Minari's Youn Yuh-Jung Makes History, Becomes Korea's 1st Oscar-Winning Actor

The actor has spent several decades playing nonconformist characters. She has challenged social norms in her career and real-life by playing the roles of a vicious heiress to an ageing prostitute.

Tripti Shahi
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Youn Yuh-Jung Oscar: Septuagenarian Youn Yuh-Jung has become the first South Korean actor to win an Academy Award.

Youn Yuh-Jung won the Oscar in the category Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Lee Isaac Chung directed film Minari on Saturday, April 24. In the film, she played the role of a grandmother who moves from South Korea to Arkansas to live with her daughter's farming family.

The actor has spent several decades playing nonconformist characters. She has challenged social norms in her career and real-life by playing the roles of a vicious heiress to an ageing prostitute. Minari was nominated in a total of six categories including Best Actor, Best Picture, and a nod for Chung.

Youn winning the Oscar has marked the second success of the Korean film industry following Parasite which became the first non-English language film to win the Best Picture Award in 2020.

The actor has shown her excitement after she was nominated for the award last month and she talked to the reporters saying that it was not a playoff game, placing them in orders. On Sunday, Young was surprised at winning the prize and said that she couldn't believe that she won over Glenn Close.

The actor has already won the Best Supporting Actress Guild Award and became the first South Korean Actor to do so. She also won a BAFTA for her performance, in addition to a number of prizes on the festival circuit.

Parasite director Bong Joon-ho said that her latest role as a grandmother in Minari was "the loveliest character Youn has ever played." Brian Hu, a professor of film at San Diego State University said that the award not only honours her performance in Minari but her entire career. Youn has often played atypical and provocative characters who often do not conform to the rules of the conservative Korean society.

Who is Youn Yuh-Jung?

The Minari actor, who was born in Kaesong in 1947, now in North Korea made her debut in 1971 with the film Woman Of Fire directed by Kim Ki-young and played the role of a live-in maid who becomes impregnated by the father of the family.

The film was loved by the audiences and the Korean critics alike and has become one of the classics of South Korean modern cinema. In her acceptance speech, Youn also paid a tribute to Kim Ki-Young, the director of her first film and said that he would be very happy if he was still alive.

Even though her film Woman Of Fire became hugely successful, her first peak in her career ended abruptly after she moved to the United States in 1975 after marrying singer Jo Young-Nam. The actor, however, returned to South Korea in the year 1984 and divorced Jo three years later.

At the time when being divorced was a heavy stigma for Korean women, Youn struggled to resume her career to support her two children. In the year 2009, You said to a local magazine that at that time, being divorced was like having a scarlet letter. She, however, worked very hard, accepting every role she was offered, however small it was. Youn said that it was her mission to somehow feed her children and she would even climb 100 stairs if she was asked to.


In her career, the actor had to navigate the fierce and competitive film industry which mostly focused on young and ale talent for lead roles.

The crimes against Asian Americans surged this year, and four of the eight women of the Atlanta spa shooting that occurred last month were women of Korean descent in their 60s or 70s. Youn's award was also a validation for all the Korean grandmothers in America, especially during a time when elders are often the victims of crimes, said professor Hu.



South Korea Oscars 2021 Minari Youn Yuh Jung