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‘Minari’ Star Yuh-Jung Youn Makes Oscars History as First Korean Acting Winner

After "Parasite" last year, Korea continues to make history at the Oscars.

Yuh-Jung Youn has made Oscars history as the first Korean performer to win an Academy Award in one of the four acting categories. Youn took home the Best Supporting Actress prize for her performance in Lee Isaac Chung’s “Minari.” Young was nominated against Maria Bakalova (“Borat Subsequent Movie Film”), Olivia Colman (“The Father”), Amanda Seyfried (“Mank”), and Glenn Close (“Hillbilly Elegy”). Prior to the Oscars, Youn emerged as the category’s frontrunner after winning Best Supporting Actress prizes at the BAFTA Film Awards and the Screen Actors Guild Awards.

Youn’s Academy Award win for Best Supporting Actress came from one of six Oscar nominations “Minari” received at the 93rd Academy Awards. The film also picked up nominations for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor for Steven Yeun, Best Original Score, and Best Original Screenplay. Youn’s victory gives distributor A24 yet another acting Academy Award after the likes of Brie Larson for “Room” and Mahershala Ali for “Moonlight.” As for Youn making Oscars history for Korea, her win follows last year’s barrier-breaking Oscar wins for Bong Joon Ho’s “Parasite,” which became the first Korean film to win Best International Feature and the first non-English-language drama to win Best Picture.

When asked earlier this month ahead of the Oscars telecast what it’s like to be the first Korean actress nominated for an Oscar, Youn said it’s “very stressful” and added, “I was just very happy being nominated. I never even dreamed about being nominated for an Oscar. People will be very happy for me if I get the win, but it’s very stressful.”

Youn admitted following her SAG Award win that she is entirely clueless when it comes to awards season here in the states, telling press backstage, “I don’t know anything about Oscars or BAFTAs. In Korea, I’ve been in this business for such a long time. I’m very famous domestic-wise, not internationally. I don’t know what’s going on now, I don’t know what’s happening to me. So don’t ask me!”

Youn attended the 93rd Academy Awards in person, but she said prior to the ceremony that she had some trepidations about traveling to the United States for the ceremony given the recent wave of anti-Asian violence. Youn told Deadline, “My son, who is Korean American, is living in the States. He was worried about me coming to the States for the Oscars, because he was scared I would get hurt. He asked, ‘Don’t you need to have some guard or something like that?’ It’s a sad thing. Just because you are Asian, there’s no reason to be attacked randomly like that.”

While “Minari” represented a breakthrough for Youn in the United States, she’s been a working actress in South Korea for decades. Her breakout role in her home country was in the 1971 movie “Woman of Fire,” for which she won the Best Actress prize at the Blue Dragon Film Awards. Youn won Best Supporting Actress at the Korean Film Awards years later in 2003 for her performance in “A Good Lawyer’s Wife,” and she won the category again in 2010 for “The Housemaid.” Other popular Youn-starring titles include “The Taste of Money” (2012), “The Bacchus Lady” (2016), and “Canola” (2016), plus television series “Men of the Bath House” (1995), “My Husband Got a Family” (2012), and “Dear My Friends” (2016).

“I connected it with my great grandmother,” Youn said this month of her now-Oscar winning role in “Minari. “I was nine when she passed away, but I was really bad to her. The reason I didn’t like her — it’s very stupid now — but after the war, we tried to save a lot of things. We didn’t have enough of everything and we had a water shortage. My great grandmother tried to save the water. She used the used water again and I saw it and I felt like she’s dirty. That’s the reason why I didn’t like her. It’s like David [played by Alan Kim]. David doesn’t like my character because she smelled like Korea. That I understand, really. And then in every other situation, it felt natural and very realistic.”

“Minari” is now available on demand.

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