Who Is Youn Yuh-jung? Here’s What We Know About the Oscar-Nominated Actress from ‘Minari’
Well, fast-forward to after the announcements, and the 73-year-old has officially made history as the first South Korean actress to be nominated for an Academy Award. Often dubbed the "Meryl Streep of South Korea," Yuh-jung skyrocketed to international fame after playing the memorable character, Soonja, in Minari. Not only did it earn her an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress, but also, her performance landed her over four dozen (yes, four dozen) more nominations, including a Critics' Choice Movie Award, a British Academy Film Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award, which she won for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role.
Considering her many accolades and the fact that her career spans across five decades, fans are now convinced that an Oscar could be next for the talented star, but what is her performance history? Here's everything we know about Youn Yuh-jung.
1. Youn Yuh-jung revealed that her acting career started by accident
Yep, that's right. The original plan was for Yuh-jung to finish studying Korean Language and Literature at Hanyang University, but while working a part-time job at a TV station, she was encouraged by a director to pursue acting. According to The New York Times, she was initially hesitant, but she decided to follow this advice out of necessity.
She told NYT, “To tell you the truth, I didn’t know what acting was. I tried to memorize the line and do whatever they asked me to do. At the time I didn’t know if I was enjoying it or if I disliked it.”
She added, "Most people fell in love with the movies or fell in love with theater. But in my case, it was just an accident."
2. Youn rose to fame four years after making her acting debut
Four years after Yuh-jung made her acting debut in the 1967 TV drama, Mister Gong, she made her feature film debut as Myeong-ja in the critically acclaimed movie, Woman of Fire, which earned her multiple awards for Best Actress. As it turns out, Lee Isaac Chung, who directed Minari, is a huge fan of the film.
3. Youn starred in a number of successful South Korean films
One look at her acting credits will tell you that the actress has incredible range. Her titles span from comedy dramas to terrifying crime thrillers, and among her most popular films are The Housemaid, The Taste of Money, The Bacchus Lady, Canola and, of course, Minari.
4. She's also known for playing the matriarch in South Korean dramas
If you're into K-dramas, then chances are you've spotted Yuh-jung in character as the beloved family matriarch. She's best known for her roles in Men of the Bath House, Be Strong Geum Soon, Daughters-in-Law, My Husband Got a Family and Dear My Friends.
5. Youn has her own reality show
Aside from entertaining fans through her many film and TV roles, Yuh-jung has also been showcasing her culinary skills in the popular reality show, Youn's Kitchen. The series, which aired from 2017 to 2018, followed Yuh-jung and fellow celebrities as they traveled to foreign countries and opened temporary pop-up restaurants. But according to The Korea Times, due to the pandemic, the show had to go through some major changes and was rebranded Youn's Stay.
In the series, Yuh-jung returns with the original cast to operate a hanok guesthouse, prepared especially for those who are visiting South Korea. Kim Sae-hee, the show's producer, explained, "It is not a restaurant, it is a hotel, which expands the cast members' responsibilities. When they were just taking care of meals for Youn's Kitchen before, they are now managing check-ins, room cleaning, and two meals for each guest, which kept them on their feet." *Adds show to queue*
6. Youn made history during the 2021 awards season
For the record, Yuh-jung didn't just make history with her Oscar nomination. The actress also broke barriers with her Screen Actors Guild Awards win in April, making her the first Asian to win the award for Best Supporting Actress. In her emotional acceptance speech, she said, "I don't know how to describe my feelings. I'm being recognized by Westerners. I'm just very, very honored, especially [that my] actor fellows chose me as a supporting actress."
7. What about Youn's personal life?
Yuh-jung got married to Jo Young-nam, a South Korean singer, in 1975 and they moved to the U.S. together. While there, they had two sons, but the couple unfortunately split up 12 years later. While speaking about their relationship, Youn told ScreenDaily, "It affected me a lot. Getting a divorce with two children is not a pleasant thing."
Still, the actress revealed that this inspired her to take her acting more seriously. At the time, she had retired early from the profession and was struggling financially, but it was only a matter of time before she'd return to the spotlight. She said, "My friends would say, ‘You have such a big name, why do you have to take such a small part?’ I’ve got to take it—I need to eat! So that experience made me a real actress."
Here's hoping Yuh-jung will land her first Oscar this year!