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Life Through the Lens: The best things in life are free

“Never pay for anything you can find for free.”

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Waterfalls. Ever seen one? I see you nodding your head. That’s good. Let me ask a follow-up question: Yeah, but have you ever really SEEN one?

Although TLC warned me back in 1995 to avoid the characteristic behavior of an endless pursuit of these descending watery cascades … here I am as an adult, and I can’t stop “chasing waterfalls.” I cannot be satisfied with “sticking to the rivers and the lakes that I’m used to.” You don’t know me, TLC. Stop trying to control me.

But seriously, though, I have developed a love for waterfalls. Whenever I get the chance, I am trekking through the wilderness to find these hidden gems. My family humors me … but my 12 Step Program urges me to admit my obsession: “My name is Andrew, and I’m a waterfall-a-phile.”

It’s the power. The force. The wonder. The grace. The beauty. The predictable chaos. The relentless ease. It is the earth proclaiming its innate majesty. It is the perfect analogy: beauty is reserved for those who seek it.

Sure, sure. I can just hear the populace now: “But I’ll get dirty and sweaty! What about the bugs? How will we know how to get back? There is no cell service out there! I heard that waterfalls will literally swallow you up and only spit out your shoes. True story. It happened to a guy I know’s sister’s roommate’s brother.” And to that I say: “Yeah, so?”

It is the sacrifice that makes it worthwhile. It is the sweat that makes the water so refreshing. It is the hike that makes the views so breathtaking.

The old adage is true: the best things in life are free. While the world totals love by value, by admission, by cost, by price. Throw that junk in the fire! Love is not granted by the gold standard. Love is not monetarily-bought … love is mutually built. Beauty is not acquired. Beauty is discovered. All the resources we need to be happy, healthy, connected, and fulfilled are free and waiting.

Waterfalls serve as a wonderful analogy: you don’t buy tickets or invest in waterfalls. You just immerse and enjoy! They are for anyone willing to go out find them!

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Chicken-sexing. You may not know what that is, but Jacob Yi (Steven Yeun) can do it in his sleep. Chicks all look the same on the outside, but, if you squeeze them upside down, a trained-eye can see a slight difference in their anal vent. Imagine seeing that in your sleep! The female chicks are spared and used while the male chicks are quickly discarded. Jacob, with his refined skill, has moved his family from Korea to California and now to Arkansas in search of American prosperity and promise. No more simply “making ends meet” (which is a hilarious pun … because of how he makes his money … I’ll wait while you figure it out); Arkansas has provided Jacob with this dream to own and work a 50-acre farm.

With the hope of retiring from the anal-analyzing, Jacob works himself to the bone while his wife, Monica (Yeri Han), and two children struggle to adjust to rural life. In a mobile home in the middle of nowhere, Monica is lost. Without her culture, without her family, she daily reminds Jacob of her displeasure. In a grasp to survive this move, she invites her mother, Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn), to move in with them to watch the kids. Soonja’s presence is both upsetting and uplifting, changing the family’s dynamics and direction.

I am drawn to two images: water and plants. Jacob is always making such a big deal about water … and rightfully so if he is a farmer! He states early on that Koreans are wise and resourceful — why pay for water when you can dig a well for free? As the narrative unfolds, though, this stance is shaken: what happens when the water runs dry? Water purchased demeans the dream.

Upon her arrival, Soonja brings the Korean plant called minari as a blessing for the family. Although grown easily and for free, its uses and wonders are many! She makes a point of saying that it is for rich and poor alike. Health-in-abundance! It is not elusive, not exclusive, but for anyone willing to walk to the water’s edge.

Although “the American Dream” boasts the opposite, the best things in life are, most definitely and most definitively, FREE.

Minari has become one of this year’s most talked about movies. That always makes me a little nervous when viewing … because hype is not always justified. I can safely say, though, this movie lived up to the excitement! It isn’t my favorite movie of the year, but it is a strong contender and a worthy adversary.

The directing and writing of Lee Isaac Chung were wonderful. He tells and presents a story full of intimacy and immediacy … and he does it through subtitles! Not an easy thing to do. There is an earnestness present that is hard to fake. More than just a story of immigrants, it is a story of family, no matter what country you are from or what language you speak. It is a reminder that all humanity seeks and struggles the same.

I enjoyed the cinematography of Lachlan Milne, as well. I was consistently pleased by the subtle yet detailed framing and composition. There is beauty out there … all you have to do is unearth it!

The film’s acting was phenomenal. Steven Yeun is great, showing much range and control. Yeri Han was heartbreaking, delivering complex emotions with ease. Little Alan S. Kim (as David) was just so sweet! Will Patton (as Paul) was dynamic as Jacob’s eccentric partner. My favorite by-far, though, was Yuh-Jung Youn; her performance is Oscar-worthy! She is effortlessly funny and brings warmth to each scene she steals. You’ve got my vote, Yuh-Jung!

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REPORT CARD: Minari

Grade: A

Comment: A story that bridges language and nationality

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