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From the Young Guys in City of the Rising Sun to the Stars on the Cannes Red Carpet

May 24, 2022
  • Writer by Hellen Park
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Actor Jung Woosung of HUNT, Premiered at Cannes for the First Time in the World



At midnight on May 20, Actor Jung Woosung stood on the red carpet for HUNT at the 75th Cannes International Film Festival's first Midnight Screenings. He led the scene quietly, taking care of Director Lee Jungjae and the other officials carefully. Jung Woosung also hugged Director Lee Jungjae and created a touching two-shot while the long-standing ovation continued after the premiere.


Throughout the festival, Jung seemed to enjoy greeting fans who ask for taking pictures with Director Lee Jungjae and playing the photographer’s role for the fans with gentle smiles. The local fans in Cannes, who took pictures with Director Lee Jungjae, will be surprised when they find out the fact that the cool photographer, who took pictures of them saying ‘Smile~,’ is Jung Woosung, one of the best actors in Korea. 


"Rather than the fact that HUNT has been invited to Cannes, isn’t it an issue that Cannes has the honor of having Director Lee Jungjae’s HUNT? I’m so lucky to have Director Lee as my close friend." With his unique humor and modesty, Jung Woosung puts the ‘World Star’ Lee Jungjae in the center of the stage and takes a step back. But without Actor Jung Woosung, could Director Lee Jungjae's HUNT exist? 


Although HUNT was released first, Jung Woosung finished filming Guardian, his feature directorial debut, even before HUNT. Actually, Jung has already directed several short films. Lee Jungjae, who made his directorial debut with HUNT, once said, “Watching Jung Woosung actively present his opinions to the directors as an actor in the field, analyze films, and direct them himself, I could imagine having an opportunity to expand my career beyond actor (like Jung Woosung).” Good old friends are likely to resemble each other before they know it. 


While adapting the script of HUNT, Director Lee Jungjae created the character Kim Jungdo, bearing Jung Woosung in his mind. Despite watching the painful process of the adaptation by Director Lee, Jung Woosung refused to star in the film several times but eventually accepted Kim Jongdo’s role. This was also Jung Woosung's confidence that HUNT could handle the two-shot of ‘Jung Woosung & Lee Jungjae’ after City of the Rising Sun. And his confidence proved true. We met Jung Woosung in Cannes, who is expanding his career from an actor to a producer and director.



After The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008), you stood on the Cannes red carpet again in 14 years. This time, since you’ve been invited to the festival with the film directed by Lee Jungjae, you must have some special feelings about that. 


When I was invited to Cannes for The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008), I wondered, "When can I come here again?" Finally, I’ve come back to the festival with HUNT after a long time. The Cannes International Film Festival always treats all invited films and filmmakers as ‘hosts’ with great hospitality, but it is also true that I inevitably thought of myself as a ‘guest’ of this splendid festival back then. This time, I'm savoring every moment, feeling the heightened status of Korean films. And I'm even more proud because I’ve been invited to Cannes for a movie directed by Lee Jungjae.


After the screening of HUNT, everybody was very touched when you hugged Director Lee Jungjae. 


Lee Jungjae's challenge to being a film director was a prepared one, but it was also a dangerous challenge. As a result of the challenge, he was invited to Cannes, and I was very proud of him watching the audience satisfied with the movie. Just like many other directors, Lee Jungjae also spent a lot of lonely and lonesome time while making HUNT. That’s why I wanted to hug him. And since the standing ovation was so long, I thought I should show some nice action, too. (Laughing)



Can you tell us why you expressed it as Lee Jungjae’s ‘dangerous challenge’ in detail?  


He should prepare to be evaluated as a 'director' who made the movie. It may be a natural challenge for an actor to expand his career to a director, but on the other hand, some people think, "Can he be a director just because he has been an actor for a long time?" Therefore, Director Lee and his work can be evaluated with more critical eyes. He had to break through such unfriendly gazes. Although he has been a great actor for 30 years, his evaluation as a director may be different. That's why HUNT would be a more dangerous and courageous challenge for Lee Jungjae as a director. However, Director Lee Jungjae is unlikely to be criticized for HUNT. I think the film is fully equipped with both the cinematic quality and the fun of a genre movie. 


Director Lee Jungjae said that from the beginning of the script adaptation, he was bearing you for the role of Kim Jungdo. Nevertheless, you rejected the role several times. Why did you reject that? 


It’s not that I wanted to say no, but I had to be serious about the matter. It is Lee Jungjae’s directorial debut, and it is Actor Lee Jungjae and Actor Jung Woosung's reunion in the movie 23 years after City of the Rising Sun (1998). We were fully ready and could make a movie together while enjoying it. We also could give it a new meaning, saying, "We finally made this movie together." But I thought the film shouldn’t be the one just for us. Obviously, only if the film is well received by the audience, the meaning of our working together again can be properly evaluated. So, the cinematic brilliance of the film mattered most. 


Casting Jung Woosung for the character Kim Jungdo seems to be a ‘level-headed casting.’ The audience couldn't think of an actor other than Jung Woosung for the role. Kim Jungdo, a soldier who sacrifices himself for justice, could be relatable successfully only through Jung Woosung. The character was like a custom-made suit for Jung Woosung. 


Since we have seen each other for a long time, Director Lee may have reflected the personality of Jung Woosung into the character to some extent, I think. However, it's just the director's projection, and as an actor, I don't have to embrace all about the character. I didn't even ask Director Lee what side of me he projected onto Kim Jungdo because such questions could give prejudice when I played the character. I just played the character in the script, interpreting it in my own way. Director Lee did not make any demands on me either. 


You actually started your career as a film director before Lee Jungjae. Did you exchange a lot of advice with each other while filming HUNT? 


As a director and an actor, we respected and trusted each other. We waited until we understood each other, but we never violated each other's territory. Director Lee's directing can be contaminated at the moment I tell him, "Shouldn't it be done this way?" Director Lee once said, "I thought a director could do whatever he wanted to do, but while doing the job myself, I realized that a director’s job was to give up what he wanted to do." I knew it because I experienced it a little earlier than him. So, watching Director Lee returning to his accommodation exhausted every evening, I shouted in my heart, "Welcome to Hell!" (Laughing)


While watching the film, we felt Lee Jungjae and Jung Woosung looked ‘alike’ at some point. Director Lee Jungjae said, "I'm honored to look like Actor Jung Woosung." Didn't you think that you two looked ‘alike’ while watching HUNT? 


Just like ‘a long-married couple is bound to take after one another?’ (Laughing) That is possible since we've been good friends for a long time. Once we were deeply moved by Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby after we watched it at the theater in the morning, and we talked about movies drinking in broad daylight. We've been sharing such experiences and memories for a long time so far. Especially, we are very similar in that we challenge whenever we have a chance. Our friendship stimulates us in a positive way, and we support each other the most. My friend Lee Jungjae looks at me as I am and praises me the most. I think it’s mutual and that's the secret we can have been together for many years.



Cannes’ hospitality to HUNT is so hot. Tell us about the happiest moment in Cannes this year.


After arriving in Cannes, I suddenly felt overwhelmed while having a meal with Director Lee Jungjae. "The two guys wandering the back street in Apgujeong-dong 23 years ago (in the film City of the Rising Sun) came to Cannes together?" It makes me overwhelmed whenever I think about it. 


Starting as an actor, you’ve expanded your career to a producer, and now, you are about to make your feature directorial debut. What is your future goal? 


I don’t think I’m not the guy who sets goals in advance. ‘Joy’ is the driving force that keeps me moving. No matter how hard it is, I have fun in the field making a movie. I think I've come all the way here in pursuit of such fun. Another driving force for me is ‘gratitude.’ As an empty-handed young man, I became an actor, and while experiencing and observing the field where movies were born, I was able to gain experience in directing short films and commercials. I also met some great fellow actors. Thanks to all of them, I could produce short films and direct a feature film. I am grateful for every single person and opportunity that I have met in the process. While staying in Cannes, I am so happy as a cineaste to hear the news that the Korean theater is gaining vitality with the success of The Roundup. I sincerely hope that not only HUNT but all Korean films to be released from now on will get great results. 

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