Lee Byung Hun – Thrives on Challenges
I had to wrack my brains to come up with words that best illustrated Lee Byung Hun. Debuting in 1991 on the small screen, he has moved the audience with his various roles. It’s almost impossible to describe him with simple terms.
The drama serial “All-in”, movies “JSA”, “Everyone has secrets”, “My sweet life”, “That summer” … Lee Byung Hun reveals a different aspect of him with every role he plays. With requests pouring in from the readers, KOZINE decided to look up the charismatic Korean star for an interview. The rights of his latest movie ‘The Good, The Bad, The Weird’ were sold to 8 countries including France. And in May, Icon Pictures by Mel Gibson bought the rights to screen it in the U.K. In this new movie, Lee Byung Hun plays Chang-yi, the head of a gang of bandits. We relish discovering yet another side of him.
KOZINE: Have you been to Singapore? What was your first impression?
Lee Byung Hun: I visited Singapore a few years back, and had a chance to eat at a hawker centre. It had a simple, fuss-free atmosphere that can only be found in tropical cities. The area where I stayed was surrounded by tall buildings with contemporary architecture. It gave me the pleasant impression of a harmonious city of tradition and modern culture.
Despite your busy schedule, you managed to attend the 61st Cannes International Film Festival, where the ‘The Good, The Bad, The Weird’ was invited for screening. How did you feel walking down the red carpet in such an important event and what went through your mind when a standing ovation was given after the gala screening of the movie?
I asked the production team of ‘G.I Joe’ three months prior to Cannes to adjust my schedule so that I could attend. Bouts of rain delayed filming, so it was actually not easy to re-schedule. But I was really keen on finding out the response to the movie. It was very exciting to get a standing ovation at the end of the screening and when the applause didn’t cease, I had no idea whether I should join in the clapping, or wave to the audience. It was great to be the centre of attention of such an international audience.
Chang-yi’s crazed expressions and behavior were really impressive. What preparations did you embark on in order to portray him perfectly?
I thought I would look more villain-like with ripped, whipcord muscles. I intended to train to achieve that but I injured my ankle and had to wear a cast. So in the end, I just worked out my upper body with a personal trainer for more than a month. I don’t know if my point went across to the audience.
How long did you have to train before shooting scenes like wielding guns while riding a horse and fighting on top of a moving train? (Were there many NGs involved?)
It was my first time acting on a horse and I needed lots of practice. But I snapped my ankle on the first day, so I couldn’t practice after that at all. I had last-minute training in the desert itself before the shoot. Riding a horse in the vast China desert actually improved my riding skills rapidly. But making friends with the horse wasn’t very easy.
You have chosen a Hollywood-bound path with blockbusters like ‘G.I. JOE’ and ‘I come with the rain’. It must had been a milestone for you as an actor. Were there any difficult moments during the filming of these movies?
Expressing myself and acting in English was quite tough for me. Difficulty with pronunciation and intonation made it hard for me to convey my state of mind. Sometimes when I wanted to re-shoot some scenes. I blurted out ‘I’m sorry’ in Korean, which made the crew burst out in laughter. It was quite enjoyable for everyone! LOL!
In Korea, you are in your realm and enjoy immense recognition, thus any works of yours would be automatically well-received. Why did you decide to move out of your comfort zone and act in Hollywood?
I actually really did consider that fact (laughs). Being taken as a newbie among young foreign actors was not easy. But as an actor, I always welcome new challenges and changes, which will ultimately make better at my job.
Do you have any new projects in the pipeline?
I have done three movies in a row, so I would like to rest for a while. I’ll start shooting a new drama ‘Iris’ at end of the year.
What would you like to say to your fans in Singapore?
I’ve given my word that I’ll come to Singapore again but I haven’t got the chance to ride on that promise yet. I hope to visit again very soon, whether it’s for work or for something else. Till then, take care of your health…
Lee Byung Hun converses through his eyes more than anything else, even words. They are full of life and emotion and it is this quality that makes him unique. With his mysterious charm and enchanting screen presence, he never fails to mesmerise all who watch him. We look forward to him weaving more of his magic on screens in the future.
Thanks to Huangsy for sharing! And rubie from Soompi!