On September 14th, actor Lee Byung Hun walked the red carpet for Film Independent at LACMA‘s ‘Masquerade’ film screening which was hosted at the Los Angeles County Museum of the Arts (LACMA).
Lee (remarkably low-key in an elegant understated charcoal-grey suit teamed with a crisp white dress shirt) did not disappoint fans when he strolled out at the special event – a premiere of his new movie “Masquerade” (Korean title: ‘Gwang Hae: The Man Who Became King‘) - sponsored by the New York Times and Film Independent at LACMA.
At the QA session with American film critic Elvis Mitchell after the screening, Lee Byung Hun talked about his acting career and showed off his fluency in English.
QA with Lee Byung Hun
Q: Many of your overseas fans will be watching ‘Masquerade’. What kind of message do you wish for them to receive from the film?
A: This movie is about the historical figure King Gwang Hae with an added element of fantasy. It questions what type of leader people really want. While it is a serious topic, the movie has a comic touch that makes the film very enjoyable. As for the overseas fans, I think it is a great opportunity for them to see and experience some of Korea’s old customs and traditions.
Q: ‘Masquerade’ was your first historical film. Were you offered other historical film roles before?
A: There were a few dramas and movies but I didn’t like the stories so I rejected them.
Q: What was the first thing you thought when you read the script for ‘Masquerade’?
A: As you saw, it has a serious subject but it goes with a lot of humor and comic scenes. I thought that was really smart. That’s why I chose this role.
Q: What did you think of ‘Masquerade’ when you first saw it?
A: Actually I was worried about the comic scenes. I like the comic scenes but I worried because they could be risky. There are a lot of slapsticks. I wanted to make the movie a little more sophisticated but if there are too many of those kinds of scenes, it’s risky. When I first saw it I thought… it was okay [laughs].
Q: You’ve never played two characters within a film before. Did you feel like it was a challenge playing two different characters? Which was more fun to play?
A: It was a challenge but the real historical king had two different reputations. Some people said he was a really bad king and others said that he did a great job following the queen and had great command. So I decided to divide his two characters into two different people, the real king and the fake king. Of course, I liked playing the fake king.
The Beginnings of His Acting Career
Q: Tell me about what movie you saw as a child that made you want to be in the movies?
A: When I was a child I watched ‘Cinema Paradiso‘ and it influenced me a lot. When I watched it, I thought that I really wanted to be a part of the film industry. But I didn’t think about being an actor.
Q: But you decided to be an actor anyways. What made you want to go into acting?
A: My mom’s friend pushed me to be an actor. That’s why I became an actor. I started not thinking that it would be my real job. I thought it would just be an experience. As time went by, I realized that this was a very attractive job.
Q: When you did your first TV show, you said you got some interesting advice. What were you told?
A: When I was 21 years old, I had my first TV drama and the director told me to retire after the show. He wanted me to announce that and I did, everyday. But I couldn’t retire. Later I met him accidentally and he asked me, “Are you still doing this?“.
Q: I first saw you in ‘Joint Security Area’ and it was a very confident performance, you seemed at home in that movie. Tells us about what you were doing when you received the script.
A: I received the script while I was in the army. I read it so well and I decided to do it while I was in the army. I started shooting right after coming out of the army. So it was easy for me to do.
Q: One of my favorite characters of yours is your character in ‘The Good, the Bad, the Weird’. Your character is really happy and takes advantage of everybody. How did you figure out how to play the role?
A: I had to make the character with my director Kim Ji Woon. The first time I read the script, I didn’t understand the character so I needed to discuss about the character and develop him little by little. That was the funnest part.
Q: You look like you’re having a lot of fun on camera. You like playing roles that have a bad side huh?
A: Yea it’s really fun. That was my first time trying to be a bad guy. After that I only played bad guys like in ‘G.I. Joe‘.
Q: You’ve worked with director Kim Ji Woon three times. What was it like when you first met him for ‘A Bittersweet Life’?
A: When I first met him, he hadn’t written the script yet and he just talked about the story for two hours. And I just decided to take the role before the script was written. He wrote it in four days.
Q: That character doesn’t talk a lot. But the character reacts when things happen and I wondered if you liked that character for that reason. He doesn’t speak a lot but he moves very fast. In ‘Masquerade’ the king doesn’t speak a lot but the fake king does.
Q: In your last collaboration with director Kim Ji Woon, ‘I Saw the Devil’. Was that a hard character to play?
A: It’s a really dark movie so I needed to be in that mood from the beginning to the end. So it was hard mentally.
Q: How did you get to start working with director Kim Ji Woon on ‘I Saw the Devil’?
A: At the time, he gave me the script and I really liked it. But I didn’t expect the movie to come out so dark. I liked the script but I was shocked about the film. I regret it a little bit.
Q: What were the reactions to the film in Korea?
A: Some people really liked it and some people really hated it. Actually, it was rejected twice due to censors. It was too cruel and violent. It was almost x-rated.
‘Masquerade’ is a lush historical drama set in the opulent Palace of Korea’s ancient Joseon Dynasty which traces the political intrigues that ensue when King Gwanghae (played by Lee Byung Hun) hires a body double to prevent a rumored assassination attempt.
The movie scheduled to be opened in select theaters across North America on Friday, September 21, 2012.
For more information on location and availablity, please visit the Masquerade 2012 website.