Photo credit: Courtesy of Plan B a24 Films

“We didn’t want it to just be about being Korean or expressing our identity, but really just digging into what’s it mean in our reality; what’s it like in our day to day; what’s it like for these human beings,” said writer/director Lee Isaac Chung during a Zoom screening and panel discussion of Minari moderated by comedian, actor, writer & director Ramy Youssef. “That was a real focus and bringing it out and seeing people relate to it who are from all different walks of life, that’s honestly been the sweetest thing about this whole project for me just to see that if we put it out there as something that’s human and people are connecting to it in that way, then yeah, we’re all human and there’s something much deeper that connects us, you know. It’s been really fascinating and grateful.  I did try to just keep trusting in that voice of like what I know and my own experiences. I think in the past, as a filmmaker, I never trusted that instinct. I was often thinking more about the way something would be received, if that makes sense, or the way I would be looked at or judged. But this one, I thought a lot more about just being true to myself, my views and my experiences and just feeling like if I’m honest about those things, that’s going to ultimately say something and that’s kind of where I was going with many different things.”

About the film:Minari is a tender and sweeping story about what roots us. Minari follows a Korean-American family that moves to an 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.” 424 Studio

“Honestly,” said producer Christina Oh. “It was one of those things where because it was so specific you’re like immediately finding similarities in your own life because in its detail it is like everything that I grew up with. There’s a scene where the grandma comes and brings all this stuff from Korea like these like chili powders and these dried anchovies. And it’s so specific in the script and it’s so specific to Korean culture that when I read that I was like, ‘Oh my God – other kids, other Korean kids went through this.’  But then having people see the film and respond to it and be like, well, my grandma would bring some weird stuff from Mexico or something like that. It’s like weirdly universal in that sense. It touches on  a humanity level that makes it so universal, even though it’s about a very specific group of people. And that was actually what drew me so much to wanting to make it and being like I think I know how to do this. And I think I know how to piece everything together.”

Steven Yeun who plays the father figure of the Korean family in Minari

“I’m also a father,” said Steven Yeun. “I have two kids so I think that journey was for me really like unpacking and like releasing a lot of the internalized gaze that I had of my own parents. I don’t remember much about my dad except in pictures. But when you see in pictures like your dad’s unlocked, you know, the immigrant dad is like just trying to get it. And like he’s young and like vibrant and like deeply wanting to make something for himself. And that’s something I connected to where I feel like I’m at the same age that he’s at, Jacob {the movie father} was at. And so I was, I was like, yeah, I am my dad. I’m not my dad, but I am my dad. And that kind of connection was really nice because I don’t know about other American kids, if they can just be like, yeah, I’m like dad, like, I’m an extension of my dad. But like my dad and I, we couldn’t really talk about that kind of stuff not because it was like a silent house, but mostly because our experiences are so different and then like the language barriers there.”

“I think for me the priority in this film was to re reclaim a sense of humanity, if that makes sense, for all these ideas that come loaded with so many other people saying things about, you know, who immigrants are or who people from the South are, or who people of faith are like, you know, there’s just been so much conversation and labels and categories that have been set up whereas I feel like coming down to that level of what does it mean for these individuals as human beings to be on this journey? And what does that feel like on an emotional level and,  what do they have with each other as a family to kind of come back down to that level? I felt was an important thing. We have all sorts of people coming up to us and saying, ‘Hey, I see my story and your story.’ You know, that’s such a gift that’s so precious. That’s kind of been the goal with this whole film which is to create some of that community through the film. I just love  for that to be part of the conversation  – that we need to talk about those issues because there are lots of injustices and lots of problems. I think we can’t shy away from those things. And at the starting point, it has to be because we’re motivated by the fact that we are all the same and we’re all human. So that’s just the way that I’ve been processing it all and thinking about it.” Lee Isaac Chung

Steven Yeun who plays the father figure of the Korean family in Minari

“We watched it together at Sundance,” said Yeun referring to his father. “It’s unspoken, you know, like it doesn’t solve all things. It doesn’t like build the eternal bridge that now we’re like dancing and frolicking in the field seeing each other clearly, but it is that first step. I think the most important step for me was looking at my father as kind of the full human being that he is and him being able to see me. I used to be at war with my dad a lot –  like, dad, I am not just your son. You know, I am a father, I am a man. I am so many things and you keep just seeing me as your son. He didn’t understand what I was talking about and I didn’t know fully what I was asking him to understand but in doing this work internally for myself, I find that I found myself also realizing that I was looking at him as just my father. Sometimes you have a feeling when you look at your dad or somebody in your family that you know and then you look at them for a while in like a different lens and all of a sudden, like you see them like slightly differently for a second – like you like shifted perspective on the outside where you’re like, whoa, that person is my dad, but he’s like a guy now. That would happen to me a lot growing up when I  had projected this image onto my father and my mom and anybody kind of in my social circle until I took a second look and something would happen socially where my dad would do something that I didn’t expect to happen. And that would jar me out of like my gaze.  It actually allowed me to see myself a little bit clearer. I’m not also a calculation of expectations or boxes or labels, but I’m just kind of this free floating, chaotic existence embodied in this Korean American body. But I’m just, you know, I’m you. I’m us – and that was really profound for me. I’m still unpacking it.”

“I think there’s a hope. For instance, my dad was the eldest of his family when he left which is like really frowned upon in the Korean community. The eldest son is supposed to stay behind and take care of his family and my dad left to immigrate to America. He and his brother became estranged, nobody ever talked again and there’s just this assumption or just this baseline of like they left and abandoned the family.” Christina Oh

“I think America is a strange place.When I wake up here I’m myself, but like when I step out, I have to like navigate so many spaces, expectations and like boxes that people try to trap me on a constant basis. I have heard some really great feedback from friends that I’ve seen in Korea and they all say the same thing as the American audience, like I want to talk to my grandma, you know, I’ll want to talk to my dad and I want to talk to their mom.  I’ve been thinking a lot about like how we choose to define ourselves or how we’re forced to define ourselves and I wonder if we’re entering into an interesting new frontier with our second generation and beyond of how to redefine ourselves. I’m caught between these two places, but like I no longer want to be caught between places anymore. I just want to like stand on my space and like speak from this space.”  Steven Yeun

“I wish everyone could see this film so they can understand what it really means to be an immigrant here. It’s not just about sending money back home. It’s not that I hate it here and I prefer it there, it’s that I just want to be. I think a lot of our families made the decision for many reasons, even though it’s going to be hard, the place to be is America. It is here actually. And like, this is what those characters want and it is what a lot of our families wanted and that comes with its complication. But it’s a choice informed by so much. I do think that a movie like Minari kind of defies all  – it’s a total import-export of ideas and emotions and it’s something that I think anyone can connect to.”  Ramy Youssef

“When I was thinking about doing this film, I wrote down all these memories. That’s kind of how this all started. And one of the last ones I got to was just remembering that my grandma and I used to go down to this patch where she planted these seeds from Korea. I just had a feeling of what it was like to go down there with her and what that meant to me.  I remember when we were trying to sell the farm and the farm was basically closing down my parents talked about how that patch was really the only thing that grew, and it grew without much effort and that stuck with me. And as I remembered that it just dawned on me, okay, it’s got to end with that feeling and that idea, and that’s going to be the title. It just felt so right and perfect that it guided the rest of my writing, like how do I get to this final shot of the patch and the family gathering in some way there. That kept me motivated. I just knew that was the star to which I kind of aligned the writing process.”  Lee Isaac Chung on how he came up with the title Minari

The above panel discussion has been edited for brevity purposes.