Quick synopsis: A Korean family move to an Arkansas farm. I’m really underselling it.
Confession time: I nearly deleted this off the list of films I need to watch this year. Actually there’s no “nearly” about it, I did delete it. I just felt might not be for me. Might be too “arty” and slow. Only added it last month when I thought I’d give it a shot. I was a minute in and thought “I immediately regret my decision”, the decision to delete it, I mean. The fact I denied myself something so beautiful as this for so long is not great. I can’t even explain why the opening is good. It’s literally just the family driving to a new home, no dialogue, just soft music playing. But there’s something about it that’s just so damn cosy and warm that you immediately love it.
I can’t really go into the plot, mainly because it’s not important. There was one character point that made me panic about how the film was going to end, that it was going to get really depressing and bleak as it went on. It didn’t do that. There are moments of emotional frustration, where you just want to grab the characters by the shoulders and start shaking them until they realise what they should do/say. But the character moments aren’t “well I need to do this for the story to develop”, they are believable mistakes for humans to make. This is probably because it’s a semi-autobiographical film, based on the upbringing of writer/director Lee Isaac Chung. It’s a deeply personal story and one that’s told beautifully.
It says a lot about people too. There’s a moment where the family go to church. The other adults are really friendly, and the other kids are kind of dicks (the phrases “why is your face so flat?” and “I speak koraen: jing jang ying low” are both spoken). But then it twists it almost immediately and the kids start getting on once they’re corrected, something as simple as “my face isn’t flat”. Whereas the facade the adults are putting on starts to slip and they start to feel really disingenuous and condescending. It’s incredibly smart and so well done.
It’s not perfect though. The sister character could have been fleshed out better. It feels like if you took her out then it wouldn’t effect the film at all. She’s the only character who doesn’t seem to have their own arc and agency within the film and I had to check she was actually in the film and I didn’t get this film mixed up with another one. But nope, she’s in it, just really ineffective.
It’s weirdly difficult to talk about this film because it didn’t feel like a film. You weren’t sitting there focusing on the story or the acting. You don’t so much watch this, as experience it. It reminded me very much of Nomadland. Which is good, as I loved that film. I should probably do them as a double bill at some point. They’re both really good films with similar colour schemes.
All of this was a long way of saying, watch this film.