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Nonconformist Youn Yuh-Jung Becomes First South Korean Oscar-Nominated Actress

Nonconformist Youn Yuh-Jung Becomes First Oscar-Nominated Actress

Septuagenarian Youn Yuh-Jung, the first South Korean actress nominated for an Oscar, has spent decades portraying nonconformist characters, from a vicious heiress to an ageing prostitute, challenging social norms in both her career and life.


Her role in “Minari”, a family drama about Korean immigrants in the US, is more conventional: grandmother to a mischievous young boy trying to fit into rural Arkansas.

The film secured six Academy Award nominations last week, also including best picture, best director and best actor.

That raises the prospect of a second multi-Oscar haul for a Korean-language film in successive years after “Parasite” became the first non-English Best Picture winner in 2020, though it did not snag any acting nominations.


Youn played down excitement over her chance to make history at next month’s ceremony, saying:

“I don’t enjoy competition. This is not a playoff game of actors, placing them in order. I consider this nomination just as valuable as the actual award.”

Her two grown sons are Asian-Americans and she said she had taken a role in “this small movie made by second-generation Korean-Americans” for its own reward.

Based on director Lee Isaac Chung’s experiences growing up in the 1980s, “Minari” follows a Korean-born father who moves his family to an all-white town in rural Arkansas in pursuit of a better life.

Bong Joon-ho, who earned last year’s Best Director Oscar for dark satire “Parasite”, said the role was “the loveliest character Youn has ever played”.

It is the latest of several grandmotherly castings for Youn, who has already picked up a host of best-supporting actress awards at US film festivals and is on the shortlist for a Screen Actors Guild Award.

She started in the late 1960s, she was a rising star in South Korea. She gained critical acclaim for her role in Woman of Fire (1971) and won several awards.

After retiring for several years, she returned to acting in the late 1980s. Youn is known for starring in South Korean films Woman of Fire (1971), The Housemaid (2010), The Taste of Money (2012), The Bacchus Lady (2016) and Canola (2016).

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