"Grandma, you are not a real grandma. "
In the movie <Minari>, which won the 93rd Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress for Yuhjung Youn, David (Alan Kim) says to his grandmother Soonja (Yuh-jungYoun). It is because he is upset about Soonja, who does not bake cookies like other grandmothers, and makes fun of David's bedwetting problem, saying he has a "broken penis."
The character of Soonja, a grandmother like no other, can also describe Yuh-jung Youn herself. The 74-year-old actress and her fellows are called "Wollo (원로; the grand old person)" in Korea. It means they have plenty of experience and contribution, but their heyday has already passed. They give the leading role to the younger generation and are now treated as an age to be satisfied with the role of parents of juniors.
However, Yuh-jung Youn is different. After 50 years of endurance, Ms. Youn, who had debuted in 1966 at the age of 19 and had bloomed early in 1971, winning the Best Actress Awards at the Sitges Film Festival for her role in the late Kim Ki-young's film <Woman of Fire>, blossomed once again. Her colour is even more vivid, and her fragrance is one-of-a-kind.
" I’m a very old-time actress.”
Youn always reveals her age naturally. She called herself an "old-time actress" during an interview with IndieWire. Here, her straightforward character shines out. While many actresses are concerned about their age, Youn takes it as it comes, and she even uses her age in her own way.
When <Minari> got the U.S. Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance Film Festival, which was the beginning of its series of accolades, she gave credit to the younger generation. She said, " I'm just a senior actress. So, I feel so proud to see young people achieve something, and my heart glows with patriotism when I see young people who are better than me." It is the typical Yuh-jung Youn style of speech that values herself through humility.
Looking back in time, it is not an overstatement to say that the golden age of Youn has risen again since 2003. She appeared in <A Good Lawyer's Wife>, directed by Sang-soo Im. However, the role she played had been rejected by another actress due to its high level of sexual expression. Youn revealed the reason for appearing in that movie. "I needed money to fix my house. I was also reluctant to take that role, but I accepted it in the end because I was so desperate at that time," she says. "Actors act best when they need money."
The meeting with director Sang-soo Im was a turning point that would open new opportunities for her. And soon, as the director's two films <The Maid> and <The Taste of Money> were invited to the Cannes Film Festival competition section continuously, Youn stepped on the red carpet at the Lumiere Theatre. There are dress codes for this glorious place: Men wear tuxedos, and women wear dresses. Where world-famous stars gather under the spotlights, the venue is also regarded as a global luxury brand arena. When Youn first went to the Cannes, I asked her if she had a costume sponsorship. She told me, "They don't sponsor old actresses like me." But when she revisited the festival with the movie <Taste of Money>, She smiled and said, "I was offered two dresses this time. After I went to Cannes, they treat me differently." For Yuh-jung, it was a process of overcoming prejudice against her.
“I’d like to thank to my two boys who made me go out and work.”
If there were a universal language, it would be humour. It certainly has a miraculous power to disarm people. Director Bong Joon-ho, who won four awards at the Oscars with his film <Parasite>, captured people's attention with his humorous speech last year. Like him, Yuh-jung also grabbed everyone's eyes with her straightforward style of speech. She started making people laugh at the Sundance Film Festival. "I didn't want to do it because I knew it was going to be an independent movie. That means I am going to be suffering from all the things. We lived together almost trying to save the money, so we ate together, and we became a family." The family-like atmosphere of the actors and the staffs was fully reflected in the film. Although they were in an imperfect production environment, they were rewarded with their awards from prestigious film festivals worldwide and strong relationship. "<Minari> has won 26 awards around the world, but I still have only one tropy in my hand, so it doesn't feel real," she said in a video interview when she had just
been nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Youn nonchalantly said, "I believe this country has a lot of prizes because the land is huge."
Yuh-jung Youn's sense of humour shined even more at the Academy Awards, which could be said to be the most trembling moment. As soon as her name was called, she went to the stage, and she joked with Brad Pitt, the producer of <Minari>. "Mr Brad Pitt, finally, nice to meet you. Where were you while we were filming in Tulsa? It's very honoured to meet you." And she didn't forget expressing love for her two sons, " I'd like to thank my two boys who made me go out and work. So beloved sons, this is the result. Because mommy worked so hard." She brought the house down. Leading American media, including CNN, picked Yuh-jung Youn's acceptance speech as the Academy's best moment.
"I'm Yuh-jung Youn from Korea."
The Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress introduced herself, saying, "I'm from Korea, and my name is Yuh-jung Youn." How could you not know the name of the nominee for Best Supporting Actress and who has won dozens of trophies? She said, "Most European people call me Yuh Yuh, and some call me Jung. But tonight, you are all forgiven." It was a very symbolic sentence, and all her words seemed to be planned. This was a warning to the Academy Awards, which has a stigma called 'OscarSoWhite' because it has mainly awarded white actors and directors. The name Yuh-jung Yoon was clearly imprinted on those who could not even pronounce the name of an Asian actress accurately.
Besides that, it is in the same vein that Yuh-jung, after receiving the Best Supporting Actress award at the British Academy Award in early April, said, "Thank you so much for this award. Every award is meaningful. But this one is especially recognised by British people known as very snobbish, and they approved me as a good actor. So, I'm unbelievably privileged and happy."
Her words point out their exclusiveness. Because they tend not to pay attention to Asian movies or Asian actors and actresses.
However, Youn was not arrogant. She held the Oscar with both hands in a humble manner, not as a snobbish winner. "I don't believe in competition in my field. How can I win Glenn Close? We are the winners for the different movies because we are comparing different roles. So, we cannot compete each other. I'm just lucky tonight. Luckier than the other nominees." Yuh-jung said with full of respect. At this moment, Amanda Seyfried confessing her love to Youn with a deeply-moved expression was very impressive.
“I have good luck in old age.”
In January 2018, when the movie <Keys to the heart> was released, I had a lengthy interview with Yohn. Just the two of us, luckily, I was able to have a conversation comfortably with her. The TV show<Youn's Kitchen> was top-rated, and she was in the spotlight again. She joked that <Youn's Kitchen> was her representative work. "The
fortune-teller told me I have good luck in old age.
I was sceptical at first, but it was true. Let's see
how much better." She is true. It couldn't get any
better than this. She recently finished shooting
with the leading role in the AppleTV+ drama series
<Pachinco>, in which she starred. Interestingly, Yuhjung, who played the role of Myeongja in <Woman of Fire> and Soonja in <Minari>, is named Seonja in <Pachinko>. This drama series depict the life story of Hanseong, who lived a difficult life during the Japanese colonial era. Through this drama, she will once again meet audiences all around the world.
Yuh-jung Youn is one of the most popular actresses in the world these days. I'm already interested in her following plans. During the filming of <Pachinko>, she said in an interview with IndieWire: "It's still a secret, but one project is being proceeded in Korea and another project in other countries. I'm super busy!" IndieWire directly asked if she was working with director Bong Joon-ho. then she said, " We'll see." I am already curious about her next outstanding work.
An Jin Yong(Journalist) / Translated by Hwang Jae-Hun