3rd September 2021
As a prelude to some blogs about my favourite Korean films, I would like to post a little tribute to one of my favourite actors, Lee Eun-ju (also known as Lee Eun-joo). The actress, who was also a talented pianist, appeared in some of my favourite Korean films of the early 2000s.
Lee Eun-ju was born in Gunsan, south-west Korea, on December 22nd 1980, and studied piano when she was at school. At sixteen, she won a modelling contest. From there, she moved into TV dramas and then movies.
One of her earliest roles was in Hong Sang-soo’s ‘Virgin Stripped Bare by her Bachelors” (2000). This art film, shot in black & white, tells the story of how two people meet, and is told in flashbacks showing different perspectives and while some events are similar, others are very different.
The film is one of my top Korean movies. Anthony Leong writes that Lee Eun-ju “delivers the standout performance,” and her charisma is “one of the highlights,” of the film.
The following year, Lee Eun-ju appeared in the reincarnation love-story, ‘Bungee Jumping of their Own’ (2001). She plays a shy girl who falls in love, eventually, with a young man with whom she shares an umbrella during a storm. However, after planning to meet one day, she fails to appear and is never seen again. I will not spoil the film (too much) but many years later, the young man, now a teacher, meets a boy student who shares many of his old lover’s mannerisms.
The theme of boy meets girl – falls in love – one of them dies is stepped up a notch in another one of my personal favourite Korean films, ‘Lovers’ Concerto’ (2002). I even watched it (again) last night, to prepare for this blog. Lee Eun-ju shows her acting skills, as she portrays a young lady who is by turns spoilt, unreasonable, tender, loving and so fragile. With her charm and charisma, she really lights up the screen.
Unfortunately, Lee Eun-ju found her last film, The Scarlet Letter’ (2004) a very traumatic experience, along with the subsequent poor reception and backlash. The film, her family assert, caused her to fall into a deep depression, exacerbated by insomnia. On February 22 2004, Lee Eun-ju took her own life. She was only twenty-four.
How heartbreaking that someone with so much to offer should be so unhappy. How heartbreaking to think of all the films she could have made. How amazing that an actress with just thirteen film credits should be in two of my absolute favourites.
Thank you so much … miss you so much
매우 감사합니다 ... 당신이 너무 그리워
Lee Eun-ju 1980 – 2004
Leong, Anthony C.Y. ‘Korean Cinema: The New Hong Kong’ (2002) Trafford
3 thoughts on “Lee Eun-ju: A Korean Star”
Wish her rest in peace in heaven. Many actresses (and actors too) are under tremendous pressure, especially from those those control the entertainment industry. It is so totally savage towards people who work in the industry. Wait for the “me too” movement in Asian cinema and I hope one day it will come.
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Thank you for visiting this page, and for your sweet words 🙂
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