Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae makes his directorial debut in Cannes
Kan, May 21 (US): Lee Jong Jae, the award-winning star of Netflix’s “Squid Game,” spent years developing the 1980s Korean thriller “Hunt” before choosing to direct himself. He did so slightly reluctantly, with no big plans to continue making films. But Lee had a vision of what it could be — and where it could be shown for the first time.
“Before I decided to direct, I thought I just wanted to make a very interesting movie,” he tells me. “After I got 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 a topic that would resonate with a global audience.”
Few actors know more about capturing the attention of a global audience than me. One of Korea’s most prominent movie stars, the 49-year-old is at the nexus of the “Squid Game” phenomenon, starring in the hit series that — subtitles and everything — has become the most-watched Netflix show in nearly 90 countries, AP reports.
Now, Lee is in Cannes for the premiere of “Hunt”, which is shown in the midnight section of Cannes and is being marketed for international distribution. The film will test how far Lee can extend his career indefinitely. Earlier this year, Lee signed with the powerful CAA agency in Hollywood. He asserts that he has some Hollywood ambitions.
“Working in Hollywood will definitely be a good experience for me,” he told me in an interview in Cannes shortly before the release of “Hunt.” “If something suits me, a good character, I would definitely like to join. But right now, I feel that global audiences want more Korean content, Korean TV shows and movies. So I will work in Korea also very seriously. I might seem a little greedy, but if There’s a role for me in Hollywood, I’d definitely like to do that too.”
But if Lee’s rise to being a world-renowned actor symbolizes the power of popular culture in Korea today, his film falls into an earlier, less harmonious chapter in Korean history. “Hunt” is set several years after South Korean President Park Chung-hee was assassinated in 1979 by the head of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency, a coup that led to the Chun Doo-hwan military dictatorship. “Hunt” is loosely inspired by his subsequent 1983 assassination attempt orchestrated by North Korea.
“It was the ’80s in Korea when we had the fastest growth ever,” Lee says. But democracy did not grow as much because there was a military dictatorship and the media was under the complete control of the government. So I heard a lot from the older generation and from my parents about these government controls. I also witnessed university protests for myself.”
The movie “Hunt” follows two agents (one played by Lee and the other by Jung Woo-sung) who are both tasked with exposing a North Korean mole within the agency. Lee — not just dipping his toe in his modest directorial debut — proves he’s adept at synthesizing large-scale action sequences and orchestrating a dense plot while still being able to maintain suspense.
Speaking through an interpreter, he told me, “A lot of people have told me I have to change place for now.” “But in the 1980s, there was a lot of information control and people were trying to take advantage of fake information and disinformation. I think that still exists even now in 2022. And there are still groups trying to take advantage of these controls over information and propaganda.
“We now live in a global, connected world,” he adds. “We don’t have any silos between us. If there is a problem or a problem, we all have to work on it to overcome it.”
Lee is often asked how his life has changed since the “Squid Game” by Western journalists who may be less familiar with his nearly three decades of being a top star in Korea in films like “An Affair”, “New World” and “The Housemaid”. . “
laughing at me. “It’s normal because a lot of people in the West probably didn’t know me before the ‘Squid game.'”
But this is changing rapidly. Lee will return for the second season of “Squid Game,” which series creator Hwang Dong-hyuk recently said should be expected in 2023 or 2024. The first season already led to Lee becoming the first Asian actor to win a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Actor Performance. Lee was so amazed–aside from considering himself an underdog, he’s a huge fan of the “Caliphate”–that he never succeeded in pulling the letter he had written into his pocket.
“It still seems like a dream to me,” he says to me, smiling and shaking his head.