Lee Jung-jae is making his directorial debut with “Hunt,” an action-packed thriller that is premiering at the Cannes Film Festival on Thursday.
The film carries the same dark political themes as “Squid Game,” the Netflix sensation that launched Lee into the international limelight last year. In “Hunt,” Lee’s character, a spy for the Korean National Intelligence Service, works alongside another agent to find a mole within their agency — only to unearth the disturbing secrets rooted in their country.
Just ahead of the film’s premiere, Lee revealed to the Hollywood Reporter that he did not intend to start directing. In fact, he avoided it for months as he combed through a number of potential filmmakers to develop the story he’d been writing.
“I wanted to just co-develop this story with another filmmaker who would write and direct it,” he said, noting how directors in South Korea are often the writers of their own projects as well. “So, initially, I set out to find the right director who shared my thoughts on the direction in which the story should go.”
Lee turned down potential candidates out of concern that they weren’t the right fit, while some filmmakers turned Lee down.
He eventually reached a point where he felt that there weren’t any more directors he could work with: “At that point, I gave up and decided, OK, I’m going to have to write and direct this thing myself.”
With an acting career spanning nearly three decades in South Korea, Lee said he prefers being onscreen over stepping behind the camera.
Just as Lee’s character in “Squid Game” navigates an organization shrouded in mystery, the plot and setting of “Hunt” also conveys a similar theme. The film takes place in the 1980s, a time when information was under tight control by a small group of government officials, according to Lee.
“I thought that a film that deals with a time when information was strictly controlled by a few powerful people would provide an opportunity for viewers to reflect on our current times,” he said. “We live in a world where we are exposed to such an abundance of news and information, and this made me wonder what it would have been like in the past in Korea, when information moved much slower and was far more controlled.”
And it’s still very relevant to the world we live in today, he told Variety. “I thought that if I use this subject matter to make a movie it could really get to the heart of the people now.”
Coming hot on the heels of the global success of “Squid Game,” Lee added that the rising popularity of Korean films is “a very good opportunity for Korean people to converse with the global community.”
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