In her Oscar-winning crook successful past year’s Minari, Youn Yuh-jung played the mischievous granny you wished you’d had: the 1 who ignores your fun-sucking parents, takes you connected chaotic adventures and teaches you to bash your ain thing. “You’re not a existent grandma,” her Americanised grandson tells her. “They cook cookies! They don’t swear! They don’t deterioration men’s underwear!” In existent life, Youn is beauteous similar: lively, funny, unpretentious, and, she admits, not each that bully astatine cooking. The 74-year-old histrion has had an unconventional beingness and career, and astir of america successful the westbound cognize lone a tiny fraction of it.
“My occupation is, I don’t program anything!” Youn laughs implicit Zoom from Los Angeles. Unlike her quality successful Minari, she speaks fluent English, though she apologises for it not being bully enough.
Youn did not adjacent program connected being an actor. “It was an accident,” she says. As a lit pupil successful Seoul successful the precocious 1960s, she visited a tv workplace wherever they were filming a children’s show. A presenter connected the amusement asked her to basal beside him and person a contiguous from the audience. “So I did, and past they gave maine a large cheque.” She was invited backmost the pursuing week to bash an audition, which she passed. Within a mates of months she had the pb relation successful the children’s programme. Did she bask the experience? “Honestly, I enjoyed the cheque.”
Her vocation way from determination was not wholly accidental. She became a rising prima acknowledgment to her TV portrayal of Jang Hui-bin, a 17th-century royal concubine. That led to offers from movie studios, but she turned astir of them down. “Usually it was, like: ‘Poor miss meets affluent lad and past the household denies her and they cannot get married.’ It’s each the aforesaid story. To maine it was precise boring.”
Then on came Kim Ki-young, to whom Youn dedicated her champion supporting histrion Oscar (after flirting with Brad Pitt). The movie was 1971’s Woman of Fire, a melodrama that’s utmost adjacent by today’s standards. Youn plays a agrarian peasant moving arsenic a maid for a well-to-do composer and his large wife. Before agelong she is having an matter with the weak-willed maestro, and besides becomes pregnant. All hellhole breaks loose: the communicative takes successful adultery, rape, abortion, murder, termination and adjacent rat-stomping. But Woman of Fire besides highlights Korea’s people divides and patriarchal traditions.
Kim was the large provocateur of Korean cinema, who has been compared with Luis Buñuel, Samuel Fuller, Nagisa Oshima and Roger Corman. His enactment tended towards the erotic, the lurid and the horrific, but often with a sociological bite. Woman of Fire was a remake of Kim’s landmark 1960 movie The Housemaid, an power connected the enactment of modern auteurs specified arsenic Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho (Parasite is fundamentally a saltation connected the aforesaid theme: lower-class interlopers upsetting privileged domesticity). Kim would remake The Housemaid again successful 1982, aft reworking akin themes successful his arsenic bizarre 1972 movie Insect Woman, successful which Youn again plays the femme fatale. This clip she’s a schoolgirl forced to go mistress to a affluent man, but turns the concern to her ain twisted ends.
Uninhibited, passionate and forthright, Youn came to embody a caller benignant of autarkic Korean woman. Korean nine truly was male-dominated astatine the time, not slightest the movie industry. “I’m not the Korean quality standard,” Youn laughs. “To beryllium an histrion you had to beryllium pretty, precise pretty. They didn’t attraction astir acting. So to them I’m precise strange-looking, and successful a bully way. Very modern. Not obedient to anybody.” Youn credits her liberal-minded parent for that. She and her 2 sisters were calved successful Kaesong, successful what is present North Korea. The Korean warfare began successful 1950, erstwhile she was 2 years old. She remembers being evacuated to the south, travelling successful a freight bid carriage with nary seats. Her begetter died erstwhile she was nine. Her parent trained arsenic a caregiver and raised the children single-handedly.
Youn would soon travel to acquisition conscionable however patriarchal Korea inactive was. In 1974 she joined Jo Young-nam, a fashionable singer. “He was overmuch much celebrated than me.” They moved to Florida, wherever Jo studied theology, and, arsenic contented dictated, abandoned her acting vocation to go a full-time mother, raising their 2 sons. In immoderate ways, her American acquisition mirrored that of the household successful Minari. “The religion congregation was 2,000 people. Me and my hubby were the lone Asians.” She did not talk a connection of English, but the assemblage was welcoming and helpful, and she ne'er experienced discrimination, she says.
The matrimony did not last, though, and the mates divorced successful 1987 (in caller interviews Jo has said helium regrets having cheated connected Youn). Youn had small prime but to instrumentality to Korea and resume her acting career. “Somebody had to enactment nutrient connected the table,” she says. The couple’s divorcement was a nationalist scandal. (She nary longer engages with the Korean media, she says. Even since her Oscar triumph she has done nary interviews with them.) The stigma of being a divorced pistillate meant producers hesitated to springiness her work. She would get tiny roles present and there, wherever cipher would announcement her. “I didn’t attraction astir what benignant of role. I didn’t person immoderate choice. I conscionable worked.”
On camera arsenic successful life, though, Youn’s tone seems to beryllium irrepressible. The enactment steadily improved. In 2003 she began a fruitful concern with Im Sang-soo, a film-maker precise overmuch successful the Kim Ki-young vein. In A Good Lawyer’s Wife – an infidelity play not dissimilar to The Ice Storm – she plays a grandma who is having an matter with a younger antheral portion her hubby is dying. “I’m yet having an orgasm,” she tells her gobsmacked son. She has worked with Im 3 much times, including connected his ain modern-day rotation connected The Housemaid, which was a immense home deed and played successful contention astatine Cannes successful 2010. This time, Youn played the wily elder maid who ne'er misses a trick. Lee Jung-jae, prima of Netflix’s Squid Game, plays the antheral of the house. Elsewhere, she has continued to gravitate to the little polite roles: successful 2016’s The Bacchus Lady she was a aged prostitute servicing Seoul’s lonely seniors (“Don’t telephone maine granny. My vagina is inactive young!”). She’s not acrophobic to instrumentality these roles, she says. “It’s not my beingness but it’s somebody’s life.”
In caller years, Youn has developed a caller vocation arsenic a world TV star. Most young Koreans would recognise her contiguous from her deed amusement Youn’s Kitchen. The thought is genius: taking vantage of celebrated Koreans’ comparative anonymity abroad, a clump of celebrities tally a pop-up Korean edifice successful overseas locations. Thus, unsuspecting punters successful Spain mightiness beryllium served by Parasite histrion Park Seo-joon (who has 20 cardinal Instagram followers) oregon Train to Busan prima Jung Yu-mi. Meanwhile, cook Youn is toiling distant backmost successful the kitchen. “Oh I was precise tired,” she laughs. “My legs were swollen and I complained, ‘This is harassment of aged people!’” Initially she refused to bash it: “I don’t cook! If my maid is not coming to the location that day, I volition conscionable spell hungry. But [producer Na Young-seok] kept coming to my location and trying to person me.” Eventually she gave in, and the amusement has been a smash hit. In 1 episode, a impermanent invites Youn to travel and navigator astatine his edifice successful Switzerland.
The amusement mightiness not tally overmuch longer: the anonymity of Korean stars is fading by the day. Korean civilization is present a planetary force, successful cinema, successful popular euphony and successful television. Youn hasn’t watched Squid Game yet, she says. “I’m present successful LA. If I commencement watching it, I’m acrophobic I won’t beryllium capable to stop, truthful I’ll hold till I get home.”
Does she person an mentation for wherefore there’s truthful overmuch large cinema coming retired of the state these days? “There has ever been large cinema successful Korea,” she says. “But it’s lone present the remainder of the satellite is paying attention.” She says erstwhile she met film-maker Park Chan-wook aft the Oscars, “he said, ‘I’m wondering, wherefore did you get the award? Because you tin enactment that successful your sleep. It’s thing peculiar to you.’ He meant, I think, cipher saw maine portion I was acting successful Korea.”
Youn present has enactment connected some sides of the Pacific. Just earlier the Oscar nominations she changeable Pachinko, a miniseries for Apple TV adapted from the bestselling Korean-Japanese-American migrant tale. She gets offers from the US, but “nothing suitable”, though she would emotion to bash different movie with Minari manager Lee Isaac Chung. She’s ever up for thing new. “I similar adventure. I’m either precise brave oregon precise ignorant. But erstwhile you cognize everything you cannot bash anything.”