Time Goes By

Stars: Steven Yeun, Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho, Your Yuh-jung and Will Patton
Director/Scriptwriter: Lee Isaac Chung
Composer: Emile Mosseri
Cinematography: Lachlan Milne
A24/Plan B Entertainment
Rating: PG 13
Running Length: 116 Minutes
Languages: English and Korean 

The stories of immigrants coming to the United States for a new life can a heart-warmer. “Minari” is a gentle film about a Korean family who has immigrated to the United States, lived in California, and now wants to own and grow crops in Arkansas. Director/scriptwriter Lee Isaac Chung, quietly takes us through the story of the Yi family and their trials and tribulations as they eagerly await a new life on land they bought in a quiet rural area. Steven Yeun is Jacob, the father who wants to be a farmer, while sad-eyed Monica (Han Ye-ri) is the wife who is not as enthusiastic about farming and as her husband.  They have two children and find that not everyone appreciates their presence in the community.  However, they have made a friend, Paul, who helps them. 

The story begins with the Yi family arriving at their new property which has a run-down house to live in. They clean and eventually it is habitable, then Jacob begins the outside work, while Monica has the inside work of more cleaning and cooking.  They both have jobs at the local hatchery, who hired Jacob for his skill at separating male chicks from female chicks.  Some of the humorous parts of the film concern the speed of the workers here, that range from slow to lightning speed as Jacob goes to work. It seems the female chicks are highly prized and the male chicks are not. Eventually, everyone settles in to a new life, with crops starting to be planted and it is at this time that Jacob meets their neighbor, Paul, played by Will Patton who steals every scene he is in. This guy is a religious person to the nth degree and carries his beliefs to an extreme. One of the children is ill and Monica is stressed out, so enter her mother, Soon-ja (quietly played by Youn Yuh-Jung) to help take care of the children. Soon-ja has brought something with her to plant named “minari,” that she puts on damp soil by a creek running through their property. A culture clash is beginning between generations. There are water problems, Soon-ja becomes ill and what was to be a wonderful new life is rapidly becoming a hard life to live. 

The film moves at a leisurely pace and each new episode is like the scene in a play, though sometimes disjointed. The audience can predict what is going to happen next.  This is the time for a storm, now humor at the hatchery, Grandma arrives and few are happy, and on and on. Each vignette tells its own story, but as a whole, the film is not cohesive, as though you put pieces of a puzzle on a table, mix them up, and come up with a different picture than the one on the box. The best scenes are the ones with children meeting new friends and they seem to do this easier than adults.  Photography is fine and shows us the quietness of a rural area. I would have liked more of a background between Monica and her mother and what Jacob’s background is. Not being given that, the film seems rather flat, except for a tornado, which is a staple of Midwest films. 

Note: in South Central states of the U.S., “Minari” or Oenanthe Javanica is considered an invasive plant. 


Copyright 2021 Marie Asner