Lee Isaac Chung interview: ‘Minari’ writer-director
Lee Isaac Chung crafted a very personal story with “Minari,” about a Korean-American family in the 1980s who move to rural Arkansas to cultivate a farm. The film tackles many themes including the American dream, cultural differences, the act of survival and the hidden joys of life. While there is a specificity to “Minari,” with Chung’s childhood sharing some similarities with young David’s (Alan Kim) experiences, the film has connected with people of all backgrounds and led to numerous awards and nominations with groups like the SAG Awards, Golden Globes and Critics Choice Awards. “To have this happen and for people to be connecting with it, it’s been unreal,” says Chung in an exclusive new interview for Gold Derby. Watch the full interview above.
Chung titled the film “Minari” because of the symbolic meaning of the minari plant in the film. The plant comes from Korea and thrives in rough areas where other plants struggle to grow, ultimately helping to clean up its environment. Chung recalls his grandmother planting minari seeds when he was younger. As he explains, the title of the film “symbolizes a lot of the way I feel about my grandma and about her values and the love that she had for me.”
One of the elements of “Minari” that has resonated with critics and audiences alike is the warmth and joy of the film’s atmosphere. Part of this is the soothing score by Emile Mosseri and glowing cinematography of Lachlan Milne, but it also has to do with Chung’s own storytelling focus. “I’m not attracted to projects that are going to dwell in pain somehow, because I feel like we have a lot of that in the world,” he admits. While the film features some of the pains of growing up and the difficulty of their situation, “it doesn’t elevate those things above the actual humanity of who we are, the joy that we have in life, that we should have in life.”
While “Minari” has enjoyed great success with awards thus far, there has been a trend of certain awards groups like the Golden Globes placing it in their best foreign film or best foreign language film categories. This has led to some outrage considering it is an inherently American story, even if the primary language spoken in the film is Korean. “There are all kind of categories that we have over people and we try to define people, try to define their place in a country, and I think it’s good when we’re being challenged on our categories that we set up, especially when people feel that those categories don’t apply.” states Chung. “I felt as though this has raised some dialogue, and I’m hoping that dialogue continues.”