Childhood & Early Life
Lee Eun-ju was born on December 22, 1980, in Gunsan, South Korea, to Lee Sang-yeol and Choi Soon-hyang.
Lee was interested in classical music since a tender age and took piano lessons almost throughout her childhood. Although she was a fan of Korean dramas, she never wished to step into the entertainment industry.
However, by the time she was in her mid-teenage years, she had developed an interest in modeling. Willing to be part of the industry, she moved to Seoul after her high-school graduation.
Her struggle to become a model was not long, as she grabbed some modeling assignments soon. One of her earlier modeling assignments was for a school uniform apparel brand. The campaign made her popular locally.
Since she had no prior experience in the domain, she initially hesitated when she was asked to star in a TV series. However, she accepted the offer and made her on-screen acting debut in the late 1990s.
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In 1997, she made her TV debut with a small role in the series ‘Start.’ She then appeared in a supporting role in the series ‘White Nights 3.98.’ It featured her in the role of a younger version of the lead character.
In 1998, she appeared in the music video of artist Park Jin-young’s single ‘Even After 10 Years.’ The next year, she appeared in Kim Jang-hoon’s music video for the song ‘Sad Gift.’
In 1999, she made her successful film debut with the film ‘Rainbow Trout,’ directed by acclaimed filmmaker Park Chong-wan. The film was a huge critical success and earned many awards at various film festivals. Lee’s performance, too, was well-received.
In the early 2000s, she essayed the titular role in the internet short film ‘Yeca.’
In 2000, she earned the first lead role of her career, in the erotic comedy–drama film ‘Virgin Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors.’ Directed by acclaimed director Hong Sang-soo, the film was screened as part of the highly prestigious ‘Un Certain Regard’ category at the ‘Cannes Film Festival,’ where it earned universal critical acclaim.
Although the film failed to be a box-office success, Lee had already made a successful breakthrough by then. She was honored with the ‘Best New Actress Award’ at the 2001 ‘Grand Bell Awards.’ Although the film did wonders for her acting career, it also proved that she was comfortable doing sex scenes, which became part of the reason for her suicide in 2005.
In 2000, she appeared in the series titled ‘Look Back in Anger,’ playing ‘Jeong Su-jin,’ a key role. The series ran for one season, covering 18 episodes.
The same year, she also played a cameo role in the film ‘Bloody Beach.’
In 2001, she appeared in the lead role in the romantic drama film ‘Bungee Jumping of Their Own.’ She played the role of a university student named ‘Tae-hee’ in the film. The movie was a critical and commercial success, becoming the tenth-highest-grossing film of the year. The same year, she played the titular role in the short film ‘Ahmijimong.’
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The following year, she played the lead role in the romantic melodrama film ‘Lovers’ Concerto.’ The film was an average critical and commercial success.
Soon, she had a change of image with the lead role in the horror film ‘Unborn but Forgotten.’
In 2003, she appeared in the lead role in the romantic drama film ‘Garden of Heaven.’ Her role in the film was that of a cancer patient.
In 2004, she appeared as ‘Lee Ji-eun,’ a key character, in the South Korean TV series titled ‘Phoenix.’ Her performance won her the ‘Top Excellence Award: Actress’ at the 2004 ‘MBC Drama Awards.’
The same year, she appeared in the comedy–drama film titled ‘Au Revoir, UFO,’ which featured her as a blind woman named ‘Kyeong-woo.’
She then appeared in a wartime action–drama film titled ‘Taegukgi.’ The film received huge critical appreciation and also became one of the highest-grossing South Korean films of all time.
The last film of her career was the erotic thriller ‘The Scarlet Letter.’ The film received huge critical and commercial acclaim. It was screened as the closing film of the 2004 ‘Pusan International Film Festival.’
However, the film featured some intense lovemaking scenes, which were sensationalized by the media. For weeks after the film was released, there were huge debates regarding the scenes on various media channels.
In 2004, Lee also appeared in the music video for the song titled ‘I Was Thankful...’ by Korean–American singer Tim.
Personal Life & Death
Although there have been no confirmed reports about any of her relationships, Lee Eun-ju was reportedly close to actors Eric Moon and Seo Jin-lee.
On the night of February 22, 2005, she was found dead by her brother who had come to visit her. She had slit her wrists and then hanged herself. She had reportedly been depressed for weeks, following a controversy surrounding her film ‘The Scarlet Letter.’
Many actors and professionals from the South Korean industry paid their last respects to Lee after her death. Her friends and colleagues hold a memorial for her every year since her death.
She had graduated with a degree in theater from ‘Dankook University’ a few days before her death.