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Watch a Family Build a New Life in America in ‘Minari’ | Anatomy of a Scene


America as a land of promise, a land of hardship or a land of fun? All three perspectives are seen in this opening sequence from “Minari,” Lee Isaac Chung’s drama about a Korean family that moves to Arkansas to build a fresh life in the United States. It is nominated for six Academy Awards, including best picture.

This sequence observes the Yi family (played by Steven Yeun, Yeri Han, Noel Kate Cho and Alan Kim) arriving at their new home, a trailer in the middle of a field. Yeun’s character, Jacob, is proud and optimistic, while Han’s Monica is skeptical.

In an interview, Chung said that the scene was in his mind when he first began writing the screenplay and that the story would grow from there, a kind of hopeful emptiness that would be filled in.
“That’s why it starts off at a house where it’s not really furnished,” he said. “There’s not even any stairs there.”

Then Chung explored the different family members’ perspectives through shots and dialogue, or the lack thereof. Jacob is the first character we see getting out of a vehicle. “I filmed that wanting to evoke the feeling of man getting off of his horse,” Chung said. Then in directing Han, he told her that her performance would often be one of reactions rather than words. “Everything she has to convey has to be through her looks, her expressions, her gestures,” he said. And with the kids, he told them to just “go out and have fun.” He tried to capture their performances in a documentary style to give the movie a more free-form and less staged feeling.

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