Cannes, France ( Associated Press) — Lee Jung-jae, the award-winning star of Netflix’s “Squid Game,” spent years developing the 1980s Korean spy thriller “Hunt” before choosing himself to direct. He did it a little reluctantly, without big plans to continue filming. But Lee had a vision for what it could be—and where it might premiere.
“Before I decided to direct, I thought I wanted to make a really funny film,” says Lee. “When I laid my hands on it and started writing the script myself, I really wanted to come to Cannes. Because I wanted to come to Cannes, I had to find content that would suit a global audience.
Few actors know more about capturing the attention of a global audience than Lee. Already one of Korea’s top movie stars, 49-year-old Lee is on the nexus of the “squid game” phenomenon, starring in the dystopic series — subtitled and all — Netflix’s most-watched show in some 90 countries. became.
Now, Lee is in Cannes to premiere “Hunt”, which is playing in the midnight section of Cannes and is being shopped for international distribution. The film will test how Lee can further his already borderless career. Earlier this year, Lee signed with Hollywood powerhouse agency CAA. And he admits he has some Hollywood ambitions.
“Working in Hollywood would definitely be a great experience for me,” Lee said in an interview at Cannes shortly before the premiere of “Hunt”. “If there was a good fit, a good character for me, I would definitely want to be in it. But right now, I think the global audience wants more Korean content and Korea-made TV shows and movies. So I’m in Korea as well. I will work very diligently. I may sound a little greedy, but if there was a role for me in Hollywood, I would definitely like to do that too.”
But if Lee’s ascension to an increasingly world-renowned actor reflects the pop-culture prowess of today’s Korea, then his film is set in an earlier, less cohesive chapter in Korean history. The “Hunt” takes place several years after the 1979 assassination of South Korean President Park Chung-hee by the head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, a coup that began the military dictatorship of Chun Doo-hwan. “Hunt” is loosely inspired by the subsequent 1983 assassination attempt by North Korea.
“The 80s in Korea were when we had the fastest growth ever,” Lee says. “But democracy didn’t develop as much because there was a military dictatorship and the media was in complete control of the government. So I heard a lot about those government controls from the older generation and my parents. I also saw myself protesting against college. “
“Hunt” follows a pair of agents (one played by Lee, the other by Jang Woo-sung) who are both assigned to uncover a North Korean mole within the agency. Lee — not only dipping his toe into a modest directing — proves adept at marshalling a dense plot while managing to mount massive action sequences and maintain the suspense.
“A lot of people told me I should just change the setting,” said Lee, speaking through an interpreter. “But in the 80s, there was a lot of control over information and people were trying to take advantage of fake information and misinformation. I think that still exists in 2022. There are still groups that do this stuff of information and propaganda. Try to take advantage of the controls.
“We now live in a global world that is connected,” he says. “There is no silos between us. If there is any problem or problem, then we all have to work to solve it.”
Lee is often asked by Western journalists how his life has changed since “Squid Game,” which as a top star in Korea in films such as “An Affair,” “New World” and “The Housemaid.” You may be less familiar with your nearly three decades. ,
Lee laughs. “It’s natural because many people in the West may not have known me before ‘Squid Game’.”
However it is changing rapidly. Lee will return for season two of “Squid Game”, which series creator Hwang Dong-hyuk recently said should be expected in 2023 or 2024. The first season led to Lee becoming the first Asian actor to win a Screen Actors Guild Award. Best Male Artist. Lee was so surprised—in addition to considering himself an underdog, he’s a big “Succession” fan—that he never managed to pull out the speech he had written in his pocket.
“It’s still,” says Lee, smiling and shaking his head, “feels like a dream to me.”
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