Here’s the latest from the crossroads of faith, media & culture: 03/05/21
Getting personal with Lee Isaac Chung. His fictional family film is, loosely based on his own experience growing up the son of South Korean immigrants living in rural Arkansas, has been honored with awards at Sundance and, just last Sunday, at the Golden Globes. My conversation with the very talented storyteller follows the synopsis and film clip below.
Synopsis: A tender and sweeping story about what roots us, Minari follows a Korean-American family that moves to a tiny Arkansas farm in search of their own American Dream. The family home changes completely with the arrival of their sly, foul-mouthed, but incredibly loving grandmother. Amidst the instability and challenges of this new life in the rugged Ozarks, Minari shows the undeniable resilience of family and what really makes a home.
JWK: How autobiographical is Minari?
Lee Isaac Chung: Points of this film are quite autobiographical. I started off by writing down a lot of memories that I have of that age when I was about five to seven years old. That ended up being the bedrock of the film. I shifted things around. I highly fictionalized the dialogue and the characters as well. I made sure to get them away from being like my parents and my grandmother, to being their own thing. So, there’s such a blend of fiction and memory in this that it’s hard to pinpoint what’s real and not but it’s all very personal, very authentic to different things that are weighing on me, that are in my heart, that are in my head.
JWK: As I wrote in my review, I was struck by the film’s theme of perseverance and love being tested by adversity and by the sympathetic portrayal of both the Yi family and the townspeople. Jacob and Monica are shown to be good and honest people trying their best to provide a better life for the kids – even as it strains their marriage. Likewise, the rural townspeople also presented in a fairly gentle and positive light, not as a bunch of yahoos in the way that they sometimes are in Hollywood movies. There’s also a nice – though not heavy-handed – suggestion of the power of prayer. What do you have to say about that?
LIC: I guess, in general, I feel like everybody has a fair (portrayal) of who they are as people. I wanted to treat everybody equally as human beings with this project and not let anybody be caricatured. That was one of the governing principles when I was writing. I wanted to get to the humanness of everybody. I felt like there was enough that was going on in the world that felt negative – like the way that we’re talking to each other in this country. (With all) the different divisive issues…we’re not seeing each other as human beings. That’s why I felt reactive, in a way. I wanted this film to be different, to trust more in that idea that we’re all somehow very similar underneath everything.
JWK: Is that, basically, what you hope people take from the film?
LIC: In terms of what people take from the film, I honestly don’t have a set idea for that. I feel like I want to respect the audience and let them take what they will. I’ve been trying to describe this film as an open table, in a way. The table is open and I people to have the freedom to (take) what they wish or need from the meal but it’s really available for everyone.
JWK: Minari has been receiving lots of well-deserved praise. It scored a Grand Jury Prize and a U.S. Dramatic Audience Award at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and just won in the Best Foreign Language Film at the Golden Globes. Congratulations on all of that. There was, however, some controversy over the Golden Globe since some people felt the movie should have competed in the Best Film Drama category as opposed the Best Foreign Language Film category. The criticism stems from the fact that it was made by Americans, including you, it was filmed in America and, though much of the dialogue was Korean, it includes large amounts English dialogue as well. What are your thoughts on that?
LIC: I had a lot of different emotions about it. I do understand the feeling of alienation that that provides for a lot of Asian-Americans…because, often times, we feel very foreign in this place or we’re kinda told we’re foreign even though we don’t necessarily feel that way. So, my heart was going out to everybody who was feeling triggered by that.
I also felt like these rules must have been written at some point when that made sense but, obviously, we’re seeing that with some stories human beings don’t necessarily fit the categories that we assume (for) them. So, in that way, I was kind of glad that this film is sparking a discussion on (questions like) if a family is speaking in a different language in their homes does that really mean that they’re not American anymore? I think it’s a good discussion that we’re having now and, hopefully, people might have an open mind about thinking about those things.
JWK: There’s also a lot of Oscar buzz for the movie, including for yourself as writer and director, as well as in the Best Picture category. How do you feel about that?
LIC: It feels surreal. I’m trying not to get my mindset into thinking that this is gonna happen or that this is the reason I made this film. I’m just very excited that audiences are starting to watch it. If we do get some recognition, I’m really hoping that our actors might be noticed. I just strongly believe in their work and also the work of the crew. I’m proud of what the team did together. If people recognize that than I’d be thrilled. And, if not, just the fact that we’re being talked about is, honestly, a huge honor.
JWK: I could kind of see the basic premise of the film working as a TV series. Have you ever given any thought to that?
LIC: I don’t think so, myself. I don’t think I’d be able to do it but I’ve heard people mentioning that this is kind of a sitcom scenario or situation – but, for me, I poured so much into this one story and this film that I feel emotionally ready to move on to the next thing.
JWK: So, what might that be?
LIC: I’m working on a couple of love stories. Hopefully, once it becomes safe to film, we’ll be able to go into production on one of them. I’m trying to sort all of that out and figure out what I’ll do. I’m not exactly sure what will happen next. Just like (for) everybody else, 2020 and 2021 have been quite unpredictable.
Do Good debuts today on YouTube today. The ten-episode docuseries chronicles the heroic actions of relief workers following the deadly Category 4 Hurricane Laura that devastated Southwest Louisiana in August, followed just six weeks later by Hurricane Delta. You’ll do some good just by watching as 100% of all monetized YouTube revenue will reportedly be directed toward helping featured relief organizations.
More about the show following the trailer.
Do Good is produced by Echo Bravo Productions and sponsored by CoreLogic, a global property information, analytics and data-enabled solutions company that provided the property damage estimates and weather forensics science behind the documentary.
Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11