Lee Isaac Chung explores new galaxy after directing episode of 'The Mandalorian'

A scene from episode three of the third season of "The Mandalorian" [WALT DISNEY COMPANY KOREA]

Many children have imagined themselves as Jedi, carrying around a green lightsaber and hoping that the force be with them. Lee Isaac Chung, the director behind award-winning film “Minari” (2020), was one of these children. Chung said “Star Wars” was one of his favorite movies growing up and even though he lived in the countryside, he imagined himself as Luke Skywalker on a mission to one day reach the galaxy.

Director Lee Isaac Chung [WALT DISNEY COMPANY KOREA]

Chung has reached the goal — in his own special way. He is the director of the third episode of the new season of Disney+’s "The Mandalorian," a spin-off of the famous Star Wars series. Though Chung’s “Minari” earned him global spotlight, allowing Korea’s veteran actor Youn Yuh-jung to become the first Korean actor to win an Oscar, it was still an indie film. To talk about his latest experience on a commercial project, Chung met with local media online on March 17. He said the most difficult part of the project was “grappling with the advanced filmmaking technology used in the series.”

“The series uses both virtual reality and video game platforms and the LED volume in order to create new worlds,” said Chung. “And I found that to be a very creative and wonderful process. But yes, while directing ‘The Mandalorian’ episode, the most difficult part was that it was my first time working on a project that had so many VFX (visual effects,) so I had a lot to learn.”

“The Mandalorian” is a spin-off of the Star Wars universe where bounty hunter Din Djarin (otherwise known as the Mandalorian), played by American actor Pedro Pascal, teams up with a young version of Yoda — named Grogu — to go on adventures. Din Djarin often wears a dark mask and does not reveal his face.

Chung said all the VFX technology meant he had the chance to meet people he hadn't worked with on his previous indie work.

“One thing I really loved was that this show has attracted many of the best artisans in Hollywood — special effects people, people who are creating creatures and droids, and production designers and their teams,” said Chung. “There are just so many wonderful artists. For instance, the cinematographer for ‘The Mandalorian’ was Dean Cundey, who is a legendary cinematographer in Hollywood. Being able to work with a crew that is just at the top of their game was really wonderful for me.”

Chung believes that the creator of “The Mandalorian” — Jon Favreau — brought him onto the team to direct an episode of the series because he wanted someone that could bring out the hidden qualities of the actors which had not been seen before.

“I have a feeling that maybe coming off of ‘Minari,’ Favreau and the team wanted me to take on something that highlights the performances of the actors,” said Chung. “And I felt in a way very comfortable doing that with this particular episode. It was also just such a joy to work with the cast, including Katy O’Brian and Omid Abtahi. Both of them are such wonderful actors. We had a lot of great collaborative work together that reminded me of what it was like to make ‘Minari’ — a feeling of family with them.”

A scene from episode three of the third season of "The Mandalorian" [WALT DISNEY COMPANY KOREA]

A scene from episode three of the third season of "The Mandalorian" [WALT DISNEY COMPANY KOREA]

Chung tried to stay true to the Star Wars universe while drawing inspiration from legendary filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock.

“When I first started, executive producers Dave Filoni and Favreau gave me some guidance that the best way to approach an episode is to choose a type of genre that I enjoy that fits within the episode and to pay some kind of homage to that genre,” said Chung. “And when I read the script, I felt like this is a chance to try to do something that pays homage to Hitchcock. Hitchcock was the kind of filmmaker who I would look toward for his pacing — I would look at the way he would tell a story.”

Director Lee Isaac Chung speaks during an online roundtable interview with local press on March 17. [WALT DISNEY COMPANY KOREA]

Directing an episode of “The Mandalorian” has opened up chances for Chung to connect with audiences on a global level, since the series and the Star Wars franchise is so universal, he said.

“I could go to a countryside cafe in the middle of someplace in America and just find that inside the coffee shop, they have a little baby Yoda, a Grogu doll that is sitting on the counter,” said Chung. “I just find that working on a show that has reached people of all different ages and all different backgrounds — that is a really special thing. And I just feel honored to have been able to be a part of that.”

Chung emphasized during the interview that he was eager to bring actor Youn from “Minari” into “The Mandalorian” and Star Wars universe. Though he failed this time, Chung said he wants Youn to read this interview and realize that he is “100 percent always thinking about her.”

“The Mandalorian” season three is currently streaming on Disney+ worldwide.