A new starting lineYoun Yuh-jung has reached a pinnacle before turning 74 in June, adding a new milestone in Korean motion picture history by winning the first-ever Oscar for acting by a Korean. She won the award for best supporting role at the 93rd Academy Awards for Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari.” Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” earned four Oscars last year, including best picture and director, but none for acting.
Upon receiving the trophy from Brad Pitt whose production company Plan B Entertainment was behind “Minari,” Youn addressed the actor: “Mr. Brad Pitt, nice to meet you finally. Where were you while we were filming?” The audience roared with a laughter. The composure and wit of the veteran actress stole the show.
Youn’s feat is meaningful to not just her acting career, but also to the global film community. Youn’s 54-year devotion to acting has been recognized by Hollywood. She became the second Asian woman to win the best supporting actress award after Japanese-American Miyoshi Umeki for “Sayonara” (1957). Chloé Zhao became the first woman of color to win the best director award for “Nomadland,” which also won two other awards, including best picture, to extend Asian power after “Parasite.”
The film “Minari” was based on the childhood experience of director Chung and centers on a Korean immigrant family who settle into a rural life in Arkansas in the 1980s. Although their dialogue is mostly in Korean, their everyday struggles and family bond during the hardships they face in pursuit of the American dream translated into a universal language.
The power of film that can transcend barriers in language and race has been manifested as Bong Joon-hon said, “If you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to many more amazing films” in his acceptance speech at last year’s awards.
Youn indeed transcended above the subtitles as she added wit and life into the movie with a somber undertone. Instead of an all-giving and all-understanding grandmother, she created a new character by being “not very like a real grandma.” Critics and foreign media were enthralled by her performance.
Youn has been rewarded for her incessant pursuit of unconventional roles. She mentioned director Kim Ki-young who debuted her through his 1971 film “Woman of Fire.” Today cannot happen if not for the past. We congratulate Youn for sharing her exciting feat with her country people worn down by Covid-19.