If you’re a fan of indie films, you may have seen Minari, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last year. Now in theaters and available to stream, it stars Steven Yeun from The Walking Dead and is one of the year’s most critically acclaimed films. The movie also features South Korean actress Yeri Han, who makes her American debut in the film. Here’s an inside look at this talented performer.
Who Is Yeri Han?
Born on December 23, 1984, Yeri Han (whose Korean name is Han Ye-Ri) has been a working actress in South Korea for many years. She started her career appearing in indie movies and short films, and eventually nabbed roles in mainstream South Korean hits like the 2013 action thriller Commitment and the 2015 romantic drama A Dramatic Night. She’s also appeared in a number of popular South Korean TV shows, including Switch, Nokdu Flower, and Love Alarm.
But thanks to the success of Minari—and the popularity of 2019’s breakthrough South Korean thriller Parasite—it’s likely we’ll be seeing a lot more of Yeri Han in the U.S.
“With the recent rising interest in the Korean cinema, I believe it’s going to open up more chances for Korean actors over the next few coming years, and the Korean film market will also grow larger,” the 36-year-old actress told IndieWire. “I have great hopes and expectations for the coming years. And on the other hand, I think about am, I ready for that change?”
Despite being thrilled about her newfound success, Han says it was never her intention to transition into American movies. But when she read the script for Minari, she knew she wanted to play the role of Monica Yi.
“I wasn’t planning for breaking into the U.S. market per se, but when I first came across this project, I fell in love with Monica,” Han said. “I thought she was very typically Korean, and I thought I could tell a lot about Korea through her character. If Issac actually asked me to portray his mother, then I would have felt a great burden. But the Monica that I had to portray had to be somebody else, because I didn’t know his mother at all. I tried to find the point that overlaps with the Monica that Issac portrayed and the Monica that I wanted to portray.”
Yeri Han Stars In ‘Minari’
Minari is written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, an American-born filmmaker whose parents immigrated to the U.S. from South Korea. The movie tells the story of Korean-American patriarch Jacob Yi (played by Steven Yeun) and his wife Monica, who move with their children from California to a plot of land in rural Arkansas. Yi’s hope is to find success as a Korean produce farmer.
But the family has trouble adjusting to their new life, especially when Monica’s mother, Soon-ja, comes to stay with them. Minari is based partially on Chung’s own Korean-American upbringing and experiences growing up on a farm.
“I really [needed] to turn inward and turn to my experiences,” the director told the Los Angeles Times. “I wrote all these memories and I could see the stories taking shape. And what I felt was that those elements, the visual elements, could serve as like the details in this story and that I could introduce like these grander narratives of, you know, pursuing the American dream and pursuing farming and trying to be someone in the frontier, assimilation, all these different ideas to let them carry through all these little details in a way. So that was the writing process. Took me about a year to write the script. That’s a very intensely private and torturous work, I’ve got to say.”
Yeri Han Has Learned A Lot Since She Started Working In Hollywood
Like Chung, Han also drew on her own family experiences for inspiration. “I come from a small town, and I have six aunts, so you could say I had a wide range of models of different Korean mothers,” she told IndieWire. “That served as a big help for me in portraying Monica’s character. The lives of my aunts that I witnessed growing up were never easy, but they tried on their own to cope, and I guess I was able to use the secondary experience directly to portray this character.”
Han also says that working on Minari—which was filmed in Tulsa, Oklahoma—taught her a lot as an actress, especially since it was her first American-based project.
“I really felt like the world is one and also realized that a person’s true colors don’t change just because the environment around them does,” she told Soompi. “While filming this movie, I learned that I’m the same no matter where I am.” She continued, “Like how I portrayed a mother in ‘Minari,’ I want to play various roles with a wide spectrum. I think that I’m capable of doing more things now, so I’m trying not to limit myself. I think that I was given a new role because people saw that appearance or capability in me.”