Oscar Actors: Youn Yuh-jung (Minari)–Background, Career, Awards

Youn Yuh-jung (Korean, born June 19, 1947) is a South Korean actress.

In a film and television career spanning over five decades, she has acted in well-known South Korean television series and films. In 2021, Youn is nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film Minari (2020).

Starting 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).

She is also known for playing matriarch roles in South Korean family drama series Men of the Bath House (1995), Be Strong Geum Soon (2005), Daughters-in-Law (2007), My Husband Got a Family (2012), Dear My Friends (2016), which are popular across East Asia. She is also starring in local reality shows, including Sisters Over Flowers and Youn’s Kitchen.

She is best known internationally for her role in the film Minari (2020), for which she garnered critical recognition. She was nominated for an Academy Award, a British Academy Film Award, a Critics’ Choice Movie Award, and a Screen Actors Guild Award, becoming the first Korean actress to be nominated for these awards.

Youn Yuh-jung was born on June 19, 1947 in Kaesong, Gyeonggi Province, and grew up in Seoul. Her father died when she was young. She has two sisters. Her sister Youn Yeo-soon is a former executive at LG Group.

She was a freshman at Hanyang University majoring in Korean Language and Literature, when she passed the open auditions held by TBC in 1966. She dropped out of college, and made her acting debut in the television drama Mister Gong in 1967. Youn shot to stardom in 1971 with two memorable portrayals of femme fatales. Her first film, Kim Ki-young’s Woman of Fire, became a critical and commercial hit, for which she won Best Actress at the Sitges Film Festival.

This was followed by the MBC historical drama Jang Hui-bin where she played the titular infamous royal concubine. Kim was considered Korea’s first style-conscious, experimental director, and Youn did not balk in playing risque, provocative characters that explore the grotesque in the female psyche in collaborations with him such as The Insect Woman (1972) and Be a Wicked Woman (1990).

Audiences found Youn’s fast way of speaking and atypical appearance refreshing and she frequently took roles in TV dramas depicting a modern woman of the new generation, notably in Stepmother (1972) written by Kim Soo-hyun.

At the peak of her career, Youn retired after she married singer Jo Young-nam in 1975, then immigrated to the United States. In 1984, she returned to Korea and permanently resumed her acting career. She and Jo divorced in 1987.

Making such a stellar comeback after taking a long break was an unusual feat for a Korean middle-aged actress. Although most actresses her age played clichéd self-sacrificing mothers or coarse ajummas, Youn’s acting range led to her being cast in more complex, stylish, and independent roles. In A Good Lawyer’s Wife (2003), she drew critical acclaim for her nonchalant acting as a mother-in-law who neglected her husband dying of liver cancer and enjoyed extramarital affairs. Her frank and confident persona again manifested itself in E J-yong’s mockumentary Actresses (2009).

Youn continued playing supporting roles in film and television, notably her scene-stealing turn in The Housemaid (2010). She reunited with director Im Sang-soo for the fourth time in The Taste of Money (2012), as a cruel chaebol heiress at the center of the drama that unfolds and touches upon the themes of corruption, greed and sex. Youn said “I don’t mind being called an old actress, but I do worry about how to carry on my acting career without looking like an old fool.”[10]

In 2013, she was cast as a loving mother to three loser children in Song Hae-sung’s Boomerang Family. Later in the year, Youn gained renewed mainstream popularity after appearing in her first reality show Sisters Over Flowers, a travel show shot in Croatia.

Youn starred in two leading roles in 2015: Kang Je-gyu’s Salut d’Amour about the romance between an elderly supermarket employee and a flower shop owner, and Canola about a Jeju Island female diver who reunites with her long-lost granddaughter.

In 2021, she starred in the American film Minari, where she received nominations from over forty American regional critics awards, including a win for the National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress and Los Angeles Film Critics Association Award for Best Supporting Actress. She has earned nominations from the Critics Choice Awards, Screen Actors Guild, British Academy Film Award and the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, becoming the first Korean actress to be nominated.


1971 Woman of Fire 화녀 Myeong-ja
1972 The Insect Woman 충녀 Myeong-ja
1973 Love and Hatred 다정다한
Tto Sun Yi, a College Girl 여대생 또순이
1978 The Day and Night of a Korean-American 코메리칸의 낮과 밤
1985 Mother 에미 Mrs. Hong
1990 Be a Wicked Woman 천사여 악녀가 되라
1995 An Experience to Die For 죽어도 좋은 경험 Choi Yeo-jung
2003 A Good Lawyer’s Wife 바람난 가족 Hong Byeong-han
2004 Springtime 꽃피는 봄이 오면 Hyun-woo’s mother
2005 The President’s Last Bang 그때 그사람들 Yoon-hee’s mother/Epilogue narration
2006 Maundy Thursday 우리들의 행복한 시간 Sister Monica
2007 The Old Garden 오래된 정원 Hyun-woo’s mother
Hwang Jin-yi 황진이 Old woman
2008 A Tale of Legendary Libido 가루지기 Old woman
2009 Actresses 여배우들 Herself Also screenwriter
2010 Hahaha 하하하 Moon-kyeong’s mother
The Housemaid 하녀 Byeong-sik
2011 Hindsight 푸른 소금 Madame Kang
List 리스트 short film
2012 The Taste of Money 돈의 맛 Baek Geum-ok
In Another Country 다른 나라에서 Park Sook
2013 Behind the Camera 뒷담화: 감독이 미쳤어요 Herself
Boomerang Family 고령화가족 Mom
2014 Hill of Freedom 자유의 언덕 Gu-ok
2015 Salut d’Amour 장수상회 Im Geum-nim
Intimate Enemies 나의 절친 악당들 Yeo-jung Cameo
Right Now, Wrong Then 지금은맞고그때는틀리다 Kang Deok-soo
2016 Canola 계춘할망 Gye-choon
The Bacchus Lady 죽여주는 여자 So-young [21]
2018 Keys to the Heart 그것만이 내 세상 In-sook [22]
2019 Lucky Chan-sil 찬실이는 복도 많지 Grandmother
2020 Beasts Clawing at Straws 지푸라기라도 잡고 싶은 짐승들 Soon-ja [23]
Minari Soonja American film[24]
Heaven: To the Land of Happiness 헤븐: 행복의 나라로