Minari starts with a jolt and ends with the tiniest note of hope. A Korean family drives up to a house on wheels somewhere in the backblocks of the American South. The father has taken this upon himself. He is fulfilling his long held ambition to own his own ‘garden’, plant 'Korean' vegetables and get out of a decades long job as a chicken sexer. (Was I the only person who marvelled that you could emigrate to America and your only quals are chicken sexing?)
They have been in the USA for ten years already and not too long in we learn this is Reagan’s America and they are not just driving round in an old car. Then come the elements that cause you to put this movie into Rod Bishop's Trump taxonomy. (In fact one local critic emerging from this movie said he thought there wasn’t a single movie being made in America now and possibly into the future that isn’t about Trump in some way or other.)
The locals whom the Koreans meet are almost entirely borderline dills or just condescending. Chief among them is a guy who drops off a second hand tractor, asks for work and instantly, and then regularly thereafter, lapses into some Pentecostal speaking in tongues. Later the same guy, who each Sunday carries a heavy wooden cross around the backroads, is the family’s first guest for dinner and is seen using chopsticks and praising kimchee. Hmm.
But it’s affecting especially when, after yet another marital row the smart old mother-in-law/granny is brought home from Korea and is able to impart wisdom and gravitas even while she manages to destroy the harvest. It ends abruptly with some peace having broken out.
But you cant stop being reminded that this is Arkansas back in the 80s. Though it may have been the time when Bill Clinton was Governor, the parents of today’s Trumpistas are on full view; the religious zealots at the local church, the ever-present handyman whose only virtue is his revulsion at smoking (an offer of a cigarette sending him off into another speaking in tongues bout), the children at the church, (one of whom asks if the Korean child can tell her if by chance she speaks a Korean word when she launches into a stream of babble or maybe she was also speaking in tongues).
The granny saves it. The humour of and about her is funny. She becomes a fanatic for TV wrestling and has some words of wisdom for most situations, the best being when the snake slides into view down at the creek.
A variation of the authentic immigrant experience and presumably with loads of autobiography from director Lee Isaac Chung who grew up on a small farm in Arkansas and would then have been about the same age as the mischievous child David in the movie. He also has his moments, especially with the well set up joke about granny’s fondness for Mountain Dew.