“People like to touch my Oscar for happiness”

Youn Yuh-jung, the first Korean woman to win an Oscar (“Best Supporting Actress” for “Minari” in 2021) for acting stars in the 2017 Apple TV+ adaptation of the multi-generational novel “Pachinko”.

“This role was appropriate for my age — she’s 74,” Yuh-jung, 74, told The Post. “I read the script first. I was very interested in this role and felt I had to play it. Then I went out and got the book. [I could relate to] their strength and determination to survive.”

Premiered on March 25th, “Pachinko” is a family saga covering the years 1910 to 1989, following Sunja (Yuh-jung) and her family through the decades.

Played by Yu-na Jeon (as a child) and Minha Kim (as a young woman) in her younger days, Sunja grows up in poverty in a fishing village while her family faces repression during the Japanese colonization and occupation of Korea – until circumstances dictate her to leave Korea for Osaka, Japan.

Minha Kim sits thoughtfully in a dark room.
Minha Kim as the teenage version of Sunja in Pachinko.
Juhan Noh
Youn Yuh-jung as an older Sunja reflects on her past "pachinko."
Youn Yuh-jung as the older Sunja reflects on her past in “Pachinko”.

Many years later, her grandson Solomon (Jin Ha), an ambitious employee of a large international company who studied in America, returns to his roots in Japan and reconnects with his father Mozasu (Soji Arai) and grandmother Sunja (Yuh -young). while grappling with his family legacy. Sunja now believes she made the right decision to leave Korea back in the 1930s – but in her advanced years she feels compelled to make the pilgrimage back to her homeland.

“She faced all these difficulties. She got pregnant because she didn’t know [the baby’s father] was a married man,” said Yuh-jung. “But she had a baby and she was trying to protect it and being honest. I loved introducing this Korean to the world. When I’m acting, something might come out of my heart – but I don’t usually impersonate people. I try to think about it, ‘If I were her, how would I act?’”

Jin Ha in a business suit walking through a busy airport terminal.
Jin Ha as Sunja’s grandson Solomon in “Pachinko”.
Robert Falkner

While Yuh-jung rose to international prominence with her award-winning role in Minari, she enjoyed an eventful career in Korea that stretched back to the 1960s. She briefly retired from acting in the 1970s before picking up again in the 1980s. It was an unusually successful comeback for a middle-aged actress at the time.

She said that winning an Oscar didn’t affect her life, but neither was she aware of her status as the first Korean woman to take home the acting trophy until it happened.

“They said it was the first time in our history and I was really shocked. I felt like I was running for the country, like an Olympian,” she said. “I didn’t like that pressure.”

Youn Yuh-jung smiles and holds her Oscar.
Young Yuh-jung with her Oscar in 2021.
Getty Images

She said she needed to display her Oscar in a prominent place in her home for her friends and visitors to see.

“I’ve had so many awards. I put them in the basement. But this one, the Oscar, people like to see and they like to touch it,” she said. “I asked why and they said it might bring them luck. So I keep it in the living room.”

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