Get ready to call your parents after watching Minari.
As a Korean-American, it is always exciting for me to see Korean representation in the media. Who can forget last year when Parasite swept awards season, ultimately winning Best Picture at the Oscars? This year, it's Minari that has won people's hearts—and awards should follow.
When the film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in 2020, it immediately got rave reviews. It has since been named best picture by the New York Critics Online, won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture—Foreign Language and received three nominations at the 2021 SAG Awards, including Outstanding Performance by a Cast as well as recognition for Steven Yeun and Yuh-Jung Youn. In fact, Yeun could very well make history as the first Asian American to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Actor.
I remember I had tears just from watching the trailer and was thrilled when I was able to see an early screening of the film in January. Little did I know how my life would change in a matter of hours. Minari tells the story of a Korean immigrant family that moves from California to a farm in Arkansas in the 1980s to pursue their American dream. Yeun portrays the family patriarch, Jacob, who eagerly hopes for success, but his wife Monica (Yeri Han) has difficulty supporting his ideas as they struggle financially. Their kids David (Alan Kim) and Anne (Noel Kate Cho) have to adapt to their new surroundings as well, especially with the arrival of their grandmother (Yuh-Jung Youn), who moves in with the family.
Although I was watching a movie, I felt like I was witnessing reality. As the daughter of Korean immigrants, I was getting a glimpse of what my parents might have experienced when they made their move from South Korea to California. I began to have flashbacks of my own experiences. Whenever I saw the kids on screen, it reminded me of myself and my brother. I was the protective older sister who would answer all his questions and try to guide him. We would run into our rooms whenever our parents would fight, just as David and Anne do in the film.
I never understood why my parents fought so much and it was hard to get close to them growing up. But I never put myself in their shoes to think about the stress and pressure they were under to make money and pay for things like my piano and tennis lessons. I have always been grateful for my experiences and opportunities, but I never took a moment to truly think about what my parents went through. I felt guilt for never asking about their experiences and not knowing more about their journey to California. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
In the film, when Jacob and Monica are desperately trying to save their precious vegetables from burning, I thought about my own parents who have tried to grow and save their businesses from bankruptcy. Even recently, amid the coronavirus pandemic, they had to close their business and it has been painful to watch.
I experienced three stages of emotions following the film: appreciation, reflection and gratitude. I was appreciative of this beautiful work by the cast and director. It is rare to see one's own life and culture mirrored onscreen. I thought it was amazing and I cried throughout. I continued to weep for hours, not able to sleep the entire night. I was overcome with guilt and sadness just thinking about what my parents went through—moving to a new country, living in a new area with no family or friends, struggling with finances. I could not get over how I felt so much resentment toward my parents for fighting or how I never sat them down and asked to hear their story.
I was never very close to my parents and I regret not comforting them more, trying to understand why they made certain decisions or were overprotective. All they ever wanted was to try and build a life here for themselves and their kids. I felt selfish and undeserving of their love and sacrifices.
The next morning, I was still crying, but I realized I needed to release the guilt and reconcile with my past. All I can do now is take action and be grateful. I called my parents that day, not knowing exactly what to say but simply wanting to hear their voices and just say thank you.
I'm so glad the story of Korean immigrants was portrayed this way—so many of our parents moved in hopes to achieve the American dream and find success. But this is not just about Korean families. Anyone can relate, as it is a story about family, resilience and what it means to belong to each other and find common ground. We need that more than ever during this time.
So what does "minari" mean? It is a Korean plant, which director Lee Isaac Chung described as one "that will grow very strongly in its second season after it has died and come back." In the A24 film, Jacob and Monica end up on the brink of separating, with her wanting to move back to California without him. But they're strengthened by loss when a fire ravages their farm, giving them a chance to start again.
I am grateful that my parents never split up. The fights were unbearable, but our family was given another chance to grow and be together. Now, I am even more appreciative and protective of them. During this pandemic, many businesses have suffered and closed down. There has been tremendous loss worldwide, a rise of anti-Asian hate crimes, but I look forward to new beginnings and opportunities for everyone. Most importantly, I hope our voices will be heard and our stories will be told.
If I can share one thing I gained from watching Minari, it's that life is too short to have regrets. All we can do is live and learn and hold awareness and deep gratitude for where we are today. I will be eternally grateful to my parents who gave me everything—and I will always hold this film close to my heart for opening my eyes.
Thank you to my mother and father for wanting to pursue that American dream because I would not be here today living my own dream in Los Angeles if it wasn't for them.