We owe it to a quintessential American film epic to a genre, the western, and to a figure, the pioneer. If something defines the American Dream original, which has not stopped mutating over the decades, is the struggle to reach a free and virgin land, open to the possibility of all kinds of collective and individual chimeras. At the beginning of the 19th century, a process of expansion began from the thirteen colonies of North America that would lead these men and women, mostly farmers and ranchers in search of a clear horizon, to finish “conquering”, as early as 1853 , the territories that today make up the United States of America. The western has approached this journey, that of a country in the making, as a myth, taking on a great foundational epic for the young nation. In this context emerges a sociopolitical and philosophical concept imbued, at the same time, with dreams and fear: the Border. That unrepresentable place in the imagination of the emigrant, where everything – also the most atrocious – is possible. When dealing with Lee Isaac Chung’s second film, the work of John Ford seems especially relevant to us: from the genesisThe Iron Horse ( The Iron Horse , 1924) to the grim Centaurs of the desert ( The Searchers , 1956) , where the West has been conquered, but not yet domado-, not to mention the sour version of the end of the conquest which marked the great combat ( Cheyenne Autumn , 1964), we can say that Minari. Historia de mi familia is a drama modeled after Fordian tradition.
The Immigration Act passed in 1965 ends the national origin quota system, allowing people from Latin America or Asia to start arriving in a steady stream to the United States. At the end of the 1970s, in the midst of a wave of Korean emigration, the parents of Lee Isaac Chung – who was born in Denver in 1978 – settled in America, brimming with projects and energy to tackle them. Moving away from the tropes of the latest Asian-American indie — from Columbus (Kogonada, 2017) to Tigertail (Alan Yang, 2020) —the most beautiful thing about Minari. Family historyIt is how he imbues himself with the spirit of Ford to tell the story of other pioneers, of another far west, of other frontiers: the reinvention, starting from the symbiosis between fiction and memory, of a migratory chronicle that shapes the contemporary United States. Because in Minari. Family history The cinematographic modes are as decisive as the childlike gaze that David, Chung’s alter ego, projects on the habits and dynamics of that family whose identity crosses, at the same time, the Korean and the American. The metaphorical figure that takes root in this update of the narratives of discoverers, unknown lands and clashes of customs is the plant that gives the film its title. Minari is the name used for Oenanthe javanica, a well-known perennial herb in Korea, and whose distinctive feature, in the words of David’s grandmother, is the ability to grow in any terrain. Fighting against often dire circumstances, Jacob and Monica Yi, their children David and Anne, and even the elderly Soon-ja, are minari seeds.