Archive for the ‘Foreign Film’ Category

A Korean man named Jacob (Stephen Yuen) transplants his wife, Monica (Yeri Han) and their two kids, Anne (Noel Cho) and David (Alan Kim) to rural Arkansas because he wants a chance to become a farmer. They make ends meet by determining the sex of baby chicks at a chicken processing plant.  Jacob and Monica fight all the time about finances, so to keep Monica happy, Jacob lets Monica’s mother, Mrs. Oh, (Esther Moon) come live with them in Arkansas.  Mrs. Oh is hardly happy in Arkansas, she curses in Korean, she drinks Mountain Dew, and chides David about his bedwetting. 

The family tries to ingratiate themselves to the rural Arkansans.  Jacob hires a local farm hand named Paul (Will Patton) with a little too much Holy Spirit, Monica joins the local church, and David finds a friend.  Not everyone tries to fit in, Mrs. Oh plants minari a watercress plant she brought from Korea, which flourishes near the stream on Jacob’s land. Jacob keeps farming, and his crops grow, does he sell anything? 

Minari is relentlessly depressing and ruthlessly manipulative, David, Jacob’s son, has multiple physical problems, Mrs. Oh is elderly, and something awful happens to her in the span of this film.   The writer makes the viewer first like the precocious David and the feisty Mrs. Oh, and then the writer makes the viewer feel sorry for them.  Minari treats Christians worse than the kids and the elderly in this movie. Paul, the farm hand, is a barely coherent person, mumbling in tongues and carrying a wooden cross down a dirt road.  That’s worse than cartoonish writing, it’s offensive.  And Monica seems almost apologetic for her faith.  There is no uplifting moment, there is no life-affirming moment, and then it just ends, abruptly.   

It’s too bad of writer/director Lee Chung didn’t have an ideal immigrant experience, no first-generation immigrant does.  Is he arguing against assimilation?  First generation immigrants don’t often have a choice, first generation immigrants don’t often have ready-made enclaves to live in, so they must assimilate.  Assimilation doesn’t mean losing one’s culture, it means keeping what is best of one’s culture and weaving one’s culture into the larger American experience. Minari misses all that nuance.  It speaks in blunt generalities. 

The acting is good.  Stephen Yuen is earnest as a man with a single-minded focus to make his small family farm work.  It may cost him his marriage and his kids, but he pushes on.  Yeri Han is very good as the underappreciated Monica, the wife who tries to be supportive of her husband, but also asserts her view that this is not her dream life.  It’s a tough role but she handles it well.  Esther Moon steals the movie as the cantankerous, but loveable mother-in-law.  Alan Kim steals a few scenes in the movie, and has the requisite cuteness and precociousness for the role.  Will Patton does a good job in humanizing Paul the farm hand, and not making him the caricature he was written to be. 

The direction is so-so, the pacing is slow, but Chung gets good performances from his actors, even the kid actors, which is not always easy to do, The set piece or climax seems unrealistic, and that detracts from its impact on the film. 

Minari: Withers on the Vine. 

In a stable right next to Jesus, a man named Brian (Graham Chapman) was born. Eventually, Brian joins an anti-Roman group, the People’s Front of Judea, and painting anti-Roman slogans on the walls, he is captured by Roman soldiers and brought to Pontius Pilate. (Michael Palin) But Brian escapes, develops a following, despite himself, and finds himself in front of Pilate again, waiting to be crucified. The only person who seems to care for him is a female devotee of the People’s Front of Judea named Judith. (Sue Jones-Davies) Can Judith save Brian from almost certain death?

Life of Brian begins promisingly with a song called Brian, that sounds like the Shirley Bassey song “Goldfinger.” That’s the kind of satire that should have permeated this film, instead the movie seems like a random bunch of sketches with no central theme to unify it. The Pythons seem to be fixated on competing Roman opposition groups for a while, tiring of that, they try to give Brian an underlying philosophy, after that they sink to juvenile humor, Pontius Pilate sounds like Elmer Fudd, Pilate has a friend named after a part of the male anatomy, one of the prisoners stutters badly. It’s shocking how childish the humor is here. The story is also redundant, Brian gets captured not once but twice. It’s like these true comedic geniuses ran out of ideas, and had to have Brian captured twice. Is this movie controversial? Maybe by 1979 standards, but by 2020 standards it’s quite the snooze, and unfunny to boot. Honestly, Life of Brian sounded like they were trying to avoid controversy. Compared to the superior and very funny Monty Python and The Holy Grail, which had the quest for the Grail as a central theme, Brian, is an unfocused mess. The Pythons do get one thing right in the Jesus story, in the end, there is no one wiling to save Brian. The similarity seems quite accidental.

The acting seems as half-hearted as the writing. As memorable as the characters were in Holy Grail, that’s how forgettable the characters in Life of Brian are. Other than Brian and maybe Pontius Pilate, there are no memorable characters, and the actors showed the fatigue. John Cleese, who stood out in the TV show with his Ministry of Silly Walks, and in Grail with the hilarious Black Knight, and the French Knight fades into the woodwork here as an angry member of an anti-Roman group. Eric Idle only stands out because of the song at the end of the movie. In Grail he was memorable as Brave Sir Robin. There are so many more memorable characters in Holy Grail and the performances were so much more enthusiastic.
The direction is credited to Terry Jones. It is ponderously slow and tedious, the funniest segment is an animated sequence by Terry Gilliam, who went on to become a well-known director outside of Python, outside of that segment, the movie just drags. It is a long 90-minute movie.

Life of Brian: Not the second coming.