'Minari' cast achieves rare authenticity in the Arkansas heat

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'Minari' cast achieves rare authenticity in the Arkansas heat

The cast of ″Minari″ -- from left clockwise, actors Youn Yuh-jung, Han Ye-ri, director Lee Isaac Chung and actor Steven Yeun-- participated at an online press event to promote their film on Friday. [PAN CINEMA]

The cast of ″Minari″ -- from left clockwise, actors Youn Yuh-jung, Han Ye-ri, director Lee Isaac Chung and actor Steven Yeun-- participated at an online press event to promote their film on Friday. [PAN CINEMA]

 
The cast of “Minari” attributes their success to the good meals they shared on the set, which led to a familial chemistry to which global audiences have connected.  
 
“Minari,” a semi-autobiographical tale by director Lee Isaac Chung about a Korean immigrant family struggling to achieve their American dream in Arkansas in the 1980s, has received countless accolades for its honesty and forthrightness. It’s been nominated for the Golden Globes best international feature and Hollywood is betting that Youn Yuh-jung, who portrays grandmother Soon-ja in the film, could be nominated and possibly win the best supporting actress at the Oscars.
 
“[When we were filming], Youn and I stayed at this Airbnb together, and we [the cast] would usually gather around that house, eat, and talk about the script,” actor Han Ye-ri said at an online press event on Friday. “It also gave us time to change the translated script more naturally [to Korean], and basically just have time to discuss more deeply about the script, which is how we were able to speed things up [while shooting].”
 
Actors Han Ye-ri, right, and Steven Yeun portray the couple Monica and Jacob in the film ″Minari.″ [PAN CINEMA]

Actors Han Ye-ri, right, and Steven Yeun portray the couple Monica and Jacob in the film ″Minari.″ [PAN CINEMA]

 
It’s an independent, low-budget film, and the cast was reported to have suffered from the summer heat in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the "Minari" was filmed. Youn said that what got her through was the meals with rice that the staff had prepared for her at the Airbnb.  
 
“The air conditioner was broken, and sometimes we had to purposefully turn it off when we were recording our voices, but what got me through was the meal waiting for me,” Youn reminisced.  
 
Steven Yeun, who stayed in a separate hotel from the two, said he would “come crash every evening, eat all their food, and do my laundry.”  
 
“I felt like Jacob sometimes when I was living as myself, so it was a really immersive experience,” he said.
 
The actor said that he was attracted to the story because of its authenticity.  
 
Actor Youn Yuh-jung, who portrays the grandmother Soon-ja in the film, said the director Lee gave her a lot of room to add her own distinct characteristics that made Soon-ja stand out more than other typical grandmothers depicted in numerous films. [PAN CINEMA]

Actor Youn Yuh-jung, who portrays the grandmother Soon-ja in the film, said the director Lee gave her a lot of room to add her own distinct characteristics that made Soon-ja stand out more than other typical grandmothers depicted in numerous films. [PAN CINEMA]

 
“Usually when you get scripts about people of color and minorities, it's usually explanatory,” Yeun pointed out. “People usually explain the culture to the viewers because the viewer is assumed to be the majority, white audience, so there's the level of always seeing yourself through the gaze or the lens of the white majority in America. [But] when I read Isaac's script, it was just about this family, and to me it felt [like I was] reading the script from Korea in some ways. It just felt like people as people that happened to be Korean.”
 
In fact, the actor wanted to preserve the natural state of the script so much that he also took part in the film as a producer.  
 
“I really wanted to be part of the producing team to make sure I could add a voice to it, to make sure it's protected,” he said. “I wanted to make sure Isaac's script and his voice and our intention weren’t compromised.”
 
Youn, who’s received 26 awards for her performance out of some 74 total of awards that the film has won so far, defined the global response as “shocking.”
 
“Actually I’ve only received one trophy, the other awards haven’t arrived yet,” Youn said. “I can only presume that they have so many awards because the land is so big. I don’t really feel {the response the film is garnering]… But for me the film will be something of a surprise [in my career]. I was ever so surprised when the audience was crying [after they saw the film] or when they gave a standing ovation when Isaac climbed the stage. I’ve honestly never expected this kind of [heated response].”
 
Youn credited the director for respecting her ideas and giving her room to add vitality to her character, which made Soon-ja into a grandmother more unique than a baking-cookies-for-grandchildren grandmother.  
 
The scene where Soon-ja chews a chestnut to soften the fruit and spits it out for her grandson David, was in fact her own idea.
 
“I witnessed that from the time I spent living the U.S.,” she said. “There was my friend’s mother who came over and gave her grandson the fruit that way. And I remember seeing that look of disgust from the friend’s husband, Paul, who was Irish.”
 
Although the film draws from his own childhood, the director feels that familial relationships and love are universal, which is why he believes the audiences relate so well with the film.  
 
“I feel it's not because it's about me or about immigrants or about this particular situation socially,” Lee said. “I think it has to do with human beings and relationships. I think we all as people around the world wrestle with the things that Yi family is wrestling with, the idea of how we love each other in difficult situations, and I think a lot of people relate to that, it doesn't matter what country you’re from.”
 
The director hopes the Korean audience will relate to the film in that way as it premieres in local theaters on March 3.  
 
“This film is meant to be a table, and it's meant to be something anyone could come in and have a meal and anyone can do what they want with the meal,” he said.  
 
“I like this film because there’s no MSG or any kind of artificial seasoning,” Youn added. “It’s very pure, but I’m afraid that it might not suit local audience’s taste – it might be too bland for them because people are used to such strong flavors, but [nonetheless] it’s very healthy. So try it out.”
 
BY LEE JAE-LIM   [lee.jaelim@joongang.co.kr]
 
 
 
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