Actor Koo Kyo-hwan hunts down Lee Je-hoon in new thriller 'Escape'

A still from the upcoming action thriller film ″Escape″ [PLUS M ENTERTAINMENT]

South Koreans frequently hear accounts of North Korean defectors' perilous journeys to flee from the North's communist regime, where supreme authority is concentrated in the hands of a dictator. They make that escape at the risk of their lives, as facing severe consequences is inevitable when apprehended by the vigilant North Korean soldiers that guard the borders.

Director Lee Jong-pil has transformed this imaginative yet plausible scenario into a new film called “Escape," which is slated to hit local theaters on July 3. The story centers on actor Lee Je-hoon's Lim Kyu-nam, a North Korean soldier who attempts to flee to the South in the pursuit of freedom. Kyu-nam is relentlessly pursued by a determined North Korean officer named Li Hyun-sang, played by actor Koo Kyo-hwan.

The two actors sat down separately with local reporters on Thursday at a cafe in Jongno District, central Seoul, ahead of the film's premiere to talk about their roles and the film.

Portraying the role of a soldier attempting to escape was a challenging endeavor, according to Lee, as it was "physically exhausting."


Throughout the film, Lee's character engages in strenuous activities, such as running, jumping, crawling and struggling in the mud during an escape attempt.

“When I first read the script, I could visualize the scenes, but I didn’t anticipate the physical demands,” Lee said during an interview with local media in central Seoul on Thursday. “I had to continually push myself to the limit while playing the character,” he added, emphasizing his desire to convey the character's intense desperation for freedom.

While filming a scene that required him to sprint at full speed up a mountain at sunset, Lee said he felt as though he could literally faint and pass out.

A still from the upcoming action thriller film ″Escape″ [PLUS M ENTERTAINMENT]
A still from the upcoming action thriller film ″Escape″ [PLUS M ENTERTAINMENT]

“I continued pushing myself to capture a better scene because I wanted to make the most of the remaining time, even though the others insisted it was sufficient and advised me to stop,” Lee recounted.

Koo, on the other hand, revealed he didn't experience the same level of physical exhaustion while shooting his scenes.

"Lee really did everything that he could do in the wild," said Koo after watching Lee's scenes. Koo's character, Hyun-sang, who works for the North Korean State Political Security Department, is portrayed as a highly sophisticated individual. He is meticulous about his appearance, frequently applying lip balm and keeping his hair neatly combed.

According to Koo, if Lee's character is filled with a strong desire for freedom, his is a more complex and multidimensional character who has much more intricate emotions.


While Koo's character appears ruthless when representing North Korea's ideological regime, he expresses a sensitive side when it is revealed in the film that he dreamed of becoming a pianist. To convincingly portray the scenes where Hyun-sang elegantly plays the piano, Koo said he immersed himself in music, dedicating significant time before the shoot to practice the piano while Lee underwent rigorous physical training to embody his character’s demanding escape scenes.

However, this does not imply that Hyun-sang is any less committed to preventing Kyu-nam's escape. Koo said that his character is intensely obsessed with stopping Kyu-nam — so intense that it is what motivated Koo to take on the role.

"I was deeply curious about the reasons behind Hyun-sang's fixation on preventing Kyu-nam’s escape," Koo said.

Lee said viewers would be able to sympathize with the story, which depicts North Korea and a person hoping to make an escape from the communist regime.

A still from the upcoming action thriller film ″Escape″ [PLUS M ENTERTAINMENT]

According to Lee, the North Korean setting is simply a vehicle chosen by the director to convey a broader message: to never give up and to relentlessly pursue one's hopes and dreams.

While reading the script, Lee was reminded of his younger days when some adults discouraged him, saying that his dream of becoming an actor is a "mountain that's too high to climb." But he persisted in pursuing his dream and is now one of the most sought-after actors for directors and remains popular among film fans.

"I personally believe that the courage Kyu-nam demonstrates in challenging himself, despite the possibility of failure, is an important life value," Lee said. "I empathize with this sentiment, which allowed me to portray Kyu-nam with my whole heart and become fully immersed in the role."

A still from the upcoming action thriller film ″Escape″ [PLUS M ENTERTAINMENT]

"The film delivers a straightforward message, however, it also offers the unique entertainment of uncovering hidden elements and relationships within the story, which is why I recommend watching it twice," Lee said. "If you enjoyed the film on your first viewing, it can be quite fun to look for those hidden meanings and subtle connections while watching it the second time."