When Yuh-Jung Youn Asked, “Am I Saying Right?”

Youn’s Acceptance Speech, ABC

“Am I say[ing] right?” Walking down from what New York Times called “the best acceptance speech of the night,” Yuh-Jung Youn questioned herself aloud in the air. Watching Youn’s numerous interviews during this year’s marathon of movie festivals, I found her fascinating. She seemed unsure of her own ability to fully communicate in English — in multiple interviews, she paused and asked interviewers “can you understand me?” like she did at the end of the Oscars speech — yet, she chose to speak in English in almost every interview, with no interpreter by her side. It was a choice. Like it was also a choice for Director Joon-ho Bong to hire an interpreter when he had the ability to understand and speak English as much as Youn did.

For Bong, that choice was a protest. A protest against western audience who refuses to watch any movies that involve subtitles, against movie critics that marginalize foreign movies(who define ‘foreign’ anyway?), against the anxiety of language barrier Asians themselves internalize so much that they constantly apologize for not speaking perfect English. His already-established global reputation definitely helped this rebel.

For Youn, the choice to communicate in English in front of the foreign press was nothing political but spoke equally powerfully. Anybody who watches Youn’s interviews would recognize that she communicates more than the content of her response. She expresses humor, confidence, and authenticity. The kinds of qualities that distinguish better actors. The kinds that immediately make someone “cool.” She flirts with Brad Pitt and gracefully defends herself from rude questions like “what does Brad Pitt smell like” (She responded with laughter, “I am not a dog.”) I don’t recall seeing any senior Asian woman in media, whether in character or in life, being portrayed other than a sweet but powerless grandma, kind of what Youn played in Minari. Well, there are not enough BIPOC senior actresses or women leaders, to begin with. People who would’ve had expected her to be just like the character she played, this was refreshing.

It was refreshing to me as well. As another Asian immigrant who possesses a “grammar police” inside, I was witnessing the way her grammatically not-so-perfect English conveyed her unique personality and melted so many foreign hearts. Youn got emotional by the fact that she was in “the TV event” that she had been watching for so long from the other side of the world. Watching her, I also got emotional by the fact that the woman I loved watching on Korean TV for so long is standing as tall as I know on American TV.

Youn’s Acceptance Speech, ABC

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A Foreign Girl in San Francisco | UX Design Researcher & English-Korean Translator

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Juwon Kang Taylor

Juwon Kang Taylor

A Foreign Girl in San Francisco | UX Design Researcher & English-Korean Translator

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