Lee Young-ae began her entertainment career as a model. In 1993, she made her acting debut in the SBS series How’s Your Husband, which earned her the New Star Award at the SBS Drama Awards. In 1998, she took home a Top Excellence Award at the SBS Drama Awards for Romance. In 2001, she led the film One Fine Spring Day, opposite Yoo Ji-tae. Her work in the movie won her Best Actress at the 2nd Busan Film Critics Awards. In 2003, she played the title role in the top-rating MBC sageuk Dae Jang Geum, which launched her into pan-Asian stardom. She received the Daesang at the MBC Drama Awards for her performance in the series. In 2005, she bagged numerous acting trophies for director Park Chan-wook’s psychological thriller movie Sympathy for Lady Vengeance. In 2020, she starred in the drama thriller film Bring Me Home, in which she was named Best Actress at the 25th Chunsa Film Art Awards.

Lee Young-ae married a Korean-American businessman in 2009. They welcomed their twins, a boy and a girl, on February 20, 2011.