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Lee Byung-hun Stars in “Sweet Life”

Posted January. 05, 2005 22:09,   


“He’s an actor that can best portray a once-successful man whose life suddenly crashes around him.”

The director Kim Ji Woon of the movie “Sweet Life” thus explains the expression of Lee Byung-hun, who plays a man living life at both ends. In the evening of January 4, the last day of shooting, we met Lee Byung-hun at the residential area of Angook-dong, Jongro, Seoul. We asked Lee, whose popularity is at a peak in Japan, hence the nickname “Byon-sama.” “What made you as you are now?” He answered, “Maybe it’s because I haven’t led an overly cautious life.”

―Was there a “sweet life” for you as in the movie?

“I went to the theater on the day my movie premiered. I felt an orgasm just looking at the people who felt what I felt and shed tears with me. It was short but… sweet.”

―But there were failures too?

“To tell you the truth, there were movies that didn’t do too well. (laughs) When my first movie failed, they said ‘Actors that don’t make it in three movies are never called back to Chungmuro (Korea’s version of Hollywood).’ When my second and third movie failed to attract audiences, nobody dared to say that in front of me anymore. When my fourth movie didn’t do well, everyone started avoiding me. Then things started to change with my fifth movie (“Harmonium in my Memory”), and with my hit sixth movie (“JSA”) people started to say that I was greater than Hong Soo-hwan (boxer).”

―In Myungdong, Seoul, they even have socks with your face on the soles. Can you feel the popularity?”

“Oh, the socks. My manager bought me one. They don’t mean to step on me, do they? (laughs) I’m just a regular guy, so of course I’m concerned about my popularity. If the Japanese like melodramas, I think of doing even more of them. But I want to resist that temptation. The fans that I really value are the ones that respect what I do and love me for it.”

―Are there any differences between your Korean and Japanese fans?

“The fans in the Chinese sphere scream until I almost start losing my mind. They’re really passionate. Japanese fans start to scream, but then they become quiet in an instant. So much that I can hear myself breathe. When someone cheers by mistake, she stops herself so that she won’t disturb the person next to her. Korean fans are a mix of these two characteristics.”

Japanese fans visited Lee Byung-hun’s Korean homepage and wrote “Byung Hun ssi,” expressing their love in English.

―Would you like to fall into a passionate love?

“That’s what I’ve been wanting since middle school (laughs). If an actor falls in love, you can express the fineries in his acting. An actor should love a lot, fall into a deeper love, or love someone until it drives you crazy. By love you can start opening your feelings. Of course I don’t date in order to act better… (laughs). But it’s also stupid to shun dating just because I’m scared of making a scandal or if my fans might turn their backs on me.”

On the set, Lee Byung-heon is nicknamed “the almighty chief Kim,” after his character “chief Kim.” It’s a nickname that shows his dogged spirit, by sleeping for two hours a day and shooting scenes for two full weeks in the rain and in scenes in which he is buried alive. It is also a sign of discontent, as the staff cannot expect Lee to become sick, thus earning a welcome rest due to his sickness.

The action noir “Sweet Life,” in which Lee plays the character of Sun-woo, who wars against a mob by turning a blind eye on the flirting girlfriend of his boss, premieres on April 1.

Seung-Jae Lee sjda@donga.com