Lee Isaac Chung’s ‘Minari’ gets a surprise for the Oscars

A little controversy can push the film into the spotlight and make it a must-see.

Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari” (December 11, A24) has just received a big fat Christmas present from the Hollywood Foreign Media Association, whose rules forced producers to submit Korean immigrant drama in the Golden Globe foreign language category, which is identical to the situation as Lulu Wang “Farewell” at Globus 2020. Vanga and others erupted in controversy, because it means that the film will not compete for the best film drama, even though its actors meet the requirements for acting categories.

So why is this a good thing?

Most Oscar voters have never heard of Minari. After the film broke out of Sundance 2020, with excellent reviews and a U.S. Grand Drama Jury Award and a U.S. Drama Audience Award, the A24 juggled release options, knowing that, despite all their best efforts, the Indian Indian box office broke “Forgiveness” ($ 17.7 million). domestic) never received an Oscar nomination, but took home the best role at the Spirit Independent Awards. It is clear that the summer edition of “Minari” was not on the card after COVID closed many cinemas. But A24 has never wavered in conducting an Oscar campaign for the film, reserving the film at the (muted) autumn festival round.

This year’s challenge is to build buzz and awareness and turn a quiet rural family drama into a must-see on the Academy’s screening portal. Therefore, the controversy surrounding the Globe may be the impetus for a film that won the support of the Gotham Awards and early critical groups (Los Angeles, Boston) for supporting actress Youn Yuh-jung.

Once the voters for the awards see “MInari”, they will respond. The story of a determined young farmer (Steven Yeun) trying to build a sustainable future for his family is appropriate during these troubled times, as he and his wife (Yeri Han), her mother (Youn) and their young son Alan S (Kim) face down one devastating obstacle after another.

Whatever happens to the Oscars, Chung has arrived in Hollywood, after three acclaimed films that didn’t resonate with audiences outside the festival circle. By embracing improvisational acting techniques (inspired by Abbas Kiarostami, Hou Hsiao-Hsien, and Wong Kar Wai), Yale City, which he initially avoided in search of the Los Angeles connections most filmmakers crave, concluded it was time to figure out how to write a more affordable film.

“I wanted to find my way through it,” he said. “But the craft itself, there is no way to hone it and practice it. I feel something because it was challenging for me. I didn’t grow up breathing cinema. I had to figure it all out in public. ”

And he wanted to do something more personal. So he created a fictional fable based on his upbringing on a farm in Arkansas, retaining the view of his seven-year-old self. It is remarkable that this structure works, providing us with open eyes, honest and often comical takeovers of what is happening. “I took it easy and realized I lacked discipline in trying to write a screenplay.”

Chung’s thinking partially changed when he had a child. “I had to stop taking myself and the craft so seriously,” he said. “Somehow I saw a broader life context. It’s just a movie. What I wanted was to entertain and cheer up the audience on a pleasant ride. We knew the pictures we wouldn’t have much time. I didn’t want the film to draw attention to the director’s choice. I wanted the family to focus and perform. I tried to keep it simple, not make it bloom too much. “

Minari Team

IndieWire / screenshot

Chung’s cinematic inspiration for “Minari” was Francois Truffaut’s alter ego Antoine Doinel (Jean-Pierre Leaud) in “400 Beats”. And his literary inspiration was Will Cather’s autobiographical book “My Antonia”, told from the point of view of a little boy, as well as Anton Chekhov’s short story “Step”.

After much fuss, Chung figured out how to “give the boy his eyes somehow,” he said. “You don’t just go into it with the boy in the present, but the idea contains a retrospective, looking back at the story through memory.”

Chung left his original tone before production. “Obviously he has more insight into all these characters and connections than the boy would actually have,” he said. “Once you go with Steven Yeun and take it away [the boy’s] a glance, at various points, would somehow turn the film upside down. It doesn’t work that much, it’s just serious. He acts by looking at it with innocent eyes, which anchored the film. [In the editing room] I put him staring for a few moments. That was not in the script. ”

“Minari”

A24

Seeking help to develop the script was key, and production executive Christina Oh (“The Last Black Man in San Francisco”) pulled him into Plan B. “She felt a deep passion for the story,” he said. “They are trying to protect the director’s intention in the project. They definitely brought in a team of people to help me figure it out, like DP Lachlan Milne, Harry Yeun, the editor, production designer, and composer of The Last Black Man in San Francisco. “

A frequent partner from Plan B A24 (“Moonlight”) entered the place of study for financing before production.

As for the autobiographical aspects of the story, Chung said: “There is nothing in the film that is unfair, but it is difficult to determine precisely what actually happened or not, which was invented because of the narration. There was a fire, and my grandmother watched a lot of wrestling. “

Yeun provided some powerful star that could pay off. “Not only is he charismatic and electrified,” Chung said. “Something about him brings you on that journey, no matter what he does. What Jacob is doing is a bit of a condemnation by bringing his family to the farm. He did not ask for any cooperation with his wife for this venture, he puts his family at great risk. For the audience to continue to go with him, he has to be someone like Steven, who will evoke our sympathy and understanding of why he does what he does. We initially jumped him into an executive producer, in large part because of his connection to Plan B and A24. ”

The director lived in Korea for several months to star in the film. He wanted Korean movie star Youn Yuh-jung to play a Korean grandmother who infiltrated the family, but it took a bit of persuasion. “She read a script from a guy known for making films about Rwanda,” he said. “She is a legend and an icon in Korea, if nothing is honestly achieved with this. At this point in her life, it’s a sauce. Even my parents felt like, ‘My son finally succeeded in working with Youn Yuh-jung.’ “

Minari

“Minari”

A24

Chung shot the film on shoes in 25 days. “And Alan we only had six hours on set and he was in almost every scene,” he said. “It’s not been long. It was a rush of intense hours, short hours, with no room for error. Lachlan [Milne] and I turned to each other and said, ‘We’re just working on intuition, there’s no time to think.’ I just believe Lachlan can do anything. He’s a superhero. ”

The sparring young boy and grandmother were a party that was constantly giving. “Alan was great to be present, and then Jung was so good at creating a fun atmosphere with her performance,” he said. “They had incredible chemistry. I laughed behind the monitor and discovered new things, and that’s what happens in the movie. “

“Minari” was a multilingual set, and many Korean actors could not speak English fluently. “I tried not to make a separation between the Koreans and the crew,” Chung said. “One of the joys was to see how the crew made their film personal. They’re a local crew from the cities of Tulsa and Oklahoma, they’re farmers or grown up the way I am. I found that things resonated with them. We wanted it to be a man first and foremost. ”

And Chung wanted the film to look like a fable or a high story. “So much of it needs to be neat the way it fits,” Chung said, “and dreamy the way I felt it could be a story.”

Will the film cross the Golden Globe and come into conflict for an Oscar? A little controversy can’t hurt.

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