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From Big Star of Squid Game to Director of HUNT on the Cannes’ Red Carpet

May 24, 2022
  • Writer by Hellen Park
  • View2535

Director Lee Jungjae of HUNT, Revealed for the First Time at Cannes



The 75th Cannes International Film Festival, which opened on May 17 (France local time), will probably be remembered as the ‘brightest’ film festival in its 75-year history. Few film officials and tourists from around the world who fill the Boulevard de la Croisette were wearing masks. Cannes is lively as if it went back to the time before the COVID-19 Pandemic.


At the beginning of the festival, two films are in charge of the ‘Cannes’ vitality.’ One is Top Gun: Maverick, the sequel Hollywood's big star Tom Cruise starred in again in 36 years, and the other is HUNT of Lee Jungjae, one of the Korean big stars and the ‘Global Big Star’ of Squid Game. Screen International, which publishes the daily magazine of the Cannes Film Festival, and Variety expressed expectations by covering Director Lee Jungjae's interview in depth before the premiere of HUNT. The list of ‘Best New Movies’ chosen by foreign media has mentioned HUNT on a regular basis. 


Little information about HUNT was released before the screening. The only information we had was that it is a blockbuster spy action movie with around 25 billion won (USD 20 million) of production costs, Lee Jungjae directed, wrote, produced, and even starred in it, and Actor Jung Woosung, one of the top Korean stars and Lee Jungjae's long time ‘best friend,’ co-stars the film in 23 years after City of the Rising Sun (1998). 


Finally, on May 19, the new director Lee Jungjae's HUNT was unveiled for the first time in the world through Cannes’ Midnight Screenings. If you had imagined a stylish and popular action movie, HUNT would have gone far beyond that expectation. The film has intense actions and delicate Mise-en-Scène. The story based on the political situation in Korea in the 1980s is vast and detailed. The seasoned performances of the two main actors, Lee Jungjae and Jung Woosung, are worth enough waiting for 23 years. 


Upon arriving in Cannes, we met Director Lee Jungjae, who is in the spotlight as the ‘main character of Cannes,’ in person in Cannes. Despite the intense schedule of over 80 interviews with global media, Director Lee Jungjae smiled brightly, saying, "I’m overcoming fatigue with the warm welcome of Cannes." 



HUNT, your directorial debut was released at GRAND THEATRE LUMIERE in Cannes. After the screening, a standing ovation continues for a long time. Tell us how you felt about it, please. 


It was the first time I had received such a long round of applause in my life. I felt grateful, shy, and embarrassed at the same time. When I came to Cannes as an actor in The Housemaid (2010), directed by Im Sangsoo, I felt like I was a tourist ‘enjoying the festival.’ But now, I think I am a little nervous. The long applause made me disconcerted, but I felt relieved thinking the audience enjoyed the film that much. I prepared a greeting in advance, but when Thierry Frémaux, Director of the Cannes’ Executive Committee handed me down the microphone, my mind just went blank, and I couldn’t say a word in English that I had memorized due to the situation on the spot was changed. (Laughing) I just thanked the audience who filled GRAND THEATRE LUMIERE. 


Receiving a long round of applause, you shared a hug with Actor Jung Woosung. Actor and director Jung Woosung and you are also old friends and business partners for Artist Studio, the co-production company for HUNT. You must’ve felt something special while hugging him amidst thunderous applause. 


After filming, I didn’t show Woosung the movie while I was working on the post-production and editing it. I wanted to show him the perfect version at Cannes for the first time. So, entering the theater, I told him, "I hope you like it." While hugging Woosung, I was happy to feel that he liked the movie so much. 


I understand that the process of your directing HUNT was quite dramatic. You didn't plan to make a directorial debut with HUNT from the beginning, right? 


I didn't know I'd be directing HUNT, eighter. (Laughing) Around 2016, Director Han Jaerim, who directed The Face Reader (2013), introduced a script called ‘South Mountain’ to me, saying, "Do you like spy genre movies?" The story was interesting, but the scenario at the time didn’t fit me. Shortly after, I heard that Director Han, who was adapting the scenario, stopped the ‘South Mountain Project.’ It lingered in my mind. In 2017, I purchased the copyright of ‘South Mountain’ as a producer. Thinking Director Jung Jiwoo would do a great job on the project, I asked him to adapt it. However, Director Jung also expressed difficulties during the adaptation. Since I bought the copyright of the scenario attracted by it, I didn't want to give it up. In the end, I had no choice but to adapt it myself. 



It is said that the story of HUNT now is very different from the original story of ‘South Mountain.’ Did you nearly rewrite turning into a completely new story? 


The original story of ‘South Mountain’ centered on Park Pyongho. However, the film needed a lot of production costs because it was a period drama set in the 1980s, and I had to adapt it into a blockbuster action genre. I had to adapt it for almost 4 years. At first, ‘South Mountain’ was a one-person story centered on Park Pyongho, but I needed ‘two top characters’ to make the film properly. I was thinking about Actor Jung Woosung for Kim Jungdo all the time, the other main character while adapting the scenario of HUNT. Through the process, the story of the two elite agents of the National Intelligence Service (NIS) combined with the mission of finding a double spy in the organization by adding up the plot ‘to assassinate the South Korean President.’ I wanted to make the audience relatable to the two men who were obsessed with their respective beliefs through storytelling while letting the audience enjoy the charm of a blockbuster spy action movie. The experience of writing a scenario for the first time in my life was new and painful. Since I am not good at using computers, I had to suffer several times from rewriting the finished scenario because I failed to save it. (Laughing) 


What is the most impressive response from the critics overseas who watched HUNT? 


In an interview, a French reporter said, "HUNT seems to be the story of the two men obsessed with false beliefs. In the end, isn't the message of this film about not hurting and not fighting against each other based on the wrong beliefs?" I was thrilled to find out that an overseas audience exactly read the thoughts that I tried to express in the movie. Through the two characters, I wanted to tell the world that humanism is more important than any other ideology. Also, I hoped that the audience can enjoy the pleasure of watching a spy action movie. 



HUNT, your directorial film, is a quite surprising work in that it has a heavy subject consciousness beyond expectations. What message did you want to say through your first movie? 


Korea suffered a war due to ideological conflicts. And the issue isn’t limited to the past. The North and the South are still confrontational and antagonistic. Why should we fight against each other? Can we tell the beliefs we have are absolutely right? I wanted to ask such questions. But I don't think we're fighting because we want to. I think we have been divided into two parts and confronting each other by someone’s incitement. If it’s true, we can change it. To avoid conflict and confrontation anymore, we must change our minds. "You can live differently," Pyongho, an older generation, tells Youjung (Go Younjung), a younger generation. That was what I wanted to tell us. We can live differently from the past.


As a producer, you also visited the Cannes film market. What kind of vision do you have as a director and producer? 


At the Cannes Film Festival and the film market, I can definitely feel that the world's interest in Korean films is really hot. Expectations for global projects collaborating with Korean films are also very high. I am also interested in collaborating with various overseas production companies and global actors. I want to carry out global projects through Artist Studio Production Company. As a film director, I don’t have any next plans yet. I want to focus on acting as an actor for a while. A film is my ‘living foundation.’ As a cineaste, I've been waiting for the end of the COVID-19 Pandemic. I am so happy to hear the news that the Korean audience is returning to the theater. I am also excited and happy to meet the audience home and abroad with HUNT soon. I'm looking forward to the day HUNT is released this summer.

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