6 reasons to see the Oscar contender 'Minari,' which was made in Oklahoma
A version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section of The Oklahoman. Click here to read my interview with "Minari" producer Christina Oh.
6 reasons to see the made-in-Oklahoma movie 'Minari'
Almost two years after filming began in the Tulsa area, "Minari" is cropping up in Oklahoma again.
One of my favorite films of 2020, writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s beautifully bittersweet family drama "Minari" is opening in Oklahoma theaters Friday.
Named for a Korean water plant, the eloquent immigrants' tale will be shown in Oklahoma City at the Tower Theatre, Oklahoma City Museum of Art and Rodeo Cinema. In Tulsa, it will be screened at Circle Cinema, the B&B Tulsa Starworld 20 and Cinemark 17.
Here are six reasons "Minari" is a must-see movie for Oklahomans:
1. It's a fantastic film.
The best reason to see any movie is that it's a fantastic film, and "Minari" certainly qualifies. Lee Isaac Chung’s powerful and poetic semi-autobiographical drama centers on a Korean immigrant family who relocates in the 1980s from Los Angeles to the Heartland to establish a farm and pursue the American Dream.
Moving to rural Arkansas to raise Korean fruits and vegetables to cater to the USA's growing influx of immigrants is the driving passion of the family patriarch, Jacob ("The Walking Dead's" Steven Yuen). He and his wife Monica (Yeri Han) have been working for years as chicken sexers - hatchery workers who identify the the sex of newborn chicks so the females can be raised for meat and eggs while the males are discarded into an incinerator - and Jacob is eager to leave behind the soul-sucking work even though he is exceptional at it.
Although Monica isn't as skilled as a chicken sexer - her slowness has made her a problematic employee on big-city industrial farms - she is reluctant to move halfway across the country, part ways with their social circle and risk their meager savings to start a farm. Once she sees the remote patch of land and dilapidated trailer house her husband has purchased, her doubts intensify, along with the couple's arguments.
As a compromise, they bring over Monica's feisty mother Soonja (Yuh-jung Youn) from South Korea to live with them and help care for their two children, responsible Anne (Noel Cho) and her mischievous 7-year-old younger brother David (Alan S. Kim), through whose perspective the story is told.
2. It's made in Oklahoma.
Although the story is set in Arkansas, the Oklahoma skies, farmland and woods are superbly showcased in the moving but not maudlin movie. Cinematographer Lachlan Milne (Netflix's "Stranger Things") literally put the the state's land, skies and water in a beautiful light.
An outstanding example of the state's growing film and television industry, "Minari" 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 in 2019.
Along with employing Oklahomans behind the scenes, the movie features multiple Sooner State actors, including Ben Hall, Eric Starkey and Darryl Cox.
"I'm not in much of it, but I'm happy for the movie - and I'm happy to be in something that's getting that kind of response," said Hall, who plays a water witcher named Dowsing Dan. "I'm thrilled that they decided to come here and make it here. And what a treat to even just go as far as it has. If it wins more awards, that would be so cool."
3. It's earning lots of awards season buzz.
Over the past year, "Minari" has steadily continued to touch audiences and earn acclaim, especially for Youn's disarming performance as Soonja, who disappoints her grandson by playing cards and watching wrestling on TV rather than baking cookies and knitting sweaters. "Minari" has excellent odds to join "The Grapes of Wrath," "Around the World in 80 Days," "Rain Man," "Twister" and "August: Osage County" as movies filmed (at least in part) in Oklahoma to earn Academy Award nominations when the Oscar nods are announced March 15, ahead of the April 25 ceremony.
The family drama won both the Grand Jury Prize and the Audience Award in the U.S. Dramatic Competition when it premiered at the January 2020 Sundance Film Festival. The Oklahoma Film Critics Circle, of which I'm a founding and voting member, named "Minari" its best picture of last year, and it made the top 10 lists for the American Film Institute and the National Board of Review.
"Minari" has been nominated for 10 Critics Choice Awards, six Film Independent Spirit Awards and three Screen Actors Guild Awards. It also garnered a controversial Golden Globe Award nod.
4. It shares a story often overlooked in mainstream movies.
About that Golden Globe nomination: "Minari" is a movie by an Asian American writer-director, about the American dream, made in Tulsa, set in Arkansas and financed by Americans (including Shawnee-born American movie star Brad Pitt's company Plan B). But the undeniably American "Minari" ended up nominated in the Golden Globes' foreign language film category because the movie's dialogue is mostly in Korean, with some English mixed in. The Golden Globes eligibility rules state that a film with at least 51% of non-English dialogue are slotted into the foreign language category, and movies that compete for best foreign language film can’t vie for the awards for best drama or best musical/comedy.
This controversy reflects are larger, unsavory picture of American cinema, in which the stories of Asian and Asian American people remain woefully overlooked. The 2018 smash "Crazy Rich Asians" was the first major Hollywood movie in 25 years to star a primarily Asian cast. Even the subsequent release of "The Farewell," "Always Be My Maybe" and "Parasite" - which last year became the first foreign-language film to win the best picture Oscar - have closed the gap. But Asians and Asian Americans are still ridiculously underrepresented in mainstream movies.
5. "Minari" is authentic.
A relatable story of the American dream, Chung's latest film is based on his own childhood, when his father moved his family to Arkansas, where he hoped to start a farm. Koreans and Korean Americans comprised many of the cast and crew, and that authenticity shines through in every aspect of the storytelling, from the period details in the wardrobe and set designs to composer Emile Mosseri's affecting score, including the end-credits lullaby "Rain Song," prettily sung by Han.
Plus, the film offers a genuine reflection of farm life; having grown up on a farm in Oklahoma, I'm often frustrated with overly idyllic depictions of agricultural living. Yes, there's beauty and nobility to working the land, but farming is difficult, dirty and dangerous work. It's a risky business, and "Minari" shows this often-cruel reality.
"My uncle is from Oklahoma, so I did visit there when I was a kid and I think his family had a farm as well. ... I never shot (a film) there, but I had visited there when I was 8. So, it was kind of cool to be back on a farm," said producer Christina Oh in an interview. "Lee Isaac Chung, our director, grew up very similarly to to David's character: They lived in a trailer as his dad tried to start this farm. So in that sense, we did have a great sort of historian to help make sure that a lot of elements were factual - or felt factually real - because that's actually what happened when he was child."
6. Seeing "Minari" helps local indie and art house theaters.
Film studio A24 launched a virtual screening room for the film Feb. 12 and had to adds extra digital screenings after the initial offerings quickly sold out for several days.
For those who prefer a virtual screening to an in-person showing, A24 is partnering with independent theaters like Rodeo Cinema,Oklahoma City Museum of Art,Tower Theatre and Circle Cinema to allow people to rent "Minari" for at-home viewing through their virtual cinema programs. The distributor will be sharing revenue with these indie theaters for virtual tickets sold on their websites, so go to their websites to get more info or buy virtual tickets.
Features Writer Brandy "BAM" McDonnell covers Oklahoma's arts, entertainment and cultural sectors for The Oklahoman and Oklahoman.com. Reach her at email@example.com, www.facebook.com/brandybammcdonnell and twitter.com/BAMOK. Please support work by her and her colleagues by subscribing at oklahoman.com/subscribe.