'Squid Game' star Lee Jung-jae makes directorial debut with 'Hunt' at Cannes

Actors Jung Woo-sung, left and Lee Jung-jae during a photo call at the 75th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 19. [AFP/YONHAP]

"Squid Game" star Lee Jung-jae successfully made his directorial debut with the film "Hunt" starring actor Jung Woo-sung at the 75th Cannes Film Festival in southern France on Friday.

Showcased at a Midnight Screening, a non-competitive section of the festival, the end of "Hunt" was met with a seven-minute applause. After the screening finished, Jung was seen inside the Grand Theatre Lumiere hugging Lee, who both directs and stars in the film, and patting him on the back.

Lee Jung-jae, left and Jung Woo-sung during a scene from "Hunt." [JOONGANG ILBO]

"I have never received such a long applause in my life," Lee told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily, on Friday. "But the fact that Woo-sung was next to me relieved my nervousness a little."

"It may have been a challenge that he [Lee] was ready for, but it was nonetheless a challenge," said Jung during the same interview. "So when the result was finally displayed at Cannes, I felt incredibly proud and fulfilled. Knowing the lonely times that Lee went through, I wanted to give him a hug."

"Hunt" not only marks Lee's directorial debut but also his first project after "Squid Game" (2021) and his debut as a screenwriter.

Lee Jung-jae, second from left, during a scene from "Squid Game" (2021). [JOONGANG ILBO]

Lee bought the film rights to "Hunt" in 2017. He only wanted to act in it and hadn't intended on getting involved creatively. But when the original directors left, Lee felt that it was up to him to take the movie to the big screen.

"My pride wouldn't let me give up on it," said Lee. "So I started writing the screenplay myself. It was my first time writing a script of any kind."

"Hunt" is set in the 1980s when Korea's military regime was at its peak. Lee plays elite agent Park Pyung-ho who works at the Agency for National Security Planning and chases a North Korean spy while coming to terms with the truth about his own country. Jung plays the role of Kim Jung-do, a rival and colleague of Park.

From left: "Hunt" cast members Jung Man-sik, Lee Jung-jae and Jung Woo-sung appear on the red carpet event at the 75th Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 19 . [AFP/YONHAP]

Lee and Jung had acted together once before in the 1999 film "City of the Rising Sun." The two played delinquent youths struggling to make money and lead successful lives. "Hunt" is the second film that the two have filmed together, but Lee said that they have maintained a supportive relationship for over 20 years.

"Over the years, I have watched the films that [Jung] chose to act in and saw how he acts, and those things have motivated me and made me want to cheer for him," Lee said.

"Hunt" is slated to hit local theaters in August.

Lee, already a much-beloved celebrity from the '90s, shot to global stardom with Netflix Korea’s “Squid Game" (2021), winning recognition for his performance at major awards ceremonies including the 28th Screen Actors Guild (SAG) Awards, 27th Critics’ Choice Awards and the 37th Film Independent Spirit Awards. Lee became the first Korean actor to win an award at the SAG awards.

Jung debuted in 1994 as an actor and has since been featured in a number of hit films such as “Innocent Witness” (2019), “Steel Rain” (2017), “Steel Rain 2: Summit” (2020) and “The King” (2017).

It is both Jung and Lee's second time attending the Cannes Film Festival. Jung was invited to the festival in 2008 for the action film "The Good, the Bad, the Weird" and Lee in 2010 for thriller "The Housemaid"

A poster for "Hunt" starring Lee Jung-jae, left, and Jung Woo-sung. Lee also directed and wrote the screenplay. [JOONGANG ILBO]
Jung Woo-sung and Lee Jung-jae during a scene from "Hunt." [JOONGANG ILBO]