By Kim Boram
SEOUL, April 26 (Yonhap) -- Youn Yuh-jung, who became the first South Korean to win an acting Oscar on Monday, changed her approach to life when she turned 65, an age considered past the peak for actresses.
"Since I turned 65, I decided to be extravagant," the 73-year old thespian said in a local media interview. She has appeared in nearly 100 films and TV series over her career since her small screen debut in 1967.
"For me, being extravagant means working with people I like and rejecting those I don't like, regardless of money or fame," she said.
That was a big turning point for the actress who decades earlier had to take whatever opportunities were available, due to reputational damage she incurred as a result of negative public perceptions of divorced women.
She was not welcomed by local viewers when she came back to the entertainment scene in the late 1980s after divorce, despite Youn having been a silver screen star in critically acclaimed flicks like "Fire Woman" and "Insect Woman", both directed by legendary auteur Kim Ki-young. But she did not surrender to the prejudice and forged her own career path.
Even though she could not be selective according to her tastes and preferences, her presence increased on big and small screens thanks to spontaneous performances in films, ranging from roles as a mother having an affair in the drama film "A Good Lawyer's Wife" and to the insatiable mistress of a wealthy family in "The Taste of Money."
Since she decided to live in extravagance a few years ago, Youn has devoted herself to projects that touched her, regardless of their size, what kind of roles they offered or how much they paid her.
Three projects -- "Lucky Chan-sil," "Beasts Clawing at Straws" and "Minari" -- that she chose in recent years were the highlight of her extravagance.
In the indie romantic drama "Lucky Chan-sil," written and directed by Kim Cho-hee, Youn played an illiterate elderly landlady.
She said she participated in the 200 million won (US$180,000) project without pay as she sympathized with the up-and-coming director, who was trying to make her feature film debut with "Lucky Chan-sil."
"I got a call from the director, who pleaded with me to take the role as nobody wanted to do it," she said in an online conversation with "Parasite" director Bong Joon-ho. "I couldn't turn down her request."
Before going into the crime thriller "Beasts," the directorial debut of Kim Yong-hoon, Youn said she wanted to say no to the director because she knew how hard it would be to work with a first-time filmmaker.
But she accepted the offer as she liked the screenplay, based on the namesake Japanese novel, and the director at the same time.
On top of that, the new extravagant approach led her to the immigrant film "Minari," written and directed by Korean American Lee Isaac Chung based on his childhood memory.
She said she felt "authentic" when reading first few pages of the screenplay, which was first written in English, named after a Korean vegetable that thrives in hostile ground.
Then, she called one of her friends who gave her the scenario and said she would join the project made by Korean American filmmakers including Chung, producer Christina Oh and actor Steven Yeun.
She said she soon fell in love with the crew behind the $2 million project by U.S. production Plan B and did not hesitate to fly to the United States for a five-week shoot in Oklahoma in the middle of July.
"I decided to do "Minari" because of the people I like and the screenplay," she said. "But it was a hard task. It was a tight-budget indie film and everything was challenging due to the hot weather in Oklahoma."
There, she acted the role of the foulmouthed, livewire grandmother Soon-ja in the film about a Korean immigrant family settling in rural Arkansas.
The film focuses in many ways on the delicate dynamic between she and her America-born grandson David, that provides many of the movie's laughs and emotions.
Soon-ja is not a typical grandmother who cooks and bakes for her grandchildren, but Youn created a unique grandmother character who often swears while watching wrestling and playing cards.
The project brought her the Oscar's best supporting actress award, that she never imagined when she was struggling in the scorching heat in the U.S.