troubled but helpful worker, Paul, by Will Patton. His deeply pious character could have easily been made an antagonist, but Chung ensures he is another relatable human being in a film full of them.

Mark: 9.5 out of 11


PARASITE (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

PARASITE (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW

Directed by: Bong Joo-ho

Produced by: Kwak Sin-ae, moon Yang-kwon, Bong Yok-cho, Jang Young-hwan

Screenplay by: Bong Joon-ho & Han Jin-won

Cast: Song Kang-ho, Jang Hye-jin, Choi Woo-shik, Park So-dam, Lee Sun-kyun, Cho Yeo-jeong, Jung Ji-so, Jung Hyeon-jun, Lee Jung-eun

Cinematography by: Hong Kyung-pyo

******* MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS ********



I actually saw this incredible work of cinema storytelling on Saturday just passed, so am writing this review AFTER the film rather incredibly won several Oscars at the 92nd Academy Awards ceremony on Sunday. I say “rather incredibly”, not because the film wasn’t a worthy winner of the Best Film award, but because high quality films not in the English language usually have to be satisfied with the Best International Film Award, as it is known now. Parasite (2019) in fact, deservedly won that award too. Anyway, irrespective of the awards it has earned, the film has also been universally praised. Not surprisingly, because it is not just a Korean arthouse film, but rather an ingenious genre classic. It blends dark comedy, horror, drama and thriller tropes to create a funny, suspenseful and consistently surprising experience.

The story premise itself is relatively simple and it begins not too differently from a Japanese film I watched recently called, Shoplifters (2018). A lower class family, in this case Korean, live in cramped conditions and struggle to survive on a daily basis. Their apartment is below level and the Kim’s including father, Ki-taek, mother Chung-sook, daughter Ki-jeong and son Kim Ki-woo are all out of work. While they struggle on they stick together as a family, battling drunks who piss against their window, steal local wi-fi and also carry out menial part-time jobs like making up pizza boxes. Fortunately, a friend of Ki-woo recommends him for a teaching position within a very wealthy household belonging to the Park family. Then the narrative really gathers pace as the Kim family surreptitiously begin to infest and inveigle their way into the Park’s privileged lives.



You’d be forgiven for thinking that the Kim family are the antagonists in the narrative, however, they are very empathetic characters. Their dubious actions lead the story into very dark and funny territory, as they manipulate Mr and Mrs Park, plus their young son and teenage daughter. While not condoning their actions one can identify with their class struggle because they are desperate to improve their situation and prosperity. The issue is though they get a bit greedy and the superb screenplay throws a massive twisting curve-ball at them as the Kim’s plans unravel and events go completely off the rails.

Filmmaker, Bong Joon-ho, like he did with the brilliant films, Snowpiercer (2013) and The Host (2006) is clearly using the social status of his characters to satirise and critique capitalist society. It’s literally an ‘Upstairs versus Downstairs’ narrative in terms of both locations and themes. Beautifully filmed, in a property that was actually built for the film, the cinematography makes clever use of glass and windows to mirror characters and reflect identity. Moreover, it has more than a voyeuristic air to it with characters hiding around doorways and stairwells, as well as following, spying and watching each other secretly. It’s a film which Hitchcock would have been proud to have directed too, with many suspenseful and gripping set-pieces throughout.



Ultimately, the first three-quarters of the Parasite (2019) are a cinematic masterpiece, so brilliantly plotted and planned out. When the Kim’s plans are then upended, the film gives way to an unhinged ending as events descend into bloody chaos. However, Bong Joon-ho is so in control of the material he tells us, via Ki-taek, that this careful planning is about to give way to something more messy. Furthermore, the final act while moving and tenderly rendered, I felt, was replete with somewhat poetic narrative holes. But, this is not a criticism as even in the final scenes Joon-ho is inventive while surprising the audience. Although, overall, the biggest shock would come when Parasite (2019) won the best film at the Oscars. I’m still reeling the Academy made such a risky choice!

Mark: 10 out of 11