Tag Archives: Steven Yeun

Arkansas Dreaming


by Hope Madden

Yes, I am a sucker for films containing devastatingly adorable little kids. Sue me.

Minari fits that bill. Writer/director Lee Isaac Chung essentially recreates the story of his own family’s struggles to become farmers when he was 6. The character based on the filmmaker is played by Alan S. Kim (that little face!), and though Minari is not told exclusively from his perspective, his presence—and the innocence and chaos that represents—suits the effort.

Jacob (Steven Yeun) and Monica (Yeri Han) were having problems before making the move to a tiny plot of Arkansas farmland. As Jacob struggles to turn their fortunes around, he brings his mother-in-law to live with them to make his wife happy.

Lucky for us all Grandma (Youn Yuh-jung, a treat) is a stitch.

The dynamic within the family is sweetly authentic, and the levity never overtakes a scene. There’s a tenderness here that, along with moments of joy, elevates the seriousness and even desperation of the family’s situation.

Chung’s cinematic style quietly beguiles. There is enormous struggle in nearly every scene, but it’s told with gentleness and grace. It’s the rhythm to a song made up of so much more. Chung’s skill as a storyteller is immense, but he couldn’t have created such nuance without such a game cast.

Yeun proves again the depths of his talent. If you missed his menacingly perfect turn in 2018’s Burning, you should definitely watch that right away. To the same degree that his character there was conniving and calculating, Minari’s Jacob is earnest and warm. You ache for him to succeed, and not just as a farmer.

Likewise, Han hits no false note as an involuntary Arkansan. It would have been so easy to oversell the bitterness or disappointment—as it would have been for Yuh-jung to have gone bigger with her “crazy granny” character. But broad strokes are nowhere to be found in this delicate drama.

Plus Alan Kim is just so damn cute.

Minari offers a close look—optimistic, but not sentimental—at the American Dream. If you feel like that’s been done to death, that just means you haven’t seen this movie yet.

Burning Questions


by Brandon Thomas

Films like M, Vertigo and Chinatown have spent decades taking audiences on twisty narrative rides. These classic mysteries raise thrilling questions, and payoff with satisfying answers. But what if a great mystery wasn’t at all concerned with answering the questions it raised? Chang-dong Lee’s Burning is more interested in the journey than it is the destination.

Jong-Su (Ah-In Yoo) spends his days doing odd jobs and taking care of his family’s dilapidated farm on the outskirts of town. A chance encounter brings Hae-mi (Jong-seo Jeon), a childhood neighbor, back into his life. Through Hae-mi, Jong-Su also meets Ben (Steven Yeun of The Walking Dead), a wealthy, good-looking and mysterious young man. While having drinks one evening, Ben confides to Jong-Su that he occasionally enjoys burning abandoned greenhouses. Jong-Su begins to think that burning greenhouses isn’t Ben’s only secret.

Burning unravels slowly. Two and a half hours seems daunting at first glance, but the twinge of unease hanging over the film keeps you involved the entire time. There’s a sense of dread that is hard to pinpoint, but is also intoxicating.

The film comes alive through the character work. Jong-Su is an open book. He’s miserable, lonely, disappointed and bored. And we get to see it all. He tells Hae-mi and Ben that he’s a writer, but he’s never actually shown writing. He spends hours working his monotonous jobs and pretending to be invested in taking care of the family farm. Jong-Su is a phony, and Ben sees that immediately.

Hae-mi and Ben, on the other hand, are complete enigmas to Jong-Su and the audience. Hae-mi tells Jong-Su stories from their childhood that he doesn’t remember, and eventually finds out aren’t true. Ben’s wealth, job and true motivation are complete mysteries. Knowing next to nothing about these two people that he so admires frustrates Jong-Su to the point of obsession.

For nearly 20 years, South Korean cinema has cemented itself as the industry to beat, creatively. Burning is absolutely no exception. The film owes more to Memories of Murder than it does Oldboy, slowly oozing into your psyche with its methodical and unconventional approach.

It’s easy to be frustrated by Burning as the credits start to role. It offers zero easy answers, and even refuses to acknowledge Jong-Su as an unreliable narrator. By defying genre conventions and expectations, Burning provides an alternative mystery that pops with just as much excitement.

Burning burns ever so bright.

Take Your Inner Psycho to Work Day


by Hope Madden

You know that nice lady at work who gets bronchitis every time she flies, then she coughs and hacks and spews DNA all over the office?

Let’s say you have issues with that kind of office contamination. And with office politics. And with your boss, her boss, and the way you’ve basically given up everything that makes you feel alive and happy for this stupid job you hate where germs are everywhere…

Wouldn’t it be cathartic to explode, right there, in the middle of everything, righteously and with no repercussions?

Mayhem, the new film from director Joe Lynch, is just that emotional release.

Steven Yeun (The Walking Dead) plays Derek, mid-level white-collar prick in a law office. Just mid-level, though—there’s some conscience left in him. Still, he got where he is by finding the loophole that got a broad-daylight-surrounded-by-witnesses murderer off the hook.

The murderer had a virus—the Red Eye virus—which disrupts your ability to manage your emotions. You might weep uncontrollably, masturbate during a conference call, or stab your boss in the throat with a pen.

Here’s what’s important: we like Derek, his building is contaminated, his court case set the precedent allowing public murder and mayhem while under the 8-hour-ish influence of the virus.

Let’s just quarantine this building and see what happens.

The film is an exercise in workplace catharsis, and a pretty fun one. It’s far superior to other recent attempts at office-bound carnage The Belko Experiment and Bloodsucking Bastards, partly because Lynch has a crisp sense of pace and knack for comedy.

Matias Caruso’s script doesn’t hurt. Though it never mines deeply enough for the film to resonate beyond the “I hate my job and wouldn’t mind killing my boss” level, it’s clever fun from start to finish.

Yeun makes an excellent everyman and his enjoyable performance is matched by those of many of his evil colleagues. Dallas Roberts (also The Walking Dead) is exceptional as the head of HR, also known as The Reaper.

The film is little more than an id explosion in service of workplace fantasy. It keeps a light heart despite the carnage, doesn’t dig deep and doesn’t really hold up to scrutiny. But it’s fun. Especially if you’ve ever wanted to kill your boss.