5 Things About Veteran Korean Actress And "Minari" Breakthrough Star Youn Yuh-Jung
The American drama film "Minari" earned this legendary Korean actress more than 50 acting nominations and awards
Youn Yuh-jung made headlines recently for being the first Korean actress to win at the prestigious British Academy Film Awards (BAFTA). Now, she had yet another historic win, as she was just named the Best Supporting Actress (for movie Minari) at the 93rd Academy Awards (Oscars 2021).
Veteran actress Youn Yuh-jung won the Best Supporting Actress for the American drama film Minari at the 74th BAFTA that was held in London last April 11 and broadcast live. This was followed by another momentous milestone in her career, as she's the first Korean actress and second Asian (the first was Japanese actress Miyoshi Umeki for Sayonara in 1958) to receive the said award from the Oscars. The 93rd Academy Awards held a red carpet event at Union Station in Los Angeles, California on April 25. Youn Yuh-jung attended the event alongside her Minari co-stars Steven Yeun and Han Ye-ri.
In Minari, she plays the role of Soonja, a not-your-typical grandmother who travels from South Korea to the US—where her daughter and her family immigrated to—to help watch over her grandchildren. She brought the kids to plant Minari seeds by the creek to show them how resilient and useful the plant is. The film is a semi-autobiographical narrative on its director and writer Lee Isaac Chung's life. It was released at Sundance on January 26, 2020.
She describes her character, "She was a widow—a Korean War widow, a single mother and a working mother. She likes to have some fun because she's been through a lot. She tries to comfort [her family]."
The movie, with its "American dream" story that Youn Yuh-jung found "very real," especially resonates with her; she also immigrated to the US in 1975 when she got married to singer Jo Young-nam. But she returned to South Korea in 1984, and three years later, she and her husband got divorced. They have two sons. Making her acting comeback was tough given those circumstances. Because she's a divorcee and a single mother, it was hard for her to get jobs even though she'd been in the industry for about two decades at the time. With her perseverance and dedication to the craft of acting, she managed to get back on track, and decades later, here she still is, celebrating a new milestone in her career.
As with her hilarious acceptance speech at the recent BAFTAs, Youn Yuh-jung took on the Oscars 2021 stage and made the audience laugh too. As she accepted her award, she said, "I don't believe in competition. How can I win over Glenn Close? I've been watching so many of her performances. I have a little bit of luck, I think. I'm luckier than you. Or maybe it's the American hospitality for the Korean actor, I'm not sure. I'd like to thank my two boys who made me go out and work. This is the result, because mommy worked so hard." Glenn Close was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for the movie Hillbilly Elegy; others who were nominated for this category were Maria Bakalova for Borat Subsequent Moviefilm, Olivia Coleman for The Father, and Amanda Seyfried for Mank.
For her historic BAFTA victory recently, which boosted her international prominence, she also gained attention for her viral, hilarious acceptance speech that she delivered in English.
The 73-year-old actress said, "I don't know how to say this, I'm very honored to be nominated—no, no, I'm the winner now. First, I'd like to express my deep condolences for your Duke of Edinburgh. Thank you so much for this award. Every award is meaningful, but this one especially, because [it means I'm being] recognized by British people, known as very snobbish people, and they approved me as a good actor, so I'm very, very privileged and happy. Thank you, thank you so much. Thank you for the voters who voted for me. Thank you very much, BAFTA."
And because we're fascinated by this veteran Korean actress whose career spans over five decades, we've listed down some interesting facts about her:
1. She began her acting career in the 1960s.
Youn Yuh-jung—who was born on June 19, 1947 in the Gyeonggi Province of South Korea—had to drop out of college to pursue her acting career. She was just a freshman majoring in Korean language and literature when she came across the opportunity to enter the entertainment industry. Her acting debut was via the TV series Mister Gong in 1967, followed by the film Woman of Fire in 1971. Although she was just a newbie then, both projects earned her acting awards, including the Best Actress award at Sitges Film Festival (a Spanish film festival that specializes in fantasy and horror films).
2. She has more than 30 films and over 90 TV series.
Those projects that earned her acting nominations and awards are films A Good Lawyer's Wife, Springtime, The Housemaid, The Taste of Money, Boomerang Family, Canola, The Bacchus Lady, and Lucky Chan-sil as well as TV series My Husband Got a Family and Wonderful Days. A caliber and versatile actress, she's known for breathing life into femme fatale, risqué, and provocative characters as well as a whole array of complex mother and grandmother roles.
For younger K-drama fans, you may catch Youn Yuh-jung in dramas like Dear My Friends and Never Twice. Her next small screen project is a starring role in the Apple TV+ series Pachinko that also stars top Korean actor Lee Min-ho.
3. The film Minari earned her more than 50 acting nominations and awards.
Aside from her BAFTA award, Youn Yuh-jung also recently won the Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture award at the 27th Screen Actors Guilds Awards. She's also the first Korean actress to receive nominations at the 26th Critics' Choice Awards and the 93rd Academy Awards (Oscars). Because of her crtitically-acclaimed performance and the international accolades she earned for Minari, she's been dubbed as the "Meryl Streep of South Korea." To which, the flattered actress commented, "I am just a Korean actress in Korea. My name is Yuh-jung Youn. So I like to be myself."
Of her Oscars nomination, which admittedly made her feel like she was competing in the Olympics, Youn Yuh-jung told Forbes, "It's unreal to me actually because we found out nobody had been nominated for an Oscar in Korea in history. In a way, it's sad but you know, I'm very grateful. Life is not bad. It's full of surprises."
4. Aside from films and TV series, she's also famous for her reality shows.
New or younger followers of the Hallyu scene may immediately recognize Youn Yuh-jung for variety show Youn's Stay that also features actors Lee Seo-jin, Jung Yu-mi, Park Seo-joon, and Choi Woo-shik. Youn's Stay is actually a spin-off of Youn Yuh-jung's Youn's Kitchen reality show that ran from 2017 to 2018.
In Youn's Kitchen, the cast members took on the challenge of running a Korean-style restaurant in other countries like Bali, Indonesia and Tenerife, Spain; it ran for two seasons until it was rebranded due to COVID-19. As traveling amid a pandemic would be hard, tvN made some changes to the reality show and called it Youn's Stay instead, with the cast members tasked to operate a hanok guesthouse (traditional Korean home) in South Jeolla Province. The show's PD, Kim Se-hee, says about the difference between the two shows, "When they were just taking care of meals for Youn's Kitchen before, they are now managing check-ins, room cleaning, and two meals for each guest, which kept them on their feet."
Kim Se-hee is all praises for the cast, especially Youn Yuh-jung, saying, "Youn Yuh Jung is very skilled at English, and she was always basically hosting a mini talk show, to the point that she earned the nickname 'Oprah Yoon-frey.'"
In 2013, she also had a travel reality show, Sisters Over Flowers, wherein she went on a 10-day backpacking trip through Istanbul, Zagreb, Split, and Dubrovnik with Kim Ja-ok, Kim Hee-ae, Lee Mi-yeon and Lee Seung-gi. Two episodes of Master in the House also featured her back in 2018.
5. Even with her credentials and legendary status, she doesn't mind taking on support roles.
In an interview with Variety, Youn Yuh-jung revealed that, to this day, she still thinks about how she'll complete her mission on the set. She says, "As long as I can memorize my lines, I want to continue living in movies." There's nothing else she'd rather do at this stage in her life than be a part of a movie or a drama.
She also told Screen Anarchy, "I don't want to get bored. As long as I can remember the lines, I like to do the part of the movie, or the part of the drama. Even if it's a small part; I don't care if it's small or big. I thought when I was young, I was always supposed to have the leading role, but at this time, I enjoy being a supporting actress. Being a supporting actress is a very, very honourable thing, come to think of it, because I'm supporting, I'm supporting everybody before that movie."
Lead photos from A24/Plan B and Hook Entertainment