Lee Isaac Chung’s family drama Minari is named after a Korean herb that “comes in the pockets of immigrants, dies in the first year, thrives in the second, purifies the water and the soil around it.” There couldn’t be a more perfect analogy for this story about the American Dream.
A24’s Minari follows a Korean-American family led by patriarch Jacob (Steven Yeun) and matriarch Monica (Yeri Han), who move to a small Arkansas farm on their quest for the American Dream. The dynamic in the house changes when the loving, unflitered and witty grandma (Yuh-jung Youn) arrives. The family (which also includes stars Alan Kim and Noel Kate Cho) attempts to navigate their new way of life in a film that overall tells a family story that hits close to home for Chung.
“This is a story that has always been with me and in my mind and in my heart,” Chung says at Deadline’s Contenders Film awards-season event, joined by Yeun, Han and Youn. “The work of it was interesting in trying to birth it into a film — to get it away from my own personal experiences and memory toward something that works as a film.”
He adds that the process was great and that he learned a lot about his past and the way that everyone has hopes, dreams, longings and sufferings. “It went from something very personal to something very artistic,” Chung says.
The actors’ experience in making the film paralleled Chung’s reason for making it. Like Chung, Yeun says a story like this had been on his mind.
“As storytellers, you want to tell something that is very personal to you… and this is certainly it,” he says. “For me, to play Jacob, it was really eye-opening and an incredible experience. The things that I was able to tap into was understanding my own family and my own self as a father and a husband — those were interesting explorations.”
Han agrees with Yeun, saying that playing Monica helped her understand her family better — particularly her mother. “I ended up thinking about why she ended up making the choices she did,” she says.
Youn comes to the story from a different perspective, having been a mother and a grandmother. Her experiences help fuel her performance as the grandmother — specifically, her relationship with her great grandmother.
Check out the video above.