Lee Jung-jae is not one to walk away from a challenge.
The South Korean multi-hyphenate became a global star last year, thanks to his performance as Seong Gi-hun in the smash hit Netflix series, Squid Game. That role won him the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series, and also led to him landing a lead role in the forthcoming Star Wars series, The Acolyte. Currently in a galaxy far, far away amidst production on The Acolyte, Lee is still finding time to promote his feature directorial debut, Hunt.
The spy thriller is so ambitiously sprawling and packed with action that it's hard to imagine any filmmaker wanting to take it on as their first directorial effort, but that is exactly what drew Lee to it. For Lee, directing Hunt gave him the opportunity to put all of the lessons he's learned over the course of his career to good use.
"I was in my first film in 1993. Since then, I've worked with many, many different directors. There have been a lot of really positive things that I've picked up along the way, including things that I thought I could improve upon as a director," Lee explains. "Hunt is a film that I thought gave me a chance to really showcase all of the things that I've collected and remembered over the years."
While his experiences as an actor did inevitably inform his approach on the other side of the camera, Lee is quick to stress the effort he put into developing his own filmic style. "There are so many directors and movies I admire," he notes, "but because this film was my first time directing, I didn't look at many other movies or directors. I didn't want Hunt to feel like something audiences have seen before."
In addition to directing Hunt, Lee also stars as Park Pyong-ho, a high-level South Korean official whose life is turned upside down when he's suspected of being a North Korean spy. Casting himself meant that Lee had to oversee the production of the movie's many explosive action sequences while also appearing in a number of them. "Having to act in it myself meant that it was very physically grueling," recalls the filmmaker with a small laugh.
Rather than be put off by the challenges of making Hunt, Lee says the process has ignited a passion for directing within him that he plans to pursue further. "It's such a difficult thing to get a script greenlit and then produced and made. However, it is a challenge that I want to take on again."
Below, Director Lee shares with A.frame the five films that have made the biggest impact on him throughout his life.
Directed by: Franklin J. Schaffner | Written by: Dalton Trumbo and Lorenzo Semple Jr.
I think every aspect of Papillon is amazing — whether it's the acting, the story, or the mise en scène. It's a film that I find extremely powerful. I've seen it a countless number of times, but whenever it finds its way to me, I watch it again. There's a very famous line in the film that's actually helped inform the way I've approached my own life. It's during Steve McQueen's dream, he asks the judge, 'What is my crime? What did I do wrong?' And the judge responds, 'You've wasted your life. That's your crime.' That was a very shocking moment for me as a young adult, and it's something that has stayed with me ever since.
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola | Written by: Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola
The most memorable scene for me in The Godfather is the moment when Vito Corleone truly realizes that his choices can affect the lives of his children, after hearing about the death of his son. That fear being the impetus for his character's change remains a really memorable aspect of the film for me.
Directed by: Michael Mann | Written by: Michael Mann and Christopher Crowe
Michael Mann is obviously such a great director. I love many films he's directed, and his collaboration in The Last of the Mohicans with Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe is incredible. The film has a kiss scene, in particular, that is really memorable. It's when Day-Lewis and Stowe's characters search for each other until, finally, they enter the frame together. They run off to the castle wall, and of all the many, many kiss scenes in film history, I find the one that they share really unforgettable because it's so beautiful. And it shows that even in the depths of war, love can still exist.
It's just a very memorable scene. I don't think it's common for people to say they like Michael Mann movies for their kiss scenes, but I'm that person.
Written and Directed by: Bille August
I'm a huge fan of Jeremy Irons and the work that he does. In House of the Spirits, he's very, very old in the film's first scene, and he has this line where he says, 'I miss Clara.' We're then transported into the past and into a flashback, but it's that first line that really made an impact on me. It's the first line of dialogue in the film, so you don't even know who Clara is. You have no idea what his character is talking about. But the emotions of a million movies are contained in that one piece of dialogue. You don't know who Clara is, but the emotions that Jeremy Irons is able to evoke in that one line made it seem like such an incredible moment to me.
Written and Directed by: George Lucas
I watched Star Wars for the first time in the mid-1980s. I know it came out in 1977, but I was too young to watch it at that time. When I first watched it, I was just filled with shock and awe. It's surprising, even now, the imagination that film's creative team had. It's incredible how they were able to design a film with that amount of imagination and high production value. It's really just such an impressive film within cinema history.