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    16 Culturally-Accurate Details From "Minari" That I Just Can’t Stop Thinking About

    If you know, you know.

    Minari is one of the most acclaimed movies to come out this year.

    Picture of entire Yi family, including Jacob, David, Soon-Ja, Monica, and Anne, standing outside their home.
    David Bornfriend / © A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection

    With six historic Oscar nominations, it's all anyone can talk about.

    It's easy to see why. In addition to a perfect cast, the movie comes together beautifully with a soundtrack you'd want your own movie set to and thoughtful cultural details that fill every scene with nostalgia and meaning.

    Steven Yeun's character stands in a field while his family plays around him.
    David Bornfriend / © A24 / Courtesy Everett Collection

    And while the cast and filmmakers have affirmed that Minari is meant to be taken as a universal film about an immigrant family — not a foreign film explicitly about Koreans or the American dream — there are many easy-to-miss details that authentically represent Korean families and culture.

    Here's a rundown of all those rich details that made the movie so moving:

    And by the way, it's possible that a few or a lot of these cultural elements aren't exclusive to the Korean community. If you know of any I missed, leave them in the comments!

    1. Soon-Ja, Monica's mom, picks David's ear using a traditional Korean ear pick.

    David laying his head on Monica's right lap, having his left ear picked.
    A24

    In a lot of East Asian cultures, ear-picking is a common practice that involves using a tiny wooden or steel pick to dig out earwax. It might sound painful but getting your ears picked is one of the most relaxing sensations out there, and many East Asians have nostalgic memories of laying their heads on a parent's lap while their ears are picked (can confirm from personal experience that it feels amazing!). I'm no scientist but my theory is that the practice might be more common in East Asian populations because East Asians produce dry earwax (while people hailing from Europe or Africa have wet earwax), making it easier to remove.

    2. David is forced to raise his hands as punishment for pranking his grandma.

    David looking at the living room floor while raising his two hands in the air.
    A24

    Physical punishment has, for a long time, been widely accepted in South Korea as a method of discipling students and kids. Raising your hands is a common "beginner-level" punishment that might seem innocent but can feel painful with extended durations. David is lucky he wasn't made to hold a book over his head or forced to do squats. Read more about traditional Korean punishments.

    3. Soon-Ja sleeps on a hard rectangular pillow for better posture.

    Soon-Ja sleeping on her side, with her head lying on a hard, rectangular pillow.
    A24

    Soon-Ja, Monica's mom, can be seen sleeping on the floor on a hard, rectangular pillow. This isn't a weird makeshift pillow. For many elderly Koreans, stiffer pillows are actually thought to be conducive to better posture and alignment. If you've ever been to a Korean sauna, you might've also seen a bunch of these wooden pillows lying about. They might not look like the softest things in the world, but they're actually designed to relieve tension and stress around your neck!

    4. Along the same lines, Soon-Ja sleeps on the floor not because she's forced to, but because in Korean culture, a hard horizontal surface is preferred for better spinal alignment.

    David lying on his bed in the dark with his blanket over his face, while his grandma sleeps on the floor directly to his left.
    A24

    Some adults (*ahem* my parents) will even go so far as to buy a special bed with a stone surface as a compromise between sleeping on the floor and sleeping on a raised surface.

    You might have also noticed that Soon-Ja eats sitting on the floor, while Jacob, a Korean American, eats sitting on the table. In modern-day Korean homes, it's common to switch between the two.

    5. David is forced to drink a dark liquid called Hanyak, which is widely considered a cure-all for various illnesses.

    Monica squeezing the steeped Hanyak ingredients into a clear glass bowl.
    A24

    Anyone who grew up with a Korean grandma or parent has memories of being force-fed the foul liquid medicine known as Hanyak. Have a cold? Drink some Hanyak! Feeling body aches? Drink some Hanyak! Known for its bitter taste, the drink is composed of various (mostly) plant-based ingredients and a generous helping of ginseng. No one actually enjoys drinking it, but parents swear by its restorative powers.

    6. Through the movie, Jacob refers to Monica as "Ji-Yung's mom" (while Jacob is referred to as "Ji-Yung's dad"). In Korea, this is a common form of address among spouses and friends.

    Jacob and Monica talking in their master bedroom.
    A24

    If you understand Korean, you might've picked up on this detail (the subtitles simply translate it to "Monica" or "Jacob" for simplicity's sake).

    It's extremely common to refer to your friends by their parental title. For instance, you might ask your friend, whose firstborn is named Grace, "Did Grace's mom see the movie everyone's talking about yet?" In general, honorifics (or, the practice of referring to someone by their hierarchical title) are a huge cultural practice in Korean culture, even today. This curious form of address is just another way of referring to someone by something other than their first name (which hardly anyone does, out of respect).

    If you want to get technical, the practice of referring to someone by their child's name is called Teknonymy.

    It's worth mentioning that kids in the movie, David and Anne, refer to their parents in the formal, which is a form of address more common among Korean-born children, and rarely heard among American-born kids.

    7. When introduced at the chicken-sexing warehouse, Monica slightly bows to her new coworkers as a way to show respect.

    Monica bowing slightly forward, with her boss to her left and Jacob further to her left looking slightly apprehensive.
    A24

    In the scene where Monica and Jacob are introduced to the rest of the team at the chicken-sexing factory, Monica bows ever so slightly to respectfully greet her new teammates. Bowing is central to greetings in Korea. The more formal the situation, the deeper the bow.

    You'll notice that throughout the movie in general, Monica takes on the role of cultural preservationist (while Jacob, as in this scene, seems quick to assimilate), whether she's cooking with traditional Korean ingredients, bowing, welcoming religion into her life, or exclusively speaking in Korean to her kids.

    8. At the chicken-sexing warehouse, Monica's friend and coworker claims that Koreans who moved to the countryside were escaping the church.

    Monica sitting down at her chicken-sexing job, conversing with her coworker. Text subtitles on image read, "To escape Korean church."
    A24

    Korean church culture is a huge touchpoint in many South Korean and Korean American communities. Church is where many Korean Americans find faith, first and foremost, but also a deep community of people who'll help you find jobs, Korean friends for your kids, referrals for the best banchan-making ajumma. In some instances, the community can get uncomfortably insular, which is what their coworker is probably referring to.

    9. The card game that Soon-Ja plays is called Hwatu and is very popular among the older generations.

    Soon-Ja, David's grandma, sitting down with Anne and David, playing Hwatu.
    A24

    The classic Korean card game known as Hwatu involves 48 brightly illustrated cards. It's almost mandatory to engage in a bit of light (or aggressive) cussing when playing this game, as Soon-Ja shows David. These days, the card game is most often played during Korean celebrations like Chuseok (Autumn Eve) or Lunar New Year.

    10. Monica cries when Soon-Ja gifts her with a bag of myeolchi (dried anchovies), a key ingredient in several classic Korean dishes.

    Monica crying while clutching a bag of Myeolchi that her mom gifted her. Text reads: "You brought anchovies too?"
    A24

    Myeolchi (pronounced "Myul-Chee") are the umami base of many Korean dishes (from kimchi stew to tteokbokki), and it is notoriously hard to find the niche ingredient in many American cities. In the scene where Soon-Ja gifts her daughter with a bag of myeolchi, Monica tears up, recognizing her mother's gesture of love.

    11. In Jacob and Monica's first fight of the movie, Jacob asserts that he's the eldest son in his family and that since he's "taken care" of the family, his job is done. In Korean culture, being the eldest son comes with a heavy burden, one which is almost exclusively centered around providing for the family.

    Monica bathing David, who is sitting naked in the bathtub and clutching one of Monica's arms. Text reads, "I'll take care of us."
    A24

    As Kristen Kim writes in the Nation, "[Jacob] bears the responsibility of being the eldest son in his own family; this is a pressure so overwhelming that Korean women are customarily warned against marrying firstborn men."

    12. Jacob uses metal chopsticks — the preferred type of chopsticks in Korea.

    Jacob eating Korean food at the dinner table using metal chopsticks. Text reads, "I'll think about it."
    A24

    Apparently, silver chopsticks became the choice of eating utensil for the nobility back in the day when they realized that the expensive metal would change color if their food was poisoned. Another theory for metal chopsticks' popularity in Korea is that they're more appropriate for picking up sizzling hot meats. Whatever the reason, one fact remains true: Metal chopsticks are hard to master and are a sign of true chopstick prowess!

    13. Soon-Ja calls David "pretty boy" because "pretty" is a direct translation of the Korean word "yeppeun," a term of endearment for children.

    Soon-Ja holding on to a standing David's arms in their living room, making a kissy face.
    A24

    In American English, of course, "pretty" has a more feminine connotation. This is why David might've understood it as a slight, correcting his grandma, "I'm not pretty. I'm good-looking!"

    14. In one scene, you can see VHS tapes marked as "Korean Drama Series" stacked in a corner. As recently as the early 2000s, renting illegally copied VHS tapes of popular shows was the easiest way to keep up with South Korean entertainment.

    Messy stack of photo albums and VHS tapes on top of VHS player.
    A24

    Korean Americans will never forget running to the store to pick up the latest episode of Autumn In My Heart.

    15. When Soon-Ja tries to give Monica an envelope of cash, Monica resists, saying that she should give her money. It's common for a lot of Korean adult children to regularly gift their parents cash.

    Monica clutching envelope of cash and telling her mom, "Thank you so much."
    A24

    It's also common to gift your entire first paycheck to your parents, as a courtesy for all their years of hard work raising you.

    16. This dish is called kimbap and it is, hands down, the best road trip snack out there. I wouldn't be surprised if that's the parting gift the shop owner gave the Yi family.

    Anne looking at four trays of Korean kimbap.
    A24

    Try out the recipe for yourself!