Jung Woo-sung talks friendship in film ahead of 'Hunt' debut

Actor Jung Woo-sung portrays Kim Jung-do, the domestic unit chief of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) He receives a tip that the organization’s foreign unit chief, Park Pyung-ho (portrayed by Lee Jung-jae) is a mole leaking confidential

Actor Jung Woo-sung feels just how ardently fans have been waiting for the on-screen reunion of him and his longtime best friend and colleague Lee Jung-jae as the duo promote their upcoming film “Hunt” together.

“I really do” feel it, Jung said at a press interview on Aug. 3 at a cafe in Samcheong-dong, central Seoul. “And I am surprised at [the fans’] passionate response. More and more these days I feel that we had done a good job staying dedicated to the film on set. It would have been embarrassing if the film's result did not live up to fans’ expectations.”

"Hunt," an action thriller which premieres in local theaters on Wednesday, is set in the 1980s and centers around Korea's intelligence agency.

In fact, Jung refused the role of Kim Jung-do, an ex-soldier-turned-domestic chief of the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA) four times before accepting the proposal. However, Jung says that his rejections were not because of the film’s setting, which takes place during Korea's Chun Doo Hwan military dictatorship.

“It hasn’t been that long since society reached an agreement on the May 18 Gwangju Democratization Movement [in 1980], and there are still those who won’t acknowledge what happened,” Jung said. “For Jung-do, he’s a character in a dilemma as he asks himself the question of whether inflicting violence [upon civilians] is just, and he’s struggling to find meaning behind soldiers’ actions [who repressed the movement].

A scene from the film. “Hunt” marks the screen reunion of Lee Jung-jae and Jung Woo-sung, 23 years after they last appeared together in “City of the Rising Sun” (1999). [MEGABOX PLUS M]

“The film, in essence, is about two characters working through the conflict, and focuses on what they do as they try to carry out their beliefs. If the narrative arranged the historical events in such a way that the characters actively tried to interfere and change what had happened, then it might have been controversial for not aligning with the historical facts. But the film did not distort the facts, nor were the characters used that way.”

Jung said that he watched the entire process, from the beginning when Lee wrestled with the film as a producer, to later taking on the scriptwriting and directing.

“I first rejected the offer to get [Lee] to star in ‘Squid Game’ [2021],” Jung joked. “When he first showed me the project saying he wanted to take on production, as a colleague and a partner, I gave my opinion on the matter. I first wanted him to find a good filmmaker, and I did have intentions to star in the film with him. But before any of the casting could be made, it was crucial for Lee to find a filmmaker and fix up the script in a way that he wanted. But I saw him struggle as he contacted the directors.

“I watched his understanding of the narrative deepen as he eventually took on scriptwriting, and when others proposed that he direct the film as well,” Jung continued. “He asked my thoughts on that, and I secretly thought to myself, ‘You’re in for a world of trouble.’ [laughs] It was while I was directing for my film ‘A Man of Reason,’ so I had a peek into how arduous the whole challenge would be. But when Lee finally decided to take on the challenge, I wanted to assist him so that he could finish what he set out to do.”

Jung Woo-sung [MEGABOX PLUS M]

Next month, Jung and Lee will be heading stateside to Toronto as both of their directorial debuts, “Hunt” and “A Man of Reason” (2022), were invited to screen at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, which runs from Sept. 8 to 18.

“We were both extremely happy about the news from Toronto,” Jung said. “It was another fruit of the hard work and dedication that both of us put into our work, and a piece of news we could relay to the masses about the sincerity of our attitudes as a cineaste.”

The 23-year “bromance” between Lee and Jung has earned the pair the nickname “Cheongdam couple,” because they can often be spotted together around Cheongdam-dong, southern Seoul.

The pair in 2016 also founded an agency together, Artist Company, which represents some 20 actors such as Go A-ra, Park So-dam, ESom, Cho Yi-hun and Pyo Ji-hoon.

According to Jung, the secret behind their decades-long friendship is accepting each other's differences.

“It’s about appreciating our differences,” Jung said. “People usually want others to want the same things that they do, but that cannot be. We can complete each other because we have our differences, the other has qualities that I don’t have.”