"She was a widow—a Korean War widow, a single mother and a working mother," Youn says of her character. "She likes to have some fun because she's been through a lot. She tries to comfort [her family]."
Soonja develops a special bond with her young grandson David, played by Alan Kim. But cultivating a relationship with him takes patience. In David's mind, Soonja isn't a "real" grandmother—she shares a room with him and never bakes him cookies. He accuses her of wearing men's underwear. Soonja is unfazed. In one scene, she embraces him and looks into his eyes, saying, "Pretty boy, pretty boy."
David interjects: "I'm not pretty, I'm good looking!" as he storms off into his bedroom. Soonja laughs, then turns back to the TV to watch the wrestling match.
Youn says the character Soonja holds a deeper meaning in her own life. While filming, she often thought about childhood memories of her great-grandmother.
"It's a heartbreaking story," Youn says. "I was born in 1947, so I was maybe 3 when the Korean War started. And after the war, we didn't have enough water, enough rice, nothing. My grandmother passed away during the wartime, and my great-grandmother happened to be alive until I was 9."
Youn says her family had to ration supplies, and her great-grandmother would often re-use the family's water. "To me, she was very dirty, or not hygienic. So, I didn't like her at all. What a stupid thing [to think]," Youn says. "I didn't like her because she's not clean and she'd always say she's not hungry. She would always skip lunch."