LEE Young-ae

Excellence in Asian Cinema Award

The 17th Asian Film Awards announces the winner of this year’s Excellence in Asian Cinema Award which aims to highlight distinguished talents and affirm their achievements and contributions to the Asian film industry and culture. This year, we have two winners from different regions who have achieved remarkable success in their acting careers. They consistently push the boundaries of their performances, showcasing their unique talents and making significant contributions to their respective fields. One of the two awardees this year is Korean actress LEE Young-ae (이영애), the screen icon widely known as the “Oxygen Lady” with an illustrious career spanning over three decades. LEE Young-ae expressed deep honour upon receiving the Excellence in Asian Cinema Award: “I am pleasantly surprised to receive this distinguished award. It is beyond words for me to express my gratitude. But I am certainly delighted to come to Hong Kong and take part in this prestigious event for the Asian film industry. I look forward to more collaborations and engagements with Asian filmmakers across the region to raise international awareness of Korean cinema and culture.” 


LEE Young-ae launched her film and television career in 1993 with the drama series How’s Your Husband?. She continued to gain prominence with lead roles in popular drama series including Medical Brothers, Invitation and Fireworks. In 2000, she co-starred with top actors LEE Byung-hun and SONG Kang-ho in Joint Security Area. Directed by PARK Chan-wook, the mystery thriller became Korea’s highest-grossing domestic film of the year. Hong Kong director Peter CHAN was so impressed by her performance in the movie that he invited LEE to star in HUR Jin-ho’s One Fine Spring Day, marking a significant collaboration between Hong Kong and Korean filmmakers. LEE Young-ae’s influence extended well beyond Korea as she played a pivotal role in the Korean Wave that sweeps across the world. The 2003 series Jewel in the Palace which she starred in was broadcasted in over 90 countries and regions, introducing Korean history to a global audience. Her book “Lee Young-ae’s Dinner” published in 2015, explored the Korean lifestyle through her culinary experiences.  


LEE’s performance in Joint Security Area not only bolstered her film career but also impressed director PARK Chan-wook so strongly that he tailor-made for her the lead role in his 2005 film Lady Vengeance. LEE Young-ae portrayed a vengeful woman named Geum-ja, breaking away from her usual elegant and graceful screen persona. Her nuanced portrayal of the complex psychological changes behind revenge earned her the Best Actress award at the 26th Blue Dragon Film Awards, with the film itself also winning Best Film. Always striving to hone her craft, LEE Young-ae completed her master’s degree in theater and cinema at Chung Ang University. She played a distraught but resilient mother on a mission to find her abducted son in the 2019 film Bring Me Home, shedding light on child trafficking issues and winning the Best Actress award at the 25th Chunsa Film Art Awards. Always embracing challenges and seeking diverse roles, LEE played an enigmatic and bold conductor with hidden secrets in the recent drama series Maestra: Strings of Truth.  


LEE is confirmed to attend the 17th Asian Film Awards Ceremony in person to receive the prestigious award on March 10 at the Xiqu Centre, West Kowloon Cultural District. PARK Kwang Su, Chairperson of Busan International Film Festival, remarked: “Always challenging herself as an actress, LEE Young-ae is the embodiment of professionalism and inspiration to many young actors. We look forward to her breaking new ground in the film and television industry.” 


The 17th Asian Film Awards — Exclusive interview with Lee Young-ae 


Can you share your feelings about winning the award? 


When I learned about receiving the “Excellence in Asian Cinema Award”, I felt overjoyed and deeply honoured. It is heartwarming to know that many people still remember me during this time and for this I am really grateful. 


The works you starred in have been popular not only in Korea but also among international audiences. Can you share your thoughts on this? 


My featured role in Lady Vengeance was much talked about both in Korea and abroad, garnering support and attention. I think it was not so much a specific character that really struck a chord with the international audience as the simple fact that it resonated with people across cultures. I believe that international audiences can also feel the intensity and passion displayed in my work. Hopefully, the audience will find resonance through the effort that I put into my work. 


Lady Vengeance is often considered your iconic work in films. Can you talk about the film’s impact on your acting career? 


As I took on Lady Vengeance after the immense popularity of Jewel in the Palace , I never imagined Lady Vengeance would be just as well-received as Jewel in the Palace. Lady Vengeance was received rather favourably in international film festivals, and my collaboration with director PARK Chan-wook turned out very well. At that time, I did wonder if the international audience would find appeal in a story describing a female’s vengeance, and whether this would pique their interests. In the end, the film made me challenge myself and boosted my confidence. Lady Vengeance can be considered a turning point in my acting career. 


Many directors from different regions in Asia want to collaborate with you. Will there be such an opportunity in the future? 


I have previously worked with Asian directors, and I was fortunate enough to meet many talented Asian directors at film festivals. As I am attending the 17th Asian Film Awards, I hope to explore opportunities for collaboration with Asian directors. 


Can you share your thoughts on the female roles that you played?  


There are many followers from Asia on my personal Instagram account. They often like to leave messages. Based on the content, many of them are female. Representation of women, when compared to before, are more challenging and diverse. The setting of characters has become more creative. Audience can recognise the diversity of Asian women through the films. I came to realise that I gradually evolved from playing more two-dimensional characters to those with more complexity. The characters are also more colourful. I believe that these female characters are positive and inspiring for me. I strive to be a multifaceted to showcase the different aspects of females.  


What advice would you give to aspiring actors who are looking to make a name for themselves in the Asian film industry?  


I feel that I am still learning right now. I were to give any advice, I would say perseverance is the key. You will eventually find your niche likely from which you generate your depth. The acting may be a bit weak in the beginning, but would become stronger with time. As long as you are determined and do not waver, you will build a good foundation. I am looking forward to this Asian film extravaganza and hope to work with Asian actors and directors. 

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