Lee Ji-ah

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This is a Korean name; the family name is Lee.
Lee Ji-ah
Lee Ji-ah on October 31, 2011.jpg
Born Kim Sang-eun
(1978-02-02) February 2, 1978 (age 37)
South Korea
Occupation Actress, Screenwriter
Years active 2007-present
Agent HB Entertainment
Spouse(s) Seo Taiji (1997-2006; divorced)
Korean name
Hangul 이지아
Revised Romanization I Ji-a
McCune–Reischauer I Chia
Birth name
Hangul 김상은
Revised Romanization Gim Sang-eun
McCune–Reischauer Kim Sangŭn

Lee Ji-ah (born Kim Sang-eun on February 2, 1978) is a South Korean actress. After her first leading role in The Legend (2007), she has starred in television series such as Beethoven Virus (2008), Style (2009), Athena: Goddess of War (2010), and Me Too, Flower! (2011).

Lee had been secretly married for 9 years to Korean pop/rock icon Seo Taiji, from 1997 to 2006. Their marriage, which had been a closely guarded secret, became public in 2011 when Lee filed for a multi-million-dollar settlement, and the news became one of the biggest scandals to date in the local entertainment scene.[1][2]

Early life[edit]

Lee Ji-ah's personal profile has been shrouded in mystery. The actress has long been dubbed an "alien" for keeping her privacy well protected. Because she moved to the United States in 1993, media and fans have found it difficult to find her personal information, pre-stardom. Her level of secrecy was later understood to be linked to her secret marriage to pop/rock singer Seo Taiji, himself a notoriously enigmatic figure.

What subsequently became known is that she was born in South Korea with the name Kim Sang-eun. Her grandfather Kim Soon-heung was a notable figure in the Korean educational industry; he donated a large sum of money in 1976 for the creation of the famed Seoul Arts High School, and was also the chairman of another prestigious school, Kyunggi High School.[3] Her father was a businessman who oversaw business matters in Korea and the United States, and reportedly when she was in the sixth grade, their family moved to the U.S. and stayed there for 10 years.

According to her official profile, she majored in graphic design at the Pasadena Art Center College of Design,[4] but this claim has not been verified.[5] The profile also listed her birth date as February 2, 1981, but court papers later placed her birth year as 1978.

During a brief visit to Korea in 2004, she made her entertainment debut by appearing in an LG Telecom TV commercial with actor Bae Yong-joon. She left the U.S. and returned to Korea in early 2005. She legally changed her name from Kim Sang-eun to Kim Ji-ah, then adopted the stage name Lee Ji-ah (also romanized as E Jiah).


In 2007, the then-unknown landed a huge leading role for her acting debut in the fantasy television series Tae Wang Sa Shin Gi ("The Four Guardian Gods of the King", more popularly known as The Legend). Loosely based on Dangun and the 19th king of Goguryeo, Gwanggaeto the Great, The Legend was Korean wave star Bae Yong-joon's much-anticipated TV comeback, and cast as Bae's love interest, the high-profile, big-budget production shot Lee instantly to stardom.[6][7][8][9] At the year-end MBC Drama Awards, Lee received a total of three awards: Best New Actress, Popularity Award, and Best Couple Award (with Bae). She again won Best New Actress for TV at the Baeksang Arts Awards a year later.[10]

She then starred with Kim Myung-min and Jang Keun-suk in 2008's Beethoven Virus, a popular drama about ordinary people dreaming of becoming musicians who form a makeshift orchestra under a brilliant but difficult conductor. Lee played a violinist who gets diagnosed with a disease that results in complete hearing loss.[11]

She was next cast in Style, a TV series based on the 2008 chick lit novel of the same title. Inspired by The Devil Wears Prada, Lee played a hardworking assistant to a perfectionist fashion magazine editor (played by Kim Hye-soo), and the two women become caught in a love triangle with a restaurateur (played by Ryu Si-won).[12][13] After making the drama, Lee experienced temporary heel paralysis, which stemmed from overwork and stress.[14]

In late 2009, she joined the seven-part "Telecinema" series, which brought together Korean stars and directors, and Japanese writers. Each "telecinema" was released in movie theaters and also aired on television on SBS. Its first installment, The Relation of Face, Mind and Love (originally titled My Love, Ugly Duckling), was a romantic comedy with a similar premise as the 2001 Hollywood film Shallow Hal. In it, an architect (played by Kang Ji-hwan) is suddenly afflicted with a temporary visual impairment that causes him to see beauties as ugly and vice versa, and he falls for the homely heroine (played by Lee).[15]

Starring Jung Woo-sung, Cha Seung-won, Soo Ae, and Lee, the 2010 spy series Athena: Goddess of War was a spin-off to 2009's IRIS.[16] Despite its effects-laden action sequences and overseas locations, it proved less successful in the ratings than its predecessor. Lee did not use a stunt double in her action scenes as a South Korean anti-terrorism agent.[17][18]

After the scandal surrounding her marriage to and divorce from Seo, Lee took an eight-month hiatus. She returned in the 2011 television drama Me Too, Flower!, playing an ill-tempered police officer who falls in love with a young millionaire masquerading as a parking attendant (played by Yoon Shi-yoon).[19][20][21][22][23][24]

When Lee's five-year contract with Bae's agency KeyEast expired on December 31, 2011,[25] she signed with Will Entertainment in March 2012.[26][27] In 2013, she was cast in the leading role in Thrice Married Woman, written by famed TV screenwriter Kim Soo-hyun.[28]

In April 2014, Lee signed with a new management agency, HB Entertainment.[29] This was followed by a three-picture contract with Hollywood indie outfit Maybach Film Productions as a screenwriter; she is currently writing the screenplay of mystery thriller Conscious Perception.[30][31]

Personal life[edit]

In March 2011, a photo taken by a tourist of Lee and Athena costar Jung Woo-sung on a date in Paris surfaced on the internet, and the two confirmed that they were romantically involved.[32][33][34]

But on April 21, 2011, Sports Seoul broke the story (later confirmed by numerous media outlets) that she and Korean pop/rock icon Seo Taiji had been secretly married since 1997, before splitting in 2006. News leaked after two hearings had been held at the Seoul Family Court (court papers used Seo and Lee's birth names - Jeong Hyeon-cheol and Kim Sang-eun, respectively) since Lee filed a ₩5.5 billion lawsuit against Seo for alimony and division of assets. This shocked the Korean entertainment scene, as even their closest aides and friends confessed that they were unaware of the relationship. Both celebrities were believed to have been single. Particularly, Lee had recently admitted to dating Jung (they broke up shortly after).[35][36][37][38]

According to the statement she released through her agency, Lee left for the United States to study in 1993 and met Seo through an acquaintance at a concert in Los Angeles the same year. They kept in touch and developed a long-distance relationship though letters and phone calls while Lee stayed in the U.S. and Seo went back to Korea to continue his entertainment activities with his band Seo Taiji and Boys. In 1996, Seo disbanded Seo Taiji and Boys and announced his retirement from show business, after which he went to the U.S. where he and Lee quietly married on October 12, 1997. The couple lived in the States, moving to Atlanta and then Arizona.[5][39][40][41]

They separated when Seo returned to Korea in June 2000 for his comeback to the K-pop scene as a solo artist. Lee, who stayed behind in the U.S., began divorce proceedings in 2006 at the Santa Monica Family Court on the grounds of irreconcilable differences due to incompatible lifestyles and personalities.[42]

Lee attended a Seo Taiji Wormhole Concert in March 2009 ostensibly as a fan and this was the only known official link between Seo and Lee.[43] There was later speculation that her stage name Lee Ji-ah is the name "Taiji" spelled backwards without the "T", and the dress she designed and wore at the 2007 MBC Drama Awards which had "Lee Ji-a Toes" in black cursive English script sewn into the white fabric, was Seo's name spelled backwards.[44][45] Also, Seo's former manager Song Gyun-hyung is the brother of Bae Yong-joon's manager Song Il-hyun, a connection which may explain how Lee was cast in the 2004 LG commercial and the 2007 TV series The Legend opposite Bae, despite being a newcomer.[46]

The 2011 lawsuit resulted from their contrasting views on the time of divorce - Lee claimed she filed the divorce suit in 2006 and the court decision became effective in 2009, thus the three years required under Korean law for seeking alimony hadn't expired. But Seo's assertion was that the divorce officially took effect on August 9, 2006 and the statute of limitations had passed.[47] Lee lodged the suit in January and withdrew it on April 30, citing psychological suffering after her private life was made public.[48][49][50][51][52] Seo's lawyers opposed the motion,[53][54] and Lee resumed her case, with her lawyer arguing that the California court ruling was invalid and that the two were still legally married.[55][56] Through mediation, the ex-couple reached an out-of-court settlement in July 2011, which included a non-disclosure agreement.[57][58][59][60]


Year Title Role Notes
2007 The Legend Sujini / Saeoh Television
2008 Beethoven Virus Du Ru-mi Television
2009 Style Lee Seo-jung Television
The Relation of Face, Mind and Love Wang So-jung Film
2010 Please Come Back to Me by Vibe Music video
Athena: Goddess of War Han Jae-hee Television
2011 Me Too, Flower! Cha Bong-sun Television
2013 Thrice Married Woman Oh Eun-soo Television


Year Title Artist Notes
2008 Love Virus Lee Ji-ah digital single
So Much Super Sta feat. Baby Boy's Soul and Lee Ji-ah
2009 Cupcake and Alien Lee Ji-ah digital single
2010 Vampire Romance Lee Ji-ah digital single

Awards and nominations[edit]

Year Award Category Nominated work Result
MBC Drama Awards
Best New Actress
The Legend
Popularity Award Won
Best Couple Award (with Bae Yong-joon) Won
44th Baeksang Arts Awards
Best New Actress (TV) Won
MBC Drama Awards
Excellence Award, Actress
Beethoven Virus
SBS Drama Awards
Top Excellence Award, Actress in a Special Planning Drama
Athena: Goddess of War
7th Korea Drama Awards
Top Excellence Award, Actress
Thrice Married Woman
3rd APAN Star Awards
Top Excellence Award, Actress in a Serial Drama Nominated
SBS Drama Awards
Top Excellence Award, Actress in a Serial Drama Nominated


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External links[edit]