If it weren’t for a producer’s persistence, the movie that won best foreign-language film at the Golden Globes might have been made in English instead.
“Minari” writer-director Lee Isaac Chung told CNN in a recent interview that he knew he wanted to tell the story in Korean. But he feared that would be a tough sell — not for audiences, who he felt would connect with a good story when they saw one — but for would-be backers.
“My concern was, would anyone finance this film if it is not in English? … I was in a position in which nobody knows who I am. Nobody knows what this story is,” he said.
“You know, it’s about a bunch of farmers who are chicken sexers. It doesn’t jump off the page as being a commercial endeavor.”
So Chung also wrote a version of the script with more English in it, just in case.
Luckily, Chung says, producer Christina Oh, who’s also Korean American, supported his vision.
“She was very adamant from the start that we have to do this in Korean, the way that we grew up. … She said as a producer, she’s going to go out and make that case, and make that fight. And I just trusted her,” he said.
Having the family at the heart of the story speak Korean at home added nuance and complexity to movie, he said.
“That adds, I feel, a layer of what this family’s actually going through and that sort of insular feeling that you have when the reality at home is different from the one outside,” he said, “and that you really try to preserve some of that reality within your own family as you feel it slipping away.”
In recent months, controversy has erupted over the Golden Globes’ rules, which made “Minari” eligible for best foreign-language film but not best picture because more than 50% of the movie is not in English.
Chung said he doesn’t feel like that dishonored his work, but he understands the frustration many have expressed.
“I understand it in the context of being Asian American and having felt at times there are situations in which you feel as though you’re being treated as a foreigner, and that includes when you’re speaking Korean or a different language and, you know, you hear comments,” he said.
But Chung sees another side to it, too.
“My grandmother, if she were still alive, she’d be very proud that I held through and did a film in Korean and didn’t compromise and then start using that foreign language of English,” he said.