Updated: Jun 2
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW / HDR FRAME SHOTS
Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri) are shocked by the latest medical update on their young son David (Alan Kim) with daughter Anne (Noel Kate Cho) listening to the doctor.
(Click an image to scroll the larger versions)
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, Digital copy; 2020; PG-13 for some thematic elements and a rude gesture; streaming via Amazon Prime Video (4K), Apple TV (4K), FandangoNOW (4K), Google Play, Vudu (4K), YouTube
Best extra: Making-of documentary
IN “MINARI,” Lee Isaac Chung’s thoroughly appealing autobiographical film, we meet Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) as he’s showing his wife Monica (Han Ye-ri), and their children Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and David (Alan Kim), their new home. To Monica’s horror, the home is a single-wide trailer, set in the middle of a large tract of land in rural Arkansas.
We eventually discover the move (from California, where the family immigrated from Korea) is part of Jacob’s American dream: to create a farm where he can grow enough Korean vegetables to make a living. Jacob and Monica work in a chicken factory, where their job is to sex baby chicks (i.e., identify and separate males from females), the same tedious work they’d done in California. (The process is probably not familiar to most viewers, but when Jacob explains to little David why it’s done, and what happens to the male chicks afterwards, that information just might alter your future chicken-buying habits.)
(1&2) After a cross-country trip from California, the Yi family arrive at their small rural plot in Arkansas with a single-wide trailer. (3) Jacob tells Monica he selected this region because it’s the best soil in America. (4) Monica checks David’s blood pressure, who has a heart condition. She’s worried that the nearest hospital is 60 minutes away.
While there’s no doubt Monica would like to be able to quit her job, she has little faith that Jacob can make his farm dream come true. The couple fight loudly and frequently, much to their children’s dismay. One way Jacob is able to somewhat appease Monica is to agree to let her mother come over from Korea and live with them.
Enter Soonja (Youn Yuh-Jung, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her performance), a sprightly, sassy woman with a ready smile and strong ideas about everything. The only family member who doesn’t welcome Granny with open arms is David, who doesn’t like her sense of humor nor her “Korea smell.” Along with a load of delicacies she brings as gifts are some minari (a Korean green vegetable) seeds she intends to plant. The evolution of David’s relationship with Soonja is central to the film. The various side stories, such as Jacob’s hired hand (Will Patton), a strange yet benign religious fanatic who speaks in tongues and carries a heavy cross every Sunday instead of going to church; David’s potentially fatal heart condition; and Monica’s bitter unhappiness – provide just enough variety to round out this appealing film.
All the actors deliver totally honest and convincing performances, especially the exceptionally lovable Alan Kim as David Yi.
(1&2) The first day at the chicken hatchery, sorting out between female and male chicks. Jacob takes a break since David was getting bored. They don’t have anyone to watch the children while at work. (3) A tornado watch flashes across the TV screen and Monica and the children are frightened. (4&5) Monica isn’t sure she signed up for this life.
Sourced from a 2K master captured on an Arri Alexa Mini digital camera 3.4K (2.39:1 aspect ratio), digital platforms get the exclusive Lionsgate 4K/HDR release. The 4K provides a slight increase in resolution, evident by the ability to read the signs on the side of the chicken hatchery more clearly. But if TRUE 4K mastering had been applied the clarity and sharpness would’ve been even better.
The HDR10 and Dolby Vision toning is also slightly darker, but feature brighter highlights seen when the sun peeks through tree branches. Mid-tones are more defined – especially during a fire sequence. Shadows are nicely detailed during night sequences and in darker interiors as the family sleeps. The overall color palette and skin tones are natural and realistic. And, a small amount of post-production film grain was applied, but you may also notice there’s a lens issue with the wide-angle shots. On the right side corners, the red and green are slightly out of alignment.
Not often does a 4K digital get coded with eight-channel Dolby Atmos when the physical disc doesn’t, but that’s the case here. During the Yi family's first tornado watch and loud thunderstorm, crashing thunder and rain effects are quite active in height speakers. The same with naturalistic sound effects of summertime insects and winds.
The Atmos and six-channel DTS-HD for the Blu-ray are effectively balanced with dialogue (also subtitled in Korean and English). It’s always clear, and the lovely Oscar-nominated score by Emile Mosseri (“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”) provides just the right tone.
(1&2) The search for water to nourish the soon-to-be-planted vegetables. (3&4) Paul (Will Patton) becomes Jacob’s right-hand-man with getting the farm off the ground.
Bonus features include a couple of deleted scenes and a commentary by Chung and award-winner Youn Yuh-Jung. It’s basically a charming conversation between the writer/director and actress about Korean customs and trivia about making the film. The Apple TV digital has an exclusive 54-minute Zoom conference Q&A with filmmaker Ramy Youssef moderating with Yeun, Chung, and producer Christina Oh, as they explore the universal immigrant story.
The making-of documentary, “Sowing Seeds,” offers more concrete detail. In it, Chung explains how closely the screenplay reflects his own life. His family actually did move to a trailer in Arkansas so his father could try farming, and his grandmother really did join them and successfully plant minari seeds by a creek.
Chung sees the minari as a metaphor for the immigrant story: “Having a plant that’s very different from everything in the world around me,” and then watching it flourish. Oh says when she read the script, she thought it was “the most honest story of a Korean family” she’d ever seen. Steven Yeun began his connection with “Minari” as an executive producer and then, according to Chung, “He transformed into Jacob.” Yeun felt the script was “unwaveringly honest to its own perspective. It’s just a story about this family,” he adds, “but it’s so brave, intelligent and refreshing.”
(1) Monica’s mother Soonja (Youn Yuh-Jung) arrives from Korea. (2) David tries to peel a banana with Grandma Soonja watching. (3) Grandma finds the perfect spot along a nearby creekbed to plant the minari (a Korean green vegetable) seeds. (4&5) Jacob and Monica discipline David for giving Grandma something bad to drink. (6) The Yi family decides to find a church and the pastor welcomes them by asking them to stand.
He came to realize that “Jacob was me!” and so he had to “reach back into my own past, seeing my parents,” which was an “intense journey.” Chung cast Korean star Youn Yuh-Jung as the grandmother because he “needed someone who was not fitting into any category …" but who would understand “what it means to be a grandmother, and what it means to be a Korean immigrant.”
Alan Kim was thrilled to be in the film with Youn: “It was ‘Wow!’ I get to work with a Korean celebrity! … She gave great advice and is such a great actor.” Chung says that Alan was “the youngest person sent to audition.” When the director saw the boy’s audition tape, he says, “I saw David!” Production designer Yong Ok Lee explains the scene in which Monica lines cabinet drawers with calendar paper from the Korean grocery, noting that every Korean family would recognize that.
Chung concludes that his hope for “Minari” is that all viewers find a connection to the Yi family’s story, because it asks “What is it that makes us human beings?”
— Peggy Earle
(1-3) Everything is growing from the vegetables to the minari plants. (4) The shallow well that Jacob dug has gone dry and will his dream survive?
(1) David watches over Grandma who’s fallen ill. (2) An ultrasound is performed on David’s heart. (3&4) Jacob and Monica continue to struggle and wonder if the family should move back to California. (5) The family collapses on the living room floor.