“Minari” director Lee Isaac Chung’s own experiences inspired costume designer Susanna Song in creating the wardrobe for the semi-autobiographical A24 film, named for the green vegetable that plays a central role in the story.
Song says she had just two weeks for costume prep and only one short day for fittings. Here, she breaks down how the looks for the family’s 6-year-old son, David (played by Alan Kim), and grandma Soonja (Yuh-Jung Youn) came together alongside father Jacob (Steven Yeun) and mother Monica (Yeri Han).
Child of the ’80s
“Director Lee Isaac Chung didn’t have a lot of photos of himself when he was a kid. But the first thing he mentioned while going over the creative process was how he loved his cowboy boots and he wanted them in the movie.
“I bought these boots that weren’t your traditional Western boots, but they were easy for a 6-year-old to put on. He also mentioned he had striped socks that he would wear with 1980s-style short-shorts. I thought of David as a little grown-up. He’s been put into this new environment, and it’s like his new playground, so he is the king of his castle — in his head.
“Originally, I wanted Jacob in polo shirts as he transitions from Korean dad to farmer, but Lee didn’t want the polo shirts, so I put them on David along with the T-shirts. I referenced an old photo of my brother because he’s the same age as Lee and he wore these colorful striped shirts. For color, I immediately thought of red and blue — primary colors, because those are the same colors for America and Korea.
“Alan is a wiggly worm. He wanted to play with me all day, and he’s such a natural talent. He wasn’t practicing his lines before his scenes came up; he just did it naturally.”
A Familiar Grandma
“In the script, the kids were fantasizing about the perfect grandma — the grandma who cooks for them, bakes cookies and cleans.
“Every Korean grandma or parent, especially in the ’80s, had this nice church look. I wanted to deceive the kids. She’s this cursing, gambling, party-animal no-filter grandma, and that’s exactly like my grandma.
“I wanted her to represent the minari. She brought it to the farm. I knew from reading the script it would grow like a wildflower. I liked the green because it popped out so much. Because of my TV background, I think people were fearful of my color palette and that I might make it like a sitcom, but Lee loved it and thought it was perfect for when she visits the minari field.
“She didn’t have a lot of things, and she was self-sacrificing. She would steal David’s socks, or she would wear Jacob’s shirts, or even Monica’s shirts, because that’s who she was.
“I had some ’80s stock of costumes, so Grandma’s ivory ‘church look’ was from my collection. It had a matching skirt with it, but Yuh-Jung Youn, who plays Soonja, wanted to wear bigger clothes. It was two sizes bigger, but she wanted three sizes bigger because she knew it would be hot in Oklahoma. I ended up finding this nice Valentino skirt that worked perfectly.”