Glasgow Film Festival Opening Film review: Minari

Steve Yeun and Alan Kim in MinariSteve Yeun and Alan Kim in Minari
Steve Yeun and Alan Kim in Minari
Lee Isaac Chung’s tale of a family’s struggle to assimilate into a new culture is a low-key affair, but it also has a power that's hard to deny, writes Alistair Harkness

There’s nothing particularly radical about Glasgow Film Festival opener Minari (15) ****. Writer/director Lee Isaac Chung’s semi-autobiographical tale about a Korean-American family trying to make a new life for themselves on an Arkansas farm in the 1980s operates in such a low-key register it barely draws attention to itself. But that’s also what makes it such a poignant study of the struggle to assimilate into a new culture without losing one’s own identity.

Steven Yeun leads a terrific cast as Jacob, a Korean immigrant who has moved his reluctant wife Monica (Yeri Han) and their American-born children David (Alan Kim) and Anne (Noel Kate Cho) from Los Angeles to the rural South with a dream of growing Korean vegetables that he can sell to America’s expanding immigrant population.

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It’s a move that immediately exacerbates deep-rooted marital tensions as Jacob’s dream starts looking more like a hubristic folly fuelled by male pride and his own fear of being discarded. The film carefully chips away at this theme, but does so with great humour and pathos, particularly after Jacob’s mischievous mother-in-law Soonja (Yuh-jung Youn) arrives from Korea and gradually bonds with David, who has a heart condition but all the impish energy of a typical eight-year-old. It’s through her that we learn the significance of the title – it’s a Korean plant – and though its metaphorical use in the film is a little obvious, it ends up resonating with a quiet power that’s hard to deny.

Minari screens online at Glasgow Film Festival until 27 February and is on general release from 19 March,

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