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Films about S. Korean immigrant family in 1980s US, Kim Jong-nam murder premiere at Sundance

Caption--Han Ye-ri (from top left), Steven Yeun, director Lee Isaac Chung, Youn Yuh-jung (from bottom left), Alan Kim, and Noel Cho pose for a photo while promoting the film “Minari” at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday in Park City, Utah. (AP)
Caption--Han Ye-ri (from top left), Steven Yeun, director Lee Isaac Chung, Youn Yuh-jung (from bottom left), Alan Kim, and Noel Cho pose for a photo while promoting the film “Minari” at the Music Lodge during the Sundance Film Festival on Monday in Park City, Utah. (AP)


Actress Han Ye-ri, Korean American actor Steven Yeun and veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung received a standing ovation for “Minari” at the Sundance Film Festival on Sunday.

The festival, which kicked off Thursday at Park City in Utah, runs until Sunday. The annual event is one of the largest indie and documentary film festivals in North America where up-and-coming filmmakers and original titles aim for a big break.

The movie “Minari” tells the story of a South Korean family that has settled in rural America in the 1980s. Yeun and Han play the Korean-born parents who -- after failing to settle in California -- try to have a go at assimilating into the humdrum farmland of Arkansas with their two kids.

Inspired by Korean American writer-director Lee Isaac Chung’s own upbringing, “Minari” is an autobiographical feature film that candidly shows the struggles of first-generation immigrants.

After premiering Sunday at Sundance in the US Dramatic Competition category, “Minari” will vie for the final win with 15 other US films, including “Blast Beat” and “The 40-Year-Old Version,” featuring Korean American actors Daniel Dae Kim and Peter Y. Kim, respectively.

“Assassins” -- a documentary on the murder of Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un -- was another Korea-related film at the festival in a year when no other feature films directed by or casting Koreans were invited.

In February 2017, two women -- Vietnamese national Doan Thi Huong and Indonesian Siti Aisyah -- were arrested in relation to the death of Kim by a toxic nerve agent at Kuala Lumpur’s international airport.

Malaysian prosecutors charge that they were trained assassins, while the two women claimed they were tricked into participating in what they thought was a prank that ended in Kim’s death. While the documentary does not provide an answer to the assassination, it questions the incident from different angles, from high-profile political espionage to the inner dynamics of North Korea’s ruling family.

Meanwhile, Korea National University of Arts’ one-on-one VR immersive theater piece -- converging gaming, thermal haptic, dance and painting -- has been invited to be showcased in the festival’s New Frontier Exhibitions category. The section introduces innovative creations that combine cutting-edge technology with art.

This year’s winners of the short film awards will be announced Wednesday, followed by the feature awards winners on Saturday.

By Choi Ji-won (jwc@heraldcorp.com)
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