No one on Korea’s film scene has been busier than actor Lee Je-hoon in the last few months.
The 28-year-old actor has been involved with two movies and one drama since last year. One of the movies, “Architecture 101,” in which Lee played a shy university student who suffers heartbreak over his first love, turned out to be a huge box office triumph after its release in March.
Lee, who swept best rookie actor prizes last year for his performance as the emotionally vulnerable high school student in director Yoon Sung-hyun’s indie drama “Bleak Night,” rose to stardom with the commercial first-love flick. He received enthusiastic reviews for his portrayal of the inexperienced young man, which showed off much complexity and emotional depth. His versatility once again shined in SBS’ recent drama series “Fashion King,” where he played a struggling young chaebol heir in Korea’s fashion industry.
Lee’s rise to stardom, however, is no accident. After switching his major from engineering to theater studies, Lee appeared in more than 18 student shorts and indie films from 2006-2010. He also appeared as an extra in a number of commercial films, including 2010 erotic thriller “The Servant” and romantic comedy “Finding Mr. Destiny.”
Having finished shooting SBS drama series “Fashion King,” Lee is ahead of the release of his upcoming commercial comedy horror film “Ghost Sweepers.” Following is a Q&A with the talented and ambitious actor.
Q: You’ve played such a variety of roles. What kind of characters draws you in?
A: I’m interested in characters that make me curious. The characters I like offer a room for imagination about their untold past and future, even when the given scripts don’t explain enough about them. I also like characters that influence other characters in the films ― even after their deaths. Gi-tae from “Bleak Night,” (the high school student commits a suicide in the film) for example, will always be a part of his friends’ lives.
Q: Your timid university student character Seung-min in “Architecture 101,” on the other hand, suffers heartbreak, mainly because of his lack of courage. How did you understand the character?
A: I know that many would call him cowardly. But I really think he’s done best he could, in the way he thought was right (to win his love-interest Seo-yeon’s heart.) Of course, those who have more experience in relationships wouldn’t approach a person they like in such a way. But I assumed that for a young man who’s never been in love before, everything he experiences with Seo-yeon must be extremely overwhelming.
Q: In spite of Seung-min’s flaws, many empathize with the character. Have you experienced something similar to what he goes through in the movie?
A: Yes. But I’ve never given up (on a girl) the way Seung-min does in the movie ― he just turns away without telling her how he really feels. I’ve always told very clearly.
Q: Who are your favorite actors (or actresses) and why?
A: Brad Pitt and George Clooney. I like Pitt for being so versatile by playing so many different types of roles, for both commercial and art-house films. Clooney, on the other hand, is a prolific director as well as an actor. I also admire him for his (human rights) activism and his efforts to make a difference in the world.
Q: Would you ever direct a movie as well?
A: I do think about it sometimes. Whenever I am on shooting, I always find the film equipment ― such as the camera, lights and microphones ― and how they work very interesting. I sometimes look into the viewfinder and try to compose a shot and focus the subject. But I’m not planning to direct a film anytime soon ― if it happens, it’ll happen many years later.
Q: What film has changed your life?
A: Director Lee Chang-dong’s 1997 noir “Green Fish.” I was attending middle school when I first watched the piece. And although I could not completely understand the film and where it was getting at, I still found it extremely powerful. I somehow empathized with the character Mak-dong (in the movie, the young character gets involved with street mobsters and ends up having an affair with the boss’ girlfriend) though I didn’t get why he would make such (undesirable) choices in life. It’s the film that triggered my love for Korean cinema. I’ve been watching a lot of local films ever since.
Q: Who would be dream directors to work with?
A: Lee Chang-dong, Park Chan-wook and Bong Joon-ho. I think the three filmmakers tell the stories that they really want to tell. Their movies always reveal what they think must be told. I have a lot of respect for that.
Q: In “Architecture 101,” your character Seung-min was made fun of for wearing a fake Guess T-shirt. You made a huge fashion transition in “Fashion King,” where you played a young chaebol heir who flaunts his expensive wardrobe and lifestyle. What are your favorite fashion items off-screen?
A: Anything simple with a touch of vintage. I’ve been also collecting vintage shoes for the past year. I like how these shoes complement any outfit you wear ― from formal suit to something totally casual.
Q: If you could have dinner with anyone ― dead or alive ― who would you choose?
A: Park Kyung-chul (the doctor-turned-stock investor and columnist). I’ve read one of the books he’s written and found it very inspiring.