Lee Jong Jae from “Squid Game” makes his directorial debut at Cannes

Lee Jung-jae, the award-winning star of the Netflix series “Squid Game,” spent years developing the Korean spy thriller “Hunt” (in Korean “Heon-teu”) before deciding to direct it himself. He did so slightly reluctantly, with no big plans to continue making films. But he had a vision of what it could be and where it could be launched.

“Before I decided to direct, I thought I wanted to make a really interesting movie,” he tells me. “After I started working and started writing the script, I really wanted to come to Cannes. Since I wanted to come to Cannes, I had to find a topic that would resonate with global audiences.”

Few actors know how to capture the attention of global audiences like Lee. The 49-year-old actor, one of Korea’s biggest movie stars, finds himself connected to the “Squid Game” phenomenon, starring in the dystopian series that was, with subtitles, the most-watched Netflix show in nearly 90 countries. .

He is now in Cannes for the premiere of “Hunt” in the midnight section of the festival, as it seeks international distribution. The film will test how far Lee can extend his career that has no limits. Earlier this year, Lee signed with the powerful CAA agency in Hollywood, where he admitted he had some ambitions.

“Working in Hollywood will definitely be a good experience for me,” he told me in an interview in Cannes ahead of the Hunt premiere. “If something suits me, a good character, I will definitely like it. But right now, I feel that global audiences want more Korean content, TV shows and Korean-made movies. So I will also work in Korea very seriously. I might seem a bit greedy, but if There’s a role for me in Hollywood, I’d definitely want to do that too.”

While Lee’s rise as a world-famous actor epitomizes the power of today’s K-pop culture, his film falls into an earlier, less incongruous chapter of his country’s 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 marked the beginning of Chun’s military dictatorship. The film is loosely inspired by his subsequent 1983 assassination attempt orchestrated by North Korea.

“It was the 1980s in Korea when we had the fastest growth,” Lee says. “But democracy didn’t grow that much because there was a military dictatorship and the media was under complete government control. So I heard a lot from the older generation and from my parents about those government controls. I also witnessed protests the University “.

Lee Jong Jae poses at the Cannes Film Festival on the occasion of the premiere of his movie “Hunt”, Thursday, May 19, 2022, in southern France.

(Joel C Ryan/Joel C Ryan/Invision/The Associated Press)

“Hunt” intriguingly follows a pair of agents (one played by Lee and the other by Jung Woo-sung) tasked with exposing a North Korean mole within the agency. Not only does it dive into the mediocre director’s debut, but it demonstrates to me his ability to project action scenes at scale and create a dense plot while maintaining suspense.

“A lot of people told me I should change the tire to today,” he tells me through an interpreter. But in the 1980s, there was a lot of control over information and people were trying to take advantage of disinformation and disinformation. I think it still exists now in 2022. There are still groups trying to take advantage of these information and propaganda controls.”

“We now live in a global, connected world,” he adds. “There is no barrier between us. If there is a problem, we all have to work on it to overcome it.”

Western journalists who may be less familiar with Lee’s nearly three-decade career in Korea, where he starred in films such as “An Affair” (“Jung sa”), “New World” (“Sinsegye”) and “The Housemaid” (“Hanyo”), he is often asked how his life has changed since the “Squid Game”.

laughing at me. “It’s normal because a lot of people in the West didn’t know me before.”

This is changing quickly. Lee will return for the second season of “Squid Game,” which series creator Hwang Dong-hyuk recently said is expected to be expected in 2023 or 2024. The first season already saw him become the first Asian actor to win a Squid Game Award. SAG from Screen Actors Guild of America for Best Actor. Lee was very surprised that he couldn’t get the acceptance letter he wrote out of his pocket.

“It still seems to me like a dream,” he says, smiling and shaking his head.

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