On the heels of a whirlwind awards season that saw the Best Supporting Actress race without a commanding front-runner, Youn Yuh-jung has emerged victorious for her scene-stealing turn as irresistibly feisty grandma Soon-ja in Minari.
“Usually, when I’m living in the other part of the world, I just watch the television and there is the Oscar,” said the 73-year-old Korean star in her acceptance speech. “But me, being here, myself. I cannot believe I’m here. OK, let me pull myself together.”
When first taking the stage, Youn shared the proper pronunciation of her name and joked that some people put Youn at the beginning (as is the case with Asian surnames) while others put it at the end. “Tonight, you are all forgiven,” she said. She then thanked presenter Brad Pitt, whose company Plan B produced Minari. “Mr. Pitt, finally. Nice to meet you. Where were you while we were filming in person?”
As she did in her cheeky BAFTA speech, Youn addressed her fellow nominees with “I’m luckier than you.” Youn curtsied to Glenn Close on her way up the stage.
As the first Korean actress ever up for an Oscar, Youn made history with her nomination alone. As a winner, she has achieved additional feats.
More than six decades since Miyoshi Umeki’s victory for Sayonara (1957), Youn marks the second Asian actress in Oscar history to score the Best Supporting Actress prize. She is also the sixth actor to date to earn an Oscar for an exclusively non-English language performance, following Sophia Loren in Two Women (1961), Robert De Niro in The Godfather Part II (1974), Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful (1998), Benicio del Toro in Traffic (2000) and Marion Cotillard in La Vie en Rose (2007).
At age 73, Youn marked the 15th oldest Best Supporting Actress nominee in Oscar history. Among winners, she is the third oldest, behind 74-year-old Josephine Hull in Harvey (1950) and ahead of 72-year-old Ruth Gordon in Rosemary’s Baby (1968).
Youn’s win comes on the heels of a Best Supporting Actress contest that remained unsettled through most of the awards season.
Early favorite Glenn Close (Hillbilly Elegy), contending on an eighth career nomination, saw her chances of scoring that elusive win dwindle after a brutal critical reception for her film. With an 0-for-8 record, Close is now tied with Peter O’Toole as biggest Oscar loser among actors.
There were presumed contenders – the likes of Ellen Burstyn (Pieces of a Woman) and Saoirse Ronan (Ammonite) – who never quite took off during precursor season, while BAFTA nominee Dominique Fishback (Judas and the Black Messiah) and Golden Globe/SAG nominee Helena Zengel (News of the World) perhaps barely missed the Oscar cut. And then there was the greatest curveball of all, as Jodie Foster (The Mauritanian) scored the Golden Globe win, only to not surface with SAG, BAFTA or the Oscars.
With Close, Olivia Colman (The Father) and Amanda Seyfried (Mank) watching from the sidelines, the critics’ awards were overwhelmingly devoured by Youn and Maria Bakalova (Borat Subsequent Moviefilm) – and indeed, Bakalova emerged triumphant at the Critics Choice Awards. But Youn’s victory at SAG marked a game-changer, as the Minari star finally scored a major industry win. It, coupled with a subsequent win at BAFTA, propelled Youn with the momentum needed to get across the Oscar finish line.
If there was ever concern the COVID-19 pandemic would result in a paltry Oscar race, that certainly did not prove the case in Best Supporting Actress. It was an unpredictable contest, jam-packed with rich performances and resulting in a win that is destined to age exceedingly well.