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He was recognized as an emerging star in Hollywood for his role of Storm Shadow in G. He was the first Korean actor to present an award at the Oscars.
In 2013, Lee was selected as an honorary ambassador for that year’s annual meeting of the Association of Film Commissioners International, a group dedicated to helping facilitate international coproductions.
Lee was nominated for Best Actor at the Blue Dragon Film Awards and Grand Bell Awards, and won at the Chunsa Film Art Awards, Baeksang Arts Awards and the Korean Association of Film Critics Awards. Following his sex-chat scandal, Lee returned with the martial arts film Memories of the Sword in 2015.
His girlfriend claimed Lee hurt her mentally and physically because he only used her for entertainment, and sued him for compensation and chronic gambling charges worth 100 million won.
Lee, on the other hand, claimed that her claims were all false, and that the men behind her claim demanded money from her to reveal the truth about her relationship with her girlfriend, and then responded with the threat.
He reunited with director Kim Jee-woon in the "kimchi western" The Good, the Bad, the Weird, taking on his first villain role. The film was shot in late 2013 and scheduled for release in 2014, but was postponed due to Lee's scandal.
On June 23, 2012, Lee, along with Ahn Sung-ki, became the first Korean actors to leave their hand and foot prints on the forecourt of Grauman's Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles. On 28 February 2016, Lee attended the 88th Academy Awards and presented the "Best Foreign Language Film" award with actress Sofia Vergara.