A sweet, old-fashioned drama about a Korean family who in 1983 moves from California to rural Arkansas, where the land is cheap and the soil holds promise for would-be farmer Dad (Steven Yeun). Even if you didn't know that Minari (named for a sort of Korean watercress that the family grows) was inspired by writer/director Chung's own childhood, there is such a specificity in the details – the parents' unusual day job is sexing baby chicks for a poultry concern – that it smacks of autobiography.
Although Yeun receives top billing (and how fascinating that after Okja, Burning, and Minari, the Michigan-raised ex-Walking Dead actor has become a movie star speaking Korean, his second language), the story is really about the relationship between the family's little boy and the grandmother who comes from South Korea to live with them. Here Chung has cast two actors that couldn't be better: seven-year-old Alan Kim, who is completely real and adorable, and veteran actress Yuh-jung Youn, who steals every scene she's in. Her grandson may resent her for being frustratingly un-grandma-like – she drinks, she swears, she's no good in the kitchen – and while it's obvious that the little boy will eventually warm up to his carefree granny, their bond feels well-earned and well-deserved.
Minari is not strong on plot: the family may struggle with money, culture shock, the weather, and each other, but there remains a "life goes on" feeling to it all. Yet it's this absence of melodrama and of cruelty that lends the film its irresistibly gentle tone; you can't help but curl up with it. It's simply a nice movie, and sometimes that's exactly what you need.