Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” is a personal story of tradition and family set in 1980s Arkansas about a Korean American family moving to a rural region. But it gets its title from a vegetable or plant very common in Korean culture.
When Chung and the whole cast of “Minari” visited TheWrap Studio at Sundance — where the movie won both the top prize from the U.S. jury and the audience award — he accidentally called it a “weed,” but his co-stars were quick to correct him.
“I will not dishonor this vegetable,” Chung told TheWrap. “The interesting thing about it is that it’s a plant that will grow very strongly in its second season after it has died and come back. So there’s an element of that in the film, so it grows very expansively without doing much to it. It’s a poetic plant in a way for me.”
“A Korean American plant,” the young Alan S. Kim, who is in second grade, told his director.
Kim — who dressed in a cowboy outfit for his interview — has never tasted minari. His on-screen grandmother, played by Youn Yuh Jung, described it as a “smelly” vegetable that has a lot of uses depending on how you cook it and combine it with other ingredients.
That fits with the description of Chung’s “Minari,” which is an anecdotal story inspired loosely by his own life and his family about being a Korean American family trying to make a life in Arkansas. Chung said that he’s wanted to tell this very personal story for as long as he’s been studying film, but he always kept putting it off. He hopes now that audiences can find something relatable in the story.
“Why don’t I tell the story I ultimately wanted to make all along,” he said. “I’d like them to feel something. I think that’s the big thing. It’s not so much an idea or something that they’re thinking through but something that they feel and maybe can’t articulate. If something touches them and moves them, I’ll just be incredibly happy that they share in that experience.”
Steven Yeun plays the father figure of the Korean family in “Minari,” and he too was moved to finally bring Chung’s story to the screen.
“I didn’t ever really think that we could tell a story like this, at least from what I’ve seen before,” Yeun said. “But when I read Isaac’s script, it was so true and so beautiful. it was daunting, it was a terrifying journey personally. But it was such an easy thing to say yes to, because when you see the film, you really see something very true, very honest.”
As for the young, child stars of the film, it sounds like they’re just happy to be indoors.
“Well, it was kind of hot out there, but I tried to hold it,” Kim said. ” It was very hard and it was very hot, but overall it was a great experience,” actress Noel Cho added.
“Minari” will be released by A24 later this year. Watch the video with the cast and director above.
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