Lee Isaac Chung’s coming-of-age film Minari has raked up more than 24 wards since its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and is a high hopeful this Awards Season (Golden Globes, Oscars, BAFTA).
It is a classic immigrant story with specific, often unique new details. A Korean American family headed by a father, Jacob (Steven Yeun) and mother Monica (Yeri Han), came from Korea in the 1980s and spent time in California working as chicken sexers, separating baby chicks by gender. They have moved with their two American-born children, a serious and mature girl named Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and a six-year-old son named David (newcomer Alan S. Kim). The family is hoping to start a 50-acre farm in a small Arkansas town.
Ikon London Magazine attended BAFTA online Q&A session with writer and director of Minari Isaac Chung where he shared the story behind the story.
Eighty personal memories that made up a film
The basis of a story – Chung’s own family. The director admitted writing Minari was a very personal experience for him. “I had the idea to write the film for a while and I decided to start by writing down memories from my childhood. I wrote eighty memories and when I read those, I saw the shape of a story with each character’s arc.” The writing process, according to the creator was actually easy. “When I started writing, the story just flew out of me; it was almost a blur”.
And if you struggle to imagine writing a film following your parents’ life, take it from Chung that it will make you to look at your parents with different eyes. “I wanted for every character to have their own agency and their own arch.” Writing Minari came at an interesting time in Isaac’ live. “In the film, my dad’s character (Jacob) is the same age as me now and his children are my daughter’s age. Writing Minari made me really feel how my parents must have felt like, leaving their life behind, starting anew, new place, new job. I could definitely relate to my father.”
Visual References for Minari
The visual style of the film, courtesy of Korean Production Designer Yong Ok Lee, ensures authenticity – Yong lived in Korea in 80’s and 90’s and brought to the film her insight. Yong Ok Lee discussed her work on Minari in her interview with AFM. As to the visual references, they were picked ‘all over the place’, according to Lee Isaac. From old classic Westerns to work of Japanese filmmaker Yasujirō Ozu to Force Majeure (2014) – for funny moments.
The UK screening to the public will take place at the Glasgow Film Festival on the 24th February and will see a UK release in March by Altitude Pictures. Whether it will be a cinema release and whether it will be delayed is still uncertain. The director shared his views on the future of the cinema. “It’s sad what’s happening with cinemas. The  premiere at the Sundance Film Festival was magical. The importance and the beauty of the communal response is unreal. Judging by how I love the experience of the cinema and how my friends love it, I think cinema will come back. But for now, it is what it is and we have to accept it.”