SEOUL– Being an actress must have been at the bottom of the list of Han Yeri’s future dreams. She was an up-and-coming Korean traditional dancer, attending Korea National University of Arts in Seoul.
During her college days, however, she participated in a short film project of her school as a dancer in 2005 and turned her future path to acting.
It did not take long time for her to prove her talent for acting. She won two prizes for acting from the Mise-en-scene Short Film Festival (MSFF), acclaimed as a cradle of creative filmmakers in South Korea, in 2008 and 2010.
About a decade later, Han’s stage expanded to the United States through the drama film “Minari” about a Korean American immigrant family starting a new life in rural Arkansas in the 1980s.
When she was heading to Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the filming of “Minari” took place, she was scared of the strange place and people that she has never experienced. It was her first U.S. project in her 15-year career.
“While flying to the U.S., regret over my decision to do this film came into my mind,” Han said in an online interview with Yonhap News Agency and other media on Tuesday. “When I arrived there, I was dazed for a while and snapped to attention.”
“But when the camera went on, it was the same. It was what I have done in Korea. So I made up my mind again to do my best as I always do,” she said.
In “Minari,” Han took the role of Monica, the mother of the immigrant family, who helps her husband Jacob (Steven Yeun) fulfill his dream of becoming a rich farmer. She takes care of two America-born children, Anne (Noel Kate Cho) and David (Alan Kim), while her husband pays more attention to growing Korean vegetables on the U.S. farm.
Han said she did not bother with the fact that Monica lives in the U.S. but thought the first generation of Korean immigrants would have retained their Korean way of living in the new world.
“Monica and Jacob were born in Korea and I thought their attitude toward living, their food and everything would be very Korean,” she said. “So their life in the U.S. would be not so different from that in Korea.”
Instead, she focused more on representing the delicate relationship between Monica and Jacob, who fall into subtle conflict over details of their American dream that led them to cross the Pacific Ocean years ago.
Throughout the movie, Monica shows her dissatisfaction and discontent at Jacob’s choices to bring the family to the deserted farm in Arkansas and his indifference to the children, especially David, who suffers from a heart murmur.
“She complains of her painstaking efforts and says she would almost let go of his hand,” Han said. “But she doesn’t mean divorce. She loves Jacob very much and wants to hold the family tight. She asks for her husband’s attention.”
Thanks to performances of the cast and well-rounded storytelling, “Minari” has become a favorite of the ongoing award season in the run-up to the Oscars on April 25. It has collected a number of accolades from film critics associations and festivals, including the audience and jury awards at last year’s Sundance Film Festival. It is regarded as one of the contenders for the Oscar’s best picture.
Han said she did not expect the rave reviews and responses from American people, starting from Sundance, as she first thought the movie tells a story of a Korean American family in a leisurely plain tone.
“At Sundance, people were excited about our film, and I didn’t understand why they were moved by the movie,” she said. “But later I saw the movie again and found that people loved the way our movie pictures a common family story. It resonated with Americans, many of who have immigration backgrounds.”
But she said she now feels more nervous before “Minari” is shown to Korean audiences next week as the film is often compared to last year’s Oscar sensation “Parasite,” which led the award season race before winning four big prizes at the Academy Awards.
“I know many people are curious about our movie as it is in the center of the spotlight. Some say we ride on the coattails of ‘Parasite,'” she said. “But unlike the clear ups and downs in ‘Parasite,’ our movie just tells the story in an unflattering and unpretentious way.”
“Minari” will hit South Korean screens next Wednesday.
Source: Yonhap News Agency