Everybody says various things in the course of living, but all he says does not remain as ‘a quotation.’ A quotation is “a group of words taken from a text or speech by a great person.” One should be greater than others for his words to remain as quotations. Youn Yuh-jung has become such a person for her remarkable achievements as an actress. The things she has said are widely talked about in the world. A beautiful and splendid phrase itself does not make for perfect beauty and splendor, but its speaker and context do.
What if I were to say exactly the same words as Youn Yuh-jung did, without changing even so much as a proposition? Even if I did, it would not resonate with people. It is because of the total difference in the subject and the context of the utterence. This is why performances of the same script by a great actor and an amateur actor are so different from each other. The importance of 5W1H, ‘who, when, where, what, why, how’ is also true for words. In this regard, I would like to look into the quotations of Youn Yuh-jung.
The passages below are from “Quotations of Youn Yuh-jong from 1970 to 2021: From before Her First Film Woman of Fire to Her Speech for Academy Nominee for Minari (Cine21, April 27, 2021).
“It is proper and natural to live as oneself. I wonder when the term ‘role-model’ first appeared. As he is he, and I am I, why should I imitate him? I should be myself. (Hearing many actors consider Youn Yuh-jung as a role-model), Nonsense, they don’t know me at all.”
- ‘Live Talk Show’ TAXI, tvN, October 18, 2017.
‘I will stay true to myself regardless of others.’ Some may not think this phrase to be so great. But it makes a great difference in that it is from a woman in her 70s, not from a teenage rebel. What is said by one who went through all sorts of difficulties cannot be compared in depth to that said by one who did not do at all. How many older people we find around us, asserting as if it were a truth of life, ‘It is good enough to be common like others, as I am as old as I am now.’ Under such circumstances, Youn Yuh-jung, who says ‘I will stay true to myself.’ could not fail to stand out from others.
“I am not a beauty, never. Director Kim Ki-young called me a ‘funny face’ and I agree with him. Therefore the role I can and would like to play is one of a character who will not compromise easily, far from the traditional image of a woman with female attraction, submission and a sense of beauty.”
- Interview with the Chosun Ilbo after winning the Blue Dragon Film Award for Best Actress in Woman of Fire. March 11, 1971.
Kim Ki-young is well known for his eccentric habits and behavior in the Korean film world. However, he has been recognized as a master in the film history of Korea by producing grotesque and aesthetic films, standing unrivaled in accomplishments in Korean films at that time. Kim Ki-young is also famous for his unique peculiarity of casting new actors and making their acting potential explode on screen. Youn Yuh-jung, cast by Kim Ki-young showed off her incomparable presence as ‘Myongja’ in Woman of Fire (1971), a remake of his own The Housemaid(1960). Her passionate role was acknowledged at home and abroad. Youn Yuh-jung won the Blue Dragon Film Award for Best Actress and the Sitges International Fantastic Film Festival Award for Best Actress in Woman of Fire.
The view of pretty and submissive womanhood was popular at that time. She said she wanted “a character who will not compromise easily, far from the traditional image of a woman with female attraction, submission and a sense of beauty.” She, in her 20s, already proclaimed her word, “I will stay true to myself.” and has fulfilled it until now. This is the moment when we realize that the gravity of words depends on the life of the subject, not on the words themselves. At the same time, we come to admire the insight of master Kim Ki-young who acknowledged her potential and encouraged her to realize it. Such self-determination as “I will stay true to myself.” becomes solid only with the encouragement and support of people around us. The quotation below from Youn Yuhjung makes us feel this even more.
“The producers said, ‘With that voice, let alone that face, she should never be an actress. If she should, I’ll eat my hat.’ And all of them have passed away.”
- Interview with ‘Newsroom,’ JTBC. March 26, 2015.
It makes us aware that those rich in experience should be more prudent in judging others. The producers who said they would eat their hats if Youn Yuj-jung were to be an actress might be regretting in heaven what they said. Looking back on the past, Youn Yuh-jung is not an actress who has had royal road. It is mainly because she did not have a pretty face or a sweet voice considered as virtues for an actress in the past. Some directors even disparaged her for lacking in the quality as an actress. Youn Yuh-jung is an actress who has proved her worth, enduring any insult, rather than one who has developed while getting acclaim. Therefore she fully deserves to give such advice to her juniors.
You are qualified to play any role. Isn’t it a bridle for you to be defined in a glass tube as
this: ‘Kim Hee-ae is such a woman.’ On the contrary, isn’t it good to behave as you please? Whether TV or film, this seems to be a hurdle. You can draw applause when you leap over the formulated expectations from people. If you keep such a Kim Hee-ae, you are sure to be thrown aside for your mannerism. This is why our job seems so cruel.”
- Sisters over Flowers, tvN Entertainment, Dec 20, 2013.
This is what Youn Yuh-jung said to Kim Heeae, a representative example of an elegant, pure and clean actress. She indicated a harsh truth that the public are easily tired of her consistency if she stays confined to her formulated image, though they like a graceful and pure Kim Hee-ae. Kim Hee-ae cannot possibly have not known about this. She may have wanted to confirm that she has some persons around her who will support and encourage her new initiative. Just in time, Youn Yuh-jung said, “There is such a Kim Hee-ae as is expected from people, but you will draw applause only when you leap over it.” And the next year Kim Hee-ae in Secret Affair, a drama where she kept in step with Yu Ah-in, got applause from the public as well as the world of critics, throwing off such a long cherished image of grace and innocence. When it impresses others this much, it could be ranked as a quotation. Youn Yuhjung accomplished this.
HEO HEE(Literary critic) / Translated by Kim Koo seul