Pueblo business owner, sister of 'Minari' creator hosts free screening for essential workers
A Pueblo business owner whose family experiences in rural Arkansas help form the basis of the heartfelt, six-time Oscar-nominated film “Minari,” will host a free screening for Pueblo first responders and health care and essential workers in appreciation of their sacrifices during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Leisle Chung, the CEO of the dermatology and plastic surgery practice Vanguard Skin Specialists, is the older sister of Lee Isaac Chung, who wrote and directed “Minari” and is nominated for Academy Awards in the categories of Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. Chung’s highly acclaimed film is also nominated for Best Picture.
To celebrate the success of the movie and give thanks to the communities in which their businesses are located, Vanguard will host film screenings. Pueblo’s will be held Thursday, April 8, on three screens with staggered start times at Cinemark Tinseltown Pueblo.
“The past year was hard for all of us,” Leisle Chung said. “But as we’ve started to see the numbers drop and the vaccine roll out, we just felt this very deep sense of gratitude to the communities that we’re in. We feel like people have just given so much and sacrificed so much over this past year, and we’ve seen people really rise to the occasion.
“So we want to express our gratitude to these communities and decided to host these movie screenings and share something that’s really personal on our end with all these people in the community that we’re so grateful to.”
Film vs. reality
“Minari” tells the story of a Korean American family that moves to an Arkansas farm in search of the American dream. The characters in the film are fictionalized versions of the real Chung family, as is the overall story, but many of the events the film portrays and the morals it conveys are based on real moments from Chung’s childhood.
“The family that’s portrayed in the movie, they’re named the Yi Family, not the Chung family, for a reason — because (Isaac) wanted it to be a fictionalized family and a family where all the characters could develop their own character and their own personalities,” Leisle said.
“Having said that … there are things that are really vivid memories from childhood because he created so much of this from memory.”
For example, the movie begins showing the Yi family driving into a sparsely populated area of Arkansas consumed by sweeping farmlands, which mirrored the Chung family’s actual move to their new home in the 1980s.
“We’re driving by farms and we get to this plot of land, and there’s this single-wide trailer house just sitting there, and my dad says, ‘This is it. This is home,’” Leisle recalled.
“And he was the only person who’d seen this. My mom had no idea that this was where we were moving to. And that’s the opening scene of the movie.”
Other real incidents, like a tornado touching down near their home and an eccentric grandmother coming to live with the family, subsequently teaching the kids how to gamble and swear in Korean, are also shown in the film.
“So that’s why we say it’s inspired by our family story,” Leisle said. “It’s not exactly our family, but I see the memories that are in there.”
The big picture
Leisle said she first saw an early version of the film on Thanksgiving in 2019, when she and her parents gathered in her brother’s home in California. She said seeing some of her powerful childhood memories play out on screen felt “surreal.”
“It was an emotional experience for the family to watch it,” Leisle said.
“I think my brother was nervous because he wasn’t sure how all of us were going to react. But he said he knew it was going to be OK when he was in the back of the room and he could see my parents and me just crying, watching this.
“It’s an incredible film, and I think he did something beautiful with a hard time in our life and created a really beautiful film out of that.”
Asked what those who see the movie might take away from its story, Leisle said some of the film’s overarching morals are important for people to hear, especially right now.
“On one hand it’s a story about this immigrant family, but on the other it’s truly a love story about what family members are willing to sacrifice for those that they love,” Leisle said.
“So we thought, here is this movie that we see as this love story and a story of sacrifice, and then here are these communities that we work in where people have sacrificed so much. So we want to express our gratitude to these communities.”
There are also some unlikely friendships that develop in the movie, based on real Chung family friendships, which Leisle said shows how there’s “actually more things that bring us together than draw us apart.”
“I feel that, especially during this time and everything that’s happening, that’s a really important message for everyone to understand,” Leisle said.
Tickets to the Pueblo “Minari” screening will be free for front-line health care workers, first responders, active and retired military, teachers, education administrators, essential workers and nonprofit employees and volunteers. They can be obtained at pueblo-minari.eventbrite.com. Seating will be limited.
“Minari” stars Steven Yeun, of “Walking Dead” fame, who was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for his performance as the family’s patriarch.
Yuh-Jung Youn was also nominated for Best Supporting Actress for her role as the family’s foul-mouthed grandmother, Soonja.
The final Oscar nomination for the film went to composer Emile Mosseri for Best Original Score.
The 93rd annual Academy Awards presented by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences is April 25.
Chieftain reporter Zach Hillstrom can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter: @ZachHillstrom