Since its release, Minari has been getting some serious buzz. The drama has been praised by critics and even won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Film. Written and directed by Lee Isaac Chung, the film stars The Walking Dead’s Steven Yeun and South Korean actress Yeri Han in her American movie debut. It also features Yuh-Jung Youn, a well-known South Korean film and TV star whose prolific career spans more than five decades. Here, we take a close look at this legendary performer.
Yuh-Jung Youn Is A South Korean Actress
Yuh-Jung Youn was born in South Korea on June 19th, 1947. The accomplished actress, whose Korean name is Youn Yuh-Jung, has appeared in dozens of popular South Korean TV shows and movies, including Woman of Fire, The Taste of Money, What’s Up Fox? and Lucky Chan-sil. She also has her own Korean reality show called Youn’s Stay.
But it wasn’t Youn’s intent to become a famous actress. “It started as a part-time job, actually, in my freshman year [at Hanyang University in Seoul], trying to get some money,” she admitted in an interview with The Observer. “At the time in Korea, I think television was a new thing for us back in the ’60s. I was touring, I think, a television station and some guy, a famous emcee, asked me to stand beside [him] on the stage and said, ‘If I give you a sign, bring the gift for the audience.’ So, I did and then they gave me this check, and it was pretty good money. And I was like, ‘Wow, that’s nice.’ So, I started working at the station [called the Tongyang Broadcasting Company].”
Two years later, the young actress was cast in the massively successful and critically acclaimed film Woman of Fire, which made her a household name. She continued to appear in Korean films and TV shows until 1975, when she married well-known Korean singer Jo Young-nam. Together, the couple moved to the United States, which led Youn to take an almost decade-long break from her successful acting career.
“My husband had a student visa, so we were planning to just study and then come back to Korea,” Youn told the Hollywood Reporter. “But you know, plans never work out, so we ended up applying for green cards and staying almost 10 years. My two sons were born and raised [in the U.S.]”
Luckily for her fans, Youn returned to South Korea in 1984 and successfully revived her acting career, though it wasn’t easy at first.
“We went back to Korea because [my husband] was still a famous singer and would have concerts from time to time in Korea. We were going to stay for like two years and see how it goes, but we ended up getting divorced. There was no choice. I didn’t think, ‘What is my plan?’ I had to face the problem of feeding my two children. And I was very desperate — for acting or anything — raising two kids. I was desperate, looking for jobs. I would do anything at that time.”
Yuh-Jung Youn Played A Significant Role In The Film ‘Minari’
Minari tells the story of a Korean-American family struggling to adjust after moving from California to a rural Arkansas farm. It’s based on the real-life experiences of director Lee Isaac Chung, who grew up on a farm with his immigrant parents. Youn makes her American movie debut in the film and says she decided to take the part because the script was so good.
“A friend of mine who brought me the script said she knew Isaac very well and that he was a very nice guy, I understood why she said that, because I’d met him before I got the script, and he was such a nice guy,” Youn told the Los Angeles Times. “But being a nice guy doesn’t mean anything to do with the project. I started to read the script — it was written in English, so I had a hard time — and maybe 30 or 40 pages after that, to me it was very real. Very authentic. I called her back and said, ‘Is it his story? Is it a real story?’ She said yes. So I said to her, ‘OK. I’ll do it.'”
Yuh-Jung Youn Won An Oscar For Her Performance
Over the course of her long career, Youn has won dozens of Korean drama awards for her acting work. But thanks to Minari, the 73-year-old actress recently made history in America by becoming the first Korean actor to be nominated for a Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) award. While honored to be recognized for her work, Youn says she doesn’t think accolades are all that important when it comes to her career.
“The award doesn’t mean nothing to me,” she told The Observer. “My reward is getting new jobs, new projects—that’s my reward. Of course, that moment when you receive the award, you’ll be very happy. You could be very happy in the moment. But I’m a very practical person and a very realistic person. If I get a new job, that’s my reward.”
A few weeks later, she made history again. At the 93rd Academy Awards, she took home the win for Best Supporting Actress. Check out the incredible scene from the ceremony, where she managed to squeeze in a few jokes during the heartfelt moment:
With her Oscar win, Youn became the first Korean actress to win Best Supporting Actress. She’s only the second Asian actress to win the award. The last time was back in 1957 when Miyoshi Umeki won for her supporting role in Sayonara.
Hopefully, Minari’s success opens the door for more diverse stories. Entertainment Tonight reported that backstage at the Oscars, Youn told reporters that “it’s about time” for more types of stories to be shared.
“Color doesn’t matter, gender doesn’t matter, gay or straight … we are equal human beings [and] have the same warm heart,” the actress said. “It’s an opportunity for us to share the story together.”