[CELEB] After plenty of success, Lee Byung-hun is getting picky


After a very convincing portrayal of a Jeju resident and the heartfelt, waterworks-inducing mother-son relationship he portrayed alongside Kim Hye-ja in the global hit tvN drama series “Our Blues,” actor Lee Byung-hun is back on the big screen as a father and ex-pilot in director Han Jae-rim’s disaster film “Emergency Declaration.”

The film is Lee’s first return to the big screen in two years since “The Man Standing Next” (2020), which was invited to screen in the out of competition section of the 74th Cannes Film Festival last year. The film’s local release was postponed for a year due to Covid-19 pandemic. It is slated to hit local theaters on Wednesday.

Lee Byung-hun as a former pilot and the father to a young daughter who boards a plane to Hawaii but instead faces unanticipated terror caused by a mysterious passenger, portrayed by Yim Si-wan in "Emergency Declaration" (2022). [SHOWBOX]

In “Emergency Declaration,” Lee plays Jae-hyuk, an ex-pilot who suffers from panic disorder that is triggered whenever he boards an airplane. When he decides to travel to Hawaii with his young daughter to start afresh, he has no idea that he'll instead be faced with terror caused by a mysterious passenger, portrayed by singer-turned-actor Yim Si-wan.

Lee believes that Jae-hyuk represents the most ordinary character that one could encounter during a disaster.

“Jae-hyuk has a past trauma that a normal person wouldn’t come across, and he’s unique in his profession since he was a pilot, but I think he’s the most ordinary person [in the film] when looking at the character itself,” Lee said during an online interview Thursday. “Because he fears airplanes and becomes extremely sensitive when traveling, he is the one to react and respond instantly during this disaster. He is the character who expresses his fear and discomfort with his face and body and the one to represent the passengers’ fear and their emotions during this extreme situation.”


After the press screening last week, Lee revealed that he related to his character because he too, suffered from panic disorder from his 20s.

“They say that there’s no permanent cure for it,” Lee explained. “Sometimes the symptoms manifest again in the form of hyperventilation and majority of the people going through this like Jae-hyuk always carry their medicine with them because you don’t know when and how it will arrive. It’s the same for me [...] Although the airplane set was as real as it can be, which allowed the actors there to quickly become immersed in the situation, I didn’t have any trouble — for instance, feeling claustrophobic — when shooting there.”

Lee, on the left, as an American Marine Corps officer sent to Joseon for a mission who falls in love with noble women Go Ae-shin, portrayed by Kim Tae-ri, in tvN series “Mr. Sunshine" (2018). The series is set in the late 1800s and early 1900s before

Over his three-decade-long career, Lee has appeared in some 40 films and 26 television series, proving his exceptional talent over and over again. His recent global hits on the small screen include tvN’s "Mr Sunshine” (2018) and “Our Blues.” Both series went viral on Netflix, landing on the Global Top 10 charts in the category of non-English-language drama and continue to rank on the charts since then.

His acting abilities have been described as “god-given” by the masses, and he proved his worth especially in “Mr. Sunshine.” The series faced doubt before it even aired due to the 20-year age gap between Lee and his romantic interest Kim Tae-ri. However, the controversy dissolved almost immediately after it began to air, as the romance between a black-haired American Marine Corps officer Eugene Choi, portrayed by Lee, and a noble lady Go Ae-shin, portrayed by Kim, was soulful without any physical contact with each other all throughout the 24 episodes. The series also received acclaim for its depiction of the passion of the activists fighting for Korea’s independence in the turbulent times before the Japanese occupation of Korea (1910-45).

Lee, front, as one of the 14 protagonists in tvN series “Our Blues" (2022) which revolves around the stories of 14 residents of Jeju Island. Lee portrays a truck merchant named Dong-seok who falls for his first love Sun-ah, portrayed by Shin Min-a.

In “Our Blues,” Lee features as one of 14 protagonists. He plays a truck merchant named Dong-seok, in his 40s, born on Jeju Island, who has a complicated relationship with his mother. Although the series ended in June, it continues to appear from time to time on the Global Top 10 chart on Netflix.

“I think at first it was curiosity that drew the viewers in,” Lee answered when asked about the global popularity behind “Our Blues.” “From the perspective of foreigners, the cultural context behind the characters is unique — he [Dong-seok] loads all kinds of objects on the back of his truck and goes around the island selling them, and in the sea, only the women, clad in their black wetsuits, catch the fish. I think the way people lead their lives and the nature on the island it could be viewed as exotic and distinct, but when you look at it closely, it’s ultimately about the people there, and the sorrows we go through and how we heal in the process, which is universal and what made them connect with the diversity of characters and the lives they lead.”


Lee also set the precedent of debuting in Hollywood way before local content took the world by the storm, appearing in blockbusters such as “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” (2009), “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (2013), “Terminator Genisys” (2015) and “The Magnificent Seven” (2016). However, Lee seems to be more prudent about his choices for Hollywood in the future.

“I have an agent there [in Hollywood] so we do discuss what kind of projects have been offered to me,” Lee said. “Sometimes the timing isn’t right because I have another schedule, and a lot of times I don’t think I am particularly suited for the role. Nowadays, I think it’s time to be really careful and deliberate when choosing what project to appear in because the global influence of our content is expanding beyond our imagination with every passing year. I think it’s better to think about quality rather than quantity in these times, so although it may seem obvious, I want to match people’s expectations with a good project. I still think that it is a really good opportunity for Hallyu content, Korean actors and directors to shine if there is an adequate role in Hollywood projects. On the other hand, I think that it’s more impactful and influential to the viewers [for the actors] to appear in a superb local content rather than appearing in an ambiguous or in-between Hollywood films.”

Lee as the “Front Man” in the hit Netflix Korea series “Squid Game" (2021). [NETFLIX]

Last year, Lee surprised his fans by making a relatively short, but nonetheless impactful appearance in the hit Netflix series “Squid Game” as the Front Man, the enigmatic supervisor behind a series of games in which the final winner gets a life-altering sum of money of 45.6 billion won ($34.8 million).

He is expected to reprise his role for the second season of “Squid Game,” as his backstory was not explained in the first season. Lee will also appear in two highly anticipated films for this year, “The Match” with actor Yoo Ah-in and “Concrete Utopia” with actors Park Seo-jun and Park Bo-young.

Lee Byung-hun

Date of birth: July 12, 1970
Zodiac sign: Cancer
Birthplace: Sungnam, Gyeonggi
Debut: October 1991 through KBS television series “Flowers that Never Wilt”
Management: BH Entertainment

Lee Byung-hun initially debuted as an actor under local broadcaster KBS and made his first-ever appearance in a television series through KBS’s “Flowers that Never Wilt” in October 1991. Since then, the actor has worked tirelessly across a number of films and television series stretching across a variety of genres and roles. His iconic works include films such as “Joint Security Area” (2000), “A Bittersweet Life” (2005), his Hollywood debut “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” (2009) and its sequel “G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (2013), “Inside Men” (2015), “The Man Standing Next” (2020) and television series “Iris” (2009) on KBS, “Mr. Sunshine” (2018) and “Our Blues” (2022) on tvN.

This information was confirmed by BH Entertainment on July 28, 2022.