Apologies to Steven Yeun, but the scene stealers of Minari are Alan Kim and Yuh-Jung Youn.
The unlikely duo make a pleasant pairing in Lee Isaac Chung’s latest feature, a tender portrait of an immigrant family working to survive in America. Kim, an eight-year-old newcomer, plays David, the precocious son of Yeun’s Jacob and Yeri Han’s Monica. Youn, a veteran star of Korean cinema, plays Monica’s cheeky mother, Soonja, who moves in with them. Though the grandmother and grandson at first are at odds due to their generational and cultural differences, their relationship transforms as the story unfolds.
Since Minari premiered—and won the Grand Jury Prize—at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival, the picture, Chung, and the cast have earned widespread public adulation. Its ever-growing list of award recognition includes a Golden Globe nomination for best foreign language film and Screen Actors Guild nominations for lead actor (Yeun), supporting actress (Youn), and the whole ensemble. The film is shaping up to be an Oscar contender as well. Amid the buzz, Youn and Kim are being recognized on their own accords; her for her exquisite performance and star power abroad, him for his natural stage presence and—well, just look at that face.
The celebrated indie marks Youn’s first film in the United States, after more than five decades in film and TV, and multiple best actress wins in Korea’s prestigious Grand Bell and Blue Dragon Film Awards. The Housemaid (2010), Woman of Fire (1971), and The Bacchus Lady (2016) are some of her most famous roles performances. As she garners her own renown Stateside with Minari, who better to ask her about the latest chapter of her career than her trusty scene partner?
The actress sat down remotely for an interview with Kim for BAZAAR.com, who delved into Youn’s favorite Minari scenes, what she’s watching in quarantine, and what’s making her happy. Below, an edited transcript of their conversation.
Alan Kim: Hi, thank you for joining me today. I'm excited to interview you.
Yuh-Jung Youn: First of all, very pleasure to have an interview with you. You're very famous now. I'm very honored being with you.
AK: Jumping right in, what was your favorite part about acting with me?
YY: Every part I enjoyed very much, because you are super good. You were very honest about the feelings between you and me. So I liked every scene between you and me.
AK: Do you remember the first time we met?
YY: I think a director and then the producer suggested me to go have a dinner with you guys. You and Noel [Kate Cho]. The first day was, I think, the one we were working at the trailer. That was the first meeting. How about you? Do you remember the first time I met you?
AK: [Nods.] The same place.
YY: How did you feel about me being your grandma?
AK: You …
YY: Tell me the truth. It's okay. Did I scare you?
AK: No. [Laughs.] You are a good actress.
YY: Did you know that?
YY: Then why did you say that I'm a good actress?
AK: I don't know. [Giggles.]
YY: Your mother told you to do that, right?
YY: Okay. I got it. [Laughs.]
AK: What about this movie, Minari, made you want to take this role?
YY: You know, my friend introduced me to Lee Isaac Chung, and I liked him very much as a human being. He was very, very genuine to me. So I liked him, and I got the script. So the story was very real to me. So I decided to do it.
AK: Are you anything like your character, Soonja?
YY: No. Nothing like her. I'm different, very different. [Laughs.]
AK: This is your first American film. Did anything about this specific experience feel different or unique from your other movies?
YY: Alan, you probably don't know me, because you were born in the States, but in Korea, your grandma, me, is very well known in the industry. So nobody dared to call me at 9 a.m. and straight work five days in a row. So I was shocked and surprised, but nobody knows me. So I just followed their direction. So that was the difference between working in Korea and here.
AK: Do you have a favorite scene we filmed together, or a favorite day on set?
YY: It was very hot, that's all I remember. But my favorite scene was when you and I—David and I—get closer, and I think, while we were sleeping, you were talking about seeing heaven, and then I [was] kind of just encouraging you not to fear about dying or getting sick or something. I'm going to protect you. That scene, we got close I think. After that, we went out together and went out to see the minari and went out to the field. I remember that scene.
AK: You were nominated by SAG Awards and you're getting Oscar buzz. How does that feel? Did you celebrate at all?
YY: Between you and me, it's not real to me, actually. And then, I didn't know what SAG means. I asked my friend, "What does SAG stand for?" And she explained it to me, Screen Actors Guild, and actors [vote for] actors. So, "Oh, that means that I should be grateful." That's all I know. And what about you? You got nominated, too, for the ensemble award. We all got nominated at the SAG Awards, right?
AK: I was so excited. "Yay!"
YY: Oh, really? Oh, yes. Better than me, you can enjoy the moment. Okay, good. [Laughs.]
AK: Do you remember being at Sundance together? We were on the big stage. I think we watched the movie twice.
YY: I was there or when we had two premiere screenings, and then I left. So I didn't know we got the Grand Jury Prize. I got the news from Korea. First, I knew we had an audience prize, so I thought, Wow, that's nice. It's just overwhelming. Then later on, that was a big surprise that we got the Grand Jury Prize. So that was a happy, happy surprise.
AK: What movie or TV shows are you watching currently?
YY: Currently? Tell you the truth, I was watching Netflix while I was in Korea. I fell in love with Outlander. [Laughs.] Later, I was watching The Crown. That's based on historic background. We overheard during our time, the queen is doing this, and Anne is doing this, always on the news. So it's just very interesting to watch them. Did it really happen? or something like that. What movie or what program are you watching?
AK: I didn't watch any TV shows, but I watched movies like Harry Potter. I'm planning to watch all the movies. I've got three movies left, The Half-Blood Prince, The Deathly Hallows Part 1, and Deathly Hallows Part 2. How are you spending your time in quarantine right now? And what's making you happy?
YY: Actually, I'm in Vancouver, Canada. I'm supposed to be filming some other project, maybe next week sometime. So I'm stuck in one place with my friend, and it's not enjoyable at all. But I'm so glad that we could have an interview, you know, like with you or some other people. That's the moment I'm enjoying. Well, the people are talking about Minari, so that makes me happy. How about you?
AK: Same thing.
YY: Yes, because we didn't expect to have this much attention from the audience, so I'm very pleased and happy about this situation.
AK: Thank you for joining me. See you next time!
Minari is now available to stream on demand.
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