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Actor Lee Byung-hun Debuts in Hollywood

2009/07/31 Source

Actor Lee Byung-hun, who is almost 40, is a seasoned actor in the Korean film industry. He debuted in 1992 in the TV drama "Tomorrow Love". In the 1999 movie "The Harmonium in My Memory" Lee played a teacher who captivated the heart of a young woman from a rural area. And in the 2000 hit "Joint Security Area", he perfectly portrayed a South Korean soldier who pleads for help when he steps on a mine.

The turning point in Lee's life came in 2005 with director Kim Jee-woon's movie "A Bittersweet Life". Lee easily portrayed difficult action scenes and impressed viewers with his acting talent.

In the 2006 movie "Once in a Summer" Lee appeared opposite Soo Ae, and last year he stunned everyone by playing a gangster in "The Good, the Bad, the Weird". 

Lee has tried diverse roles so far, joiningg the ranks of A-list actors. And he is not picky when it comes to genre, whether it is a thriller, an action movie or a melodrama. This time, Lee is poised to make his name in Hollywood through Stephen Sommers' movie "G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra". 

At a recent news conference in Seoul, Lee shared his thoughts about his Hollywood debut. He said, "My manager showed me the script of 'G.I.Joe' and said that I had to take this role. To be honest, I didn't find the script interesting. So my manager's words didn't sound that persuasive to me. It's a huge project, but I doubted I could do it. I didn't feel the need to try it, while feeling scared".

Lee sought advice from directors Kim Jee-woon and Park Chan-wook, who encouraged him to take the role. But Lee was still hesitant. "The most difficult part was overcoming my own doubts. That's what we call 'mind control'. I was afraid that people who like my acting would never approve of my cartoon-like character", said Lee. 

While deliberating, Lee remembered how he came to love movies in the first place. He said he still remembered how happy he was when he first went to the theater at age 4 and saw a sci-fi movie. "My favorite movie was a sci-fi movie. So I asked myself what kept me from filming such a movie in Hollywood. That's how I was able to film it with pleasure", said Lee.

Lee says he found Hollywood to be a completely new world to him, a place where capitalism and rationalism rule. Shoots were never delayed because costumes and expensive accessories were always at hand, and the cast was provided with snacks on time. If any of the actors wanted to have hamburgers, hamburger cars were brought to the filming set. Everything was perfect. He said, "The director's authority didn't seem to be that powerful against the amount of money invested in the production. Even the production crew's instructions are reflected". 

Lee's English pronunciation in the movie is quite impressive, though he says he only learned English for two years as a teenager. Some even raised suspicions about the authenticity of his voice in the movie, because it sounds unusual. Lee said, "It was good to hear that. My voice sounds unfamiliar even to me. I heard that our vocal chords work differently with different languages. Few people have heard me speak English so far".

The actor added that he was lucky because he didn't have to say many lines. Lee usually reads the script twice before he practices his lines on the set. But this time he memorized his part by heart with the utmost effort. "Making bloopers by saying the wrong lines is not professional. That's why I memorized everything by heart. It was difficult. Sometimes the director asked me to accentuate certain words. That was very confusing. I realized time and again what a difficult task it was", recalled Lee.

The portrayal of feelings was another challenge. Playing Storm Shadow, which is a very popular cartoon character, presented numerous challenges. Lee said the director liked it a lot when he made his eyes look exaggerated or when he portrayed action scenes. "I thought the director would never want me to act the way I had acted in all of my previous productions. That's why I did things accordingly. To American viewers, my acting might look natural, but to my Asian fans it might look too 'cartoonish'", said Lee. 

Lee said, "It takes more than one time to succeeed. But I'm satisfied with my first Hollywood role. It was a chance to diversify my profile". Lee says it is encouraging to see several Korean actors and actresses making forays in Hollywood. But he added that it is not easy to overcome racial and language barriers and achieve a top status. "Korean actors tend to lead isolated lives. But our lifestyle is reflected in our attitude. As a result, we become narrow-minded instead of opening up to the outside world. We must get rid of that kind of attitude. We must open up and practice speaking foreign languages", said Lee.

"I always wanted to try my skills at filmmaking. But at the same time I want to continue doing what I am good at. I would try to direct a movie when I don't feel ashamed of my skills", said Lee in conclusion.

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