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Youn Yuh-jung recently won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of the feisty but doting grandmother Soon-ja in Minari at the 93rd Academy Awards. This honor makes her the first Korean to win the prestigious award for acting. Furthermore, the legendary Korean star, who brims with personality and good humor, won over many hearts with her humble and witty acceptance speech. 

 

The Speech

In Minari, the 73-year-old actress portrayed young David’s grandma who leaves South Korea to live with her family on a small farm in Arkansas. Brad Pitt, whose production company Plan B Entertainment produced Minari, presented Youn with the trophy. “Mr. Brad Pitt, finally, nice to meet you!” she laughed. “Where were you while we were filming in Tulsa?” (In interviews after the event, Youn revealed she told Pitt backstage to “provide more money to ‘Minari,’” and she invited him to visit Korea.)

She’s received countless acting awards in her country of origin. However, 2021 was the first time she’d ever attended the Oscars. “Me being here by myself, this I cannot believe I’m here. Okay, let me pull myself together,” she said. 

The beloved actress pointed out she’s heard her name mispronounced numerous times. “Tonight, you are all forgiven,” she joked playfully. Youn went on to thank the Academy and showered praise on Minari director Lee Isaac Chung along with her castmates whom she calls her Minari family. 

In the category, Youn beat the robust talents of Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy), Olivia Coleman (The Father), and Amanda Seyfried (Mank), and Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm). But Youn wrapped up her speech insisting she doesn’t believe in competition. “How can I win Glenn Close? I’ve been watching her so many performances. All the five nominees, we are all winners for the different movies. We play different role[s], so we cannot compete [with] each other. Tonight, I am here, it’s just I have a little bit of luck, I think, maybe. I am luckier than you. Also maybe it’s American hospitality for the Korean actor? I’m not sure. But anyway, thank you so much.” 

 

Youn Yuh-jung’s Career 

Youn is among the most revered thespians in Korea; some have described her talents along the lines as Meryl Streep. She’s been acting for five decades. In fact, she started at the age of 23 with her screen debut in Kim Ki-young’s Woman of Fire (1971) portraying a country girl-turned-femme fatale. The film was celebrated with Korea’s Blue Dragon Award. 

Putting family before career, Youn retired from acting in the ‘70s to immigrate to Florida with her husband, the prominent singer Jo Young-nam. However, when the couple divorced in the 1980s, Youn struggled to restart her acting career due to the stigma of divorce in South Korea. She needed to work to provide for herself and her two sons. “I was really famous when I was young. Then my fame and my name were banished because I was a divorcee,” Youn recalls. She even refrained from appearing on TV for some time because her divorce was “like a scarlet letter.” Certainly, her eventual comeback shattered conventions as she continued to garner much acclaim in Korean films including The Housemaid (2010), The Taste of Money (2012), and The Bacchus Lady (2016). 

“I like to thank my two boys who make me go out and work,” Youn continued, lifting the Oscar. “Beloved sons, this is the result, because Mommy works hard.” 

 

Overcoming 

With all the accolades coming her way, Youn insists that winning trophies, while lovely, is not the best reward. “Actually, if I get a new project then that’s the real reward.” Besides, the actress admits she does not admire Hollywood. “When some project comes from America, people in Korea think I admire Hollywood. No, I don’t admire Hollywood. The reason I keep coming is because if I come to the states and work, maybe I’m able to see my son one more time. That’s from the bottom of my heart,” she told NBC News.

Youn’s American credits include her portrayal of a maternal convict serving life in Wachawski’s Sense8, and you can catch more of her in the upcoming Apple TV+ series Pachinko