IU isn't who she used to be in newest film 'Broker'


With long, bleached hair splitting at the ends and heavy smoky-eye makeup, the girl holding a baby in her arms in "Broker" seems far removed from the familiar K-pop star IU that fans know and love.

In “Broker,” Japanese director Hirokazu Kore-eda’s first Korean-language film, actor Lee Ji-eun, perhaps better known as singer IU, portrays the young single mother named So-young who leaves her baby out in a baby box operated by a church, where babies can be anonymously dropped off to be cared for by others.

Lee recently returned from Cannes after “Broker” was invited to compete for the Palme d’Or. Although the cast of “Broker” equally enjoyed their time out in the spotlight, what was evident from the moment Lee stepped out of the airplane at France's Nice Cote d’Azur Airport was the sheer scale and passion of her global fandom, Uaena. During the festival, Lee greeting her ardent fans on the red carpet went viral online.

Lee Ji-eun at the 75th Cannes International Film Festival for her role in "Broker" [CJ ENM]

Although Lee already enjoys ultimate stardom in Korea due to her overall popularity and versatility in both singing and acting, the actor admitted that meeting her global fans at Cannes was entirely unexpected, though a warm surprise.

“It was a total surprise,” Lee said at the press interview on Tuesday at a cafe in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul. “I arrived at the airport all groggy, and I couldn’t believe that all these people came to see us. What's more, I saw a lot of people holding my CDs, so the whole thing felt like a set-up. It felt strange when I saw fans on the red carpet as well. I couldn’t believe that there were Uaenas this far away, and I wondered how they managed to get my albums. They gave me strength. I felt that there were so many people on my side.”

In addition to being her silver screen debut, it was the first time Lee portrayed a mother — one with a shadowy past and more than her fair share of woes which make her seem almost fearless. She is bold enough to look Sang-hyun, portrayed by Song Kang-ho, in the eye to tell him that he’s “just a broker” as he and Dong-soo, portrayed by Gang Dong-won, take her baby to sell it off to adoptive parents.

Lee Ji-eun portrays single mother So-young in "Broker" who leaves her baby at the baby box, but comes back for him. She decides to accompany Sang-hyun and Dong-hyun to find a better home for her baby. [CJ ENM]

“It was my first time portraying a mother, but there are many other sides of So-young as well,” Lee said. “She has a dark and complicated past of her own, and I didn’t want to portray her as just a mother. With Dong-soo, she seems to be an average youthful girl too, so I tried not to limit her only by motherhood.”

Despite the defiance of her character, Lee said her scenes with Song were the most nerve-racking.

“What amazed me each time I shot scenes with Song was how nervous I felt, right up until the moment the camera starts rolling,” Lee said with a smile. “I think it’s the power that he has — he can even immerse other actors around him to the scene, and I was astonished to see how he becomes Sang-hyun. [When acting during the scenes] he seems to be Sang-hyun and no one else.”


Lee also shared a review that an impression on her.

“I saw a review which said something along the lines of ‘Lee Ji-eun’s face is memorable’ and that Kore-eda seems to have depicted various sides of my face in his film,” she said. “I didn’t realize that at first, but as I think about it, I think he used a lot of scenes with my reactions, and I believe that he put a lot of trust in me. Seeing that review made me feel really good.”


She also compared her character to Ji-an from tvN drama series “My Mister” (2018), which Kore-eda had said made him become a “huge fan” of hers.

“To me, Ji-an is someone who keeps all of her emotions and thoughts piled up inside,” she said. “On the inside, she is super loud, and she thinks too much. She is an observer, someone who refuses to communicate with the rest of the world. […] On the other hand, So-young is more tender, I think. If Ji-an is a character who seems to have reincarnated many times, I portrayed So-young as a person who is leading her first life. That’s why she is the kind that expresses what is troubling her — she’s like a nail sticking out from the floor.”


Lee's next commercial film is “Dream,” a sport drama in which she co-stars with Park Seo-jun, directed by Lee Byung-heon of hit comedy film “Extreme Job” (2019). However, Lee says that she’s also “writing something” for her awaiting Uaenas.

“I am writing something, but I don’t have any immediate plans to carry it out,” she said. “It would be my first project since I turned 30, so I want to do something that’s different from what I did in my 20s. So I keep crossing things off my list — even though it may be interesting, I would think I had already done something like that in the past, so I don’t know when I’ll be able to showcase my next songs. I want to show a different perspective, a different story from what I did before, in my next work.”