The Korea Herald


[Newsmaker] Oscar nomination caps Youn’s five-decade career

By Song Seung-hyun

Published : March 16, 2021 - 15:33

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Youn Yuh-jung in “Minari” (Pancinema) Youn Yuh-jung in “Minari” (Pancinema)

On Monday night, Youn Yuh-jung became the first South Korean actor to be nominated for an Oscar for best supporting actress. She is being recognized at the 93rd Academy Awards for her performance in the US film “Minari,” directed by Lee Isaac Chung.

“I am actually honored just to be nominated,” Yoon said in a statement released through her management agency after the announcement on Monday. “I am not a big fan of competition. I cannot even watch TV programs that rank people because it makes me anxious. Since I am nominated, people would wish me to win the award, but I think that being nominated itself is like winning an award.”

She also thanked people who supported her and expressed regret for not being able to deliver this message in-person due to being in a mandatory quarantine.

In Chung’s largely autobiographical film, Youn, 73, portrays a Korean woman who travels to a farm in rural Arkansas to look after her two grandchildren while her daughter (Han Ye-ri) and son-in-law (Steven Yeun) pursue their American dream.

Youn will be competing against Maria Bakalova from “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm,” Glenn Close from “Hillbilly Elegy,” Olivia Colman from “The Father” and Amanda Seyfried from “Mank.”

The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony is to take place April 25.

Youn did not make Korean film history overnight.

Having debuted in 1966, she rose to stardom in Korea by successfully pulling off roles on both the small and big screens -- housemaid Myung-ja in psychosexual thriller “Woman of Fire” directed by acclaimed filmmaker Kim Ki-young and Jang Hui-bin, a historical figure who has often been portrayed as a Joseon-period villainess, in the MBC drama series “Jang Hui-bin” in 1971.

In 1974 she left the Korean entertainment scene and moved to Florida after marrying Korean singer Cho Young-nam.

She returned to Korea in the late 1980s, after their 13-year marriage ended in divorce.

Returning to acting was not easy for her, as she had to fight the prejudice against divorced women that was prevalent in Korea at the time.

On the tvN talk show “Taxi” in 2017, she said resuming her acting career was difficult and she’d had to take whatever roles she could to make money back then.

“If I had not needed money, I would have quit earlier. But I needed money, so no matter what, I had to work. I needed it to raise my two kids,” Youn said on the show. “Back then all I did was work. I felt grateful to the directors who offered me roles. I was too busy to even feel lonely.”

Youn’s career took off again in the early 2000s with her memorable roles in a number of films, including “A Good Lawyer’s Wife” (2003), “Actresses” (2009), “The Housemaid” (2010), “The Bacchus Lady” (2016), “The Taste of Money” (2010) and “The Housemaid” (2010).

For her role in “The Bacchus Lady,” she won the best actress award at Montreal’s Fantasia International Film Festival. The film follows the story of an elderly woman, played by Youn, who approaches elderly men in a park to offer energy drinks called “Bacchus,” often used as a code word for a particular type of prostitution among seniors in Korea.

Also, three other films in which Youn starred -- “The Housemaid” and “The Taste of Money” by director Im Sang-soo, and “In Another Country” by director Hong Sang-soo -- were screened at the Cannes Film Festival.

In 2013, veteran actor Youn challenged herself once again by starring in the tvN reality program “Sisters Over Flowers.”

Since then she has shone in multiple reality shows with her cynical but caring personality.

Most recently she appeared on “Youn’s Stay” -- a spinoff of another popular Korean reality TV show, “Youn’s Restaurant.” The show, which is currently airing, features foreign guests staying at a hanok guesthouse in Korea run by a group of celebrities.

Youn is currently in a mandatory two-week quarantine after returning home from Canada, where she filmed “Pachinko,” a TV series adaptation of the bestselling novel with the same title by Korean American author Lee Min-jin. The show will be available exclusively on Apple TV+.
Youn Yuh-jung stars as 65-year-old prostitute So-young in “The Bacchus Lady.” (CGV Arthouse) Youn Yuh-jung stars as 65-year-old prostitute So-young in “The Bacchus Lady.” (CGV Arthouse)

Besides Youn’s nomination, “Minari” earned five other nominations for the upcoming Academy Awards including best picture, best directing, best original screenplay, best actor and best score.

Yeun, who played Jacob in the film, the father of the two kids, became the first Asian American actor in Oscar history to earn a nomination for best actor. 

By Song Seung-hyun (