Selling a ‘language of truth’KANG HYE-RAN
The author is the cultural news editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“It was a challenging yet rewarding experience to be a part of a film made by second-generation Korean Americans,” said Youn Yuh-jung on her Oscar nomination for her supporting role in “Minari.” As she read the English script and realized that it was the autobiographical story of the director, she accepted the role. In the film, she plays Sunja, who flies to a farm in Arkansas to support her daughter Monica’s family. It is a portrayal of director Lee Isaac Chung’s maternal grandmother.
According to Chung, his grandmother lost her husband during the Korean War and raised her daughter by picking clams by the sea. How would she have felt seeing her daughter struggling on the vast farm under the sizzling sun? Young Isaac knew little about this and complained that she was not like a real grandmother. Now that Chung is his father’s age, he projected that sentiment in “Minari.” His “language of truth” was first recognized by the Golden Globes and won six nominations at the Academy Awards.
Youn may have gotten onboard thanks to her own experience. In the mid-1970s, she married singer Cho Young-nam, and after divorcing, she worked as a supermarket cashier at the minimum wage of $2.75. The period partly coincides with the time when Chung’s parents struggled to settle in America. America is a country of immigration and has been an undisputable favorite destination for immigration since its independence. In the 1980s, 350,000 Koreans moved to the United States. As of 2010, the Korean American population in the United States was about 1.7 million. We often hear about Korean American politicians in elections. Second-generation immigrants like Chung and actor Steve Yeun’s success means that the Korean American cultural assets have grown over generations.
In Exodus, an economic analysis of global immigration, Paul Collier claims that the fundamental motive for migration is a desire to join a more productive social model. The problem is that trying a new life in a rich country requires a large early investment. The reward for that labor is bigger, but immigrants often have lower social status than in their native countries. This improves in later generations. In his analysis model, it is interesting that the status of the origin country improves in the process as well. In the course of sharing manpower, capital and ideology of the diaspora of the rich countries, the lives of poor countries improve as well.
It is a convincing argument considering the film industries of Korea and America.
Would the triumph of “Parasite” last year be possible without the Korean capital, community and human networks established in American society? “Minari” is the second season of the success story from such exchanges, and Lee Isaac Chung and Youn Yuh-jung are the heroes who accomplished this with their celebrated “language of truth.”