Director Bong Joon Ho was very encouraging: 'Minari' filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung - Eastern Mirror
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Director Bong Joon Ho was very encouraging: ‘Minari’ filmmaker Lee Isaac Chung

By PTI Updated: Apr 13, 2021 8:57 pm

New Delhi, April 13 (PTI): “Minari” director Lee Isaac Chung says getting praised by somebody with as strong an eye for detail as Oscar-winning filmmaker Bong Joon Ho was a “real treat”.

Lee spoke to the “Parasite” filmmaker over a phone call and though he was initially nervous, he was elated when he found out that Bong liked his film.

“I feel like he was very happy for us and he’s very encouraging. I’m so glad he likes the movie. That’s a real treat for me. He has a very strong eye for detail. I was nervous talking to him but I was so glad that he picked up on a lot of details that excited me about the film,” the filmmaker told PTI during a virtual roundtable with international journalists.

Lee, 42, didn’t watch “Parasite” while he was editing “Minari” as he was afraid that it would end up influencing him. He waited until he was done editing his movie to finally watch the movie.

“And I was blown away by what he (Bong) did (in the movie). I told him, as we were on that call together, that he made the perfect movie.”

While “Parasite” was a dark satire on the rich-poor divide in South Korea, Lee’s semi-autobiographical drama comes from a more personal space.

It revolves around Jacob (Steven Yeun), a youn Korean-American father who along with his wife and two children moves from California to a farm in rural Arkansas in search of their American dream in 1980s.

Predominantly in Korean language and slated to be released in Indian theatres by PVR Pictures on April 16, the film has emerged as one of the front-runners in this year’s Hollywood award season.

“Minari” is vying for six Oscars at the 93rd Academy Awards, including best picture, best director, best actor (Yeun), and the best supporting actress (Youn Yuh-jung). It has already won the best foreign-language Golden Globe and the best-supporting actress BAFTA for Youn.

Lee is surprised by the extraordinary journey the project, which was a low budget film and a “stressful shoot” for him, has had.

“I had no idea any of this would happen. It’s been a wild ride and I have been touched by audiences who are connecting with this film,” he said.

There was a strong echo of the past as Lee began filming “Minari. The director remembers that when they moved to Arkansas in the 80s, it was the time of a great farm crisis in America, and while he was prepping for the film, he read news stories that there was a possibility that it was happening again.

“So I felt like there’s something happening in which there’s a cycle that’s happening for me on a personal level and then perhaps in our country in which farming, and also immigration was becoming quite an issue, and it continues to be an issue now,” he said.

Lee also believes that the ’80s era somehow captures something of the present.

“We couldn’t have imagined that the pandemic would raise another echo of what’s happening in the story, which is a family having to come together due to suffering and due to catastrophe in a way,” the director said, explaining that the story emerged from a personal space but somehow found “more echoes” along the way.

“That has been the nature of this project. Somehow, we’re submitting to something in the creative process of finding new things as we go, I guess,” he added.

While writing Jacob’s character, Lee thought a lot about the cinema of American screen icon James Dean as he felt he wanted someone like that for the role.

“An important theme that I thought about while I was writing Jacob was a scene from ‘East of Eden’ where James Dean discovers that his crops are growing, and then he runs around in the field and rolls in the dirt. He does something similar in ‘Giant’ when he discovers oil, there’s this massive celebration.

“I remember feeling like this is the sort of Jacob that I want, and especially for the scene where he discovers water and the scenes when he gets the tractor and when farming seems to be going his way. I didn’t have any specific actor. But lo and behold, I feel like I found James Dean in Steven.”

The director said he was surprised when Yeun, a major Hollywood Korean-American star with credits such as “The Walking Dead” and “Burning”, also brought up Dean during their discussion.

“I remember really being floored when he brought it up because that was in my mind as I was writing. So it was great that we got to come together on this and to create these characters together,” Lee said.

The film also features Han Ye-ri, Alan Kim, Noel Kate Cho and Will Patton.

By PTI Updated: Apr 13, 2021 8:57:35 pm