Midway through the new film Minari, grandmother Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn) extols the virtues of the spicy Korean herb that gives the film its name. Standing on the edge of a creek in the Arkansas woods, Soonja praises the plant as she scatters its seeds into foreign soil. “Minari is truly the best,” she tells her grandson David (Alan S. Kim). “It grows anywhere, like weeds, so anyone can pick and eat it. Rich or poor, anyone can enjoy it and be healthy.” Translating his grandmother’s Korean into English, David begins to sing, “Minari, minari, minari, wonderful, wonderful, minari.”
David’s simple song captures the beauty of not only the herb his grandmother imports into the US, but the immigrants themselves. Spoken almost entirely in Korean, Minari follows recent immigrants Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica Yi (Yeri Han) as they move their family from California to Arkansas in the mid-1980s. Frustrated with his job of “chicken sexing” (separating male chicks from female chicks), Jacob follows a uniquely Korean spin on the American Dream, planning to establish a farm to grow Korean crops he can sell to grocers and restaurants serving immigrant populations. While the film never shies away from the challenges the Yi family faces, writer/director Lee Isaac Chung and his collaborators never fail to show the value of labor and the beauty that immigrants bring to their new homelands.