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Oklahoma-filmed family drama 'Minari' wins top prizes at Sundance Film Festival

Steven Yeun and Alan Kim star in "Minari," an Oklahoma-filmed drama that won big at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. [Sundance Institute photo]
Steven Yeun and Alan Kim star in "Minari," an Oklahoma-filmed drama that won big at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. [Sundance Institute photo]

PARK CITY, Utah - Lee Isaac Chung’s period family drama "Minari," filmed in Oklahoma, has proven the big winner at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. 

The film earned both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic Competition at Saturday's Sundance awards ceremony, according to Deadline.

Based on Chung’s real-life experiences, the drama follows a Korean-American family that moves from Los Angeles to Arkansas to pursue the American Dream. 

As previously reported, "Minari," which wrapped production last fall in Tulsa, made its debut last week at Sundance as part of the festival's U.S. Dramatic Competition. 

It was the third consecutive year that a movie filmed primarily in Oklahoma made its world premiere at the prestigious festival, following the period drama "To the Stars," which premiered at the 2019 festival, and Paul Dano's directorial debut "Wildlife," starring Oscar nominees Carey Mulligan and Jake Gyllenhaal, which bowed at Sundance 2018. Both those films lensed primarily in the Enid area. 

Director Lee Isaac Chung, left, and Steven Yeun pose for a portrait to promote the film "Minari" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Park City, Utah. [Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP]
Director Lee Isaac Chung, left, and Steven Yeun pose for a portrait to promote the film "Minari" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Park City, Utah. [Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP]

As previously reported, "Minari" was both written and directed by Chung (“Munyurangabo,” “Lucky Life”), who drew from his upbringing in Arkansas, his immigrants parents' experiences as strangers in a strange land, and his sweet but comical relationship with his grandmother.

“I wanted to shape the narrative to have different pockets of how this family might not make it, might not survive,” Chung, 41, told the Associated Press in an interview the morning after the film’s premiere in Park City. “Those were the tensions I was playing with. Each family member kind of has their turn, their shot at growth and maturation. It wasn’t a traditional narrative of one hero but more: How do I make the whole family the hero?”

The film follows David, a 7-year-old Korean-American boy, whose life is turned upside down when his father decides to move their family to rural Arkansas and start a farm in the mid-1980s.

Although the story is set in Arkansas, the film lensed in Oklahoma. It began principal photography in the city of Tulsa last July and employed more than 170 Oklahoma industry members, while utilizing the services of a number of local businesses for production requirements such as equipment rentals, lodging and catering. According to the Oklahoma Film + Music Office, Tulsa served as the primary production hub for “Minari,” which filmed throughout the city and surrounding areas, including Sand Springs, Skiatook, Broken Arrow and Rose, over the course of five weeks.

The film stars Steven Yeun ("The Walking Dead," “Okja,” “Burning”), Han Yeri (“Sea Fog”), Youn Yuh Jung (“Sense 8”), Will Patton (“Halloween,” "Armageddon"), and Scott Haze (“Thank You for Your Service”). Newcomer Alan Kim plays David. 

A24 financed the film, with Shawnee-born Brad Pitt’s company Plan B producing, according to an autumn news release. The film is an American production with dialogue mostly in Korean. 

“Minari” earned rave reviews at Sundance, and it is the kind of independent film that is expected to build on the momentum of critically acclaimed and commercially successful dramas like "Parasite" and "The Farewell." 

Alan Kim poses for a portrait to promote the film "Minari" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Park City, Utah. [Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP]
Alan Kim poses for a portrait to promote the film "Minari" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Park City, Utah. [Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP]

In his interview with the AP, Chung, who was born in Denver, credited Plan B producer Christina Oh for wanting to keep “Minari” true to his experience.

“She was always clear: Let’s make this as Korean as possible,” Chung told the AP. “At the same time, it’s a low-budget film so we were allowed to take a risk that I don’t think big-budget films would have been allowed to.”

Chung’s parents attended the premiere of “Minari” at Sundance, making the occasion even more emotional. Chung called it cathartic for him and his parents. 

“They feel like I understand what they went through,” he told the AP. “I’ve noticed a shift in the way we talk to each other.”

Yeun, who plays the father in "Minari," also had his parents in attendance at the premiere in Park City. 

“At times I warred with playing him in a cliche so we could cater to a larger message, or playing him a very specific, individual way. Obviously, the right choice is as an individual. But it was humbling to know I had to go through that journey to see my dad truly,” Yeun told the AP. “Sitting next to my dad, everyone was crying after the movie but as I was getting up, I just put my hand on him. And then it was over.”

The Korean-born actor was the first to sign on "Minari, which follows his best supporting actor honors from numerous critics groups for the enigmatic 2018 Korean drama “Burning.”

“Sometimes identity becomes a focal point of how to approach the other or a difference in how we see Americans,” Yeun told the AP. “I’ve read many scripts about families of immigrants. A lot of the time, they’re explanatory or they’re catering to an audience that’s not even of themselves. When it does that, it loses its authenticity and romanticizes in some ways, idealizes in other ways. When I read the script, I was like: This is unabashedly a truthful telling of these human beings.”

Other recent films that have managed to take the top two awards at Sundance include "Birth of a Nation" in 2017 and "Me and Earl and the Dying Girl" in 2015, according to Deadline. 

-BAM

Related Photos
Steven Yeun and Alan Kim star in "Minari," an Oklahoma-filmed drama that won big at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. [Sundance Institute photo]

Steven Yeun and Alan Kim star in "Minari," an Oklahoma-filmed drama that won big at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. [Sundance Institute photo]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-1b5bee31a4609694311f81baab95aed6.jpg" alt="Photo - Steven Yeun and Alan Kim star in "Minari," an Oklahoma-filmed drama that won big at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. [Sundance Institute photo]" title="Steven Yeun and Alan Kim star in "Minari," an Oklahoma-filmed drama that won big at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. [Sundance Institute photo]"><figcaption>Steven Yeun and Alan Kim star in "Minari," an Oklahoma-filmed drama that won big at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival. [Sundance Institute photo]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-53547a4131d0b481a71eab406b1e4cf8.jpg" alt="Photo - Director Lee Isaac Chung, left, and Steven Yeun pose for a portrait to promote the film "Minari" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Park City, Utah. [Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP]" title="Director Lee Isaac Chung, left, and Steven Yeun pose for a portrait to promote the film "Minari" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Park City, Utah. [Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP]"><figcaption>Director Lee Isaac Chung, left, and Steven Yeun pose for a portrait to promote the film "Minari" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Park City, Utah. [Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-0329631e312430403c9764991f459956.jpg" alt="Photo - Alan Kim poses for a portrait to promote the film "Minari" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Park City, Utah. [Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP]" title="Alan Kim poses for a portrait to promote the film "Minari" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Park City, Utah. [Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP]"><figcaption>Alan Kim poses for a portrait to promote the film "Minari" at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday, Jan. 27, 2020, in Park City, Utah. [Photo by Taylor Jewell/Invision/AP]</figcaption></figure>
Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›

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