Director Lee Isaac Chung on ‘Wrestling With God’ in Minari

Oscar nominations were released earlier this week, and Minari—one of my favorite films of the year—snagged six of them, including one for Best Picture. Lee Isaac Chung was nominated for two himself: Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.

I actually had a chance to talk with Chung a week before the Oscar noms, when Minari was fresh off its Golden Globe win for Best Foreign Language Film. And he had some interesting things to say about the movie’s deep, if conflicted, sense of faith. 

The film deals with a Korean family that moves from metropolitan San Francisco to rural Arkansas, where the family father Jacob dreams of starting a farm. But while the family is at least outwardly Christian (a huge picture of Jesus hangs up behind the living room couch), faith seems to be a subtle-but-important point of friction between Jacob and his wife, Monica. While Monica still seems to be a woman of deep faith (encouraging her children to pray and longing for the fellowship she had back in California at their Korean church), Jacob is a skeptic. At one point he seems to mock his wife’s religiosity, and he’s seriously freaked out by the demonstrative Christianity he sees in his farmhand, Paul.

For Chung, those religious elements were “very personal,” he says. 

“I didn’t want to set out to make a Christian movie, if that makes sense,” he told me. “I didn’t want this film to be that. I just wanted this film to capture a certain perspective and experience that I have of wrestling with God. The name of the main character is Jacob, and he’s wrestling with God in this film.

“I ask for Christians to have some grace with me,” Chung adds with a smile, “because knowing the ways that I believe it might be unorthodox or people question me about how I portray different characters. It’s honestly just me working things out on a very personal level.” 

We talked about loads more in our interview, of course. You can read it all here.

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