Korean-American Filmmaker Pins Oscar Hopes on Immigrant Drama

  • By Kim Sung-hyun

    October 26, 2020 13:23

    Korean-American director Lee Isaac Chung's latest film "Minari" had its Korean premiere last week at the Busan International Film Festival.

    The coming-of-age story has already won two awards -- the Grand July Prize and Audience Award in the U.S. dramatic competition -- at the Sundance Film Festival in February, setting it well on course for Oscar consideration.

    Variety picked "Minari" as a contender for several Academy Awards, not least because the film was produced by Brad Pitt's Plan B Entertainment.

    In a press event before its screening, Chung and actor Steven Yeun who could not come to Korea due to coronavirus restrictions, participated via Zoom.

    Yeun is a Korean-American actor who has also appeared in the U.S. horror TV series "The Walking Dead," Bong Joon-ho's "Okja," and Lee Chang-dong's "Burning." He also co-produced "Minari."

    Lee Isaac Chung

    The partly autobiographical movie portrays a Korean family who move to the U.S. in the 1980s and their struggles to settle in a small town in Arkansas.

    Chung also spent his youth in Arkansas and started working in the movie industry after graduating from Yale University. His low-budget debut feature Munyurangabo (2007), which was filmed in Rwanda in just 11 days, was featured in the Un Certain Regard section at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival.

    His next project is a Hollywood remake of the 2016 Japanese animation "Your Name" by Makoto Shinkai, which attracted 3.5 million viewers in Korea.

    "A lot of anecdotes in the movie are from my own family," Chung said. Minari is Korean for water dropwort, which is planted by a brook. It symbolizes resilience and survival and has a special meaning to Chung. "Minari was the vegetable that flourished the most among many others that my grandmother grew. So for me, it means love for family."

    More than half the dialogue is in Korean, but since the triumph of "Parasite" at the Academy Awards early this year, U.S. audiences' reaction to non-English films has changed dramatically.

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