He’s known to his South Korean compatriots as a leading man with an illustrious career of 29 years in film and television, while international fans are more likely to recognise him as down-and-out chauffeur Seong Gi-hun from the 2021 blockbuster series Squid Game. Now, both groups can look forward to Lee Jung-jae stepping into the shoes of a director for Hunt, a political thriller. As far as he’s concerned, though, his new role behind the camera was pure happenstance.
In an interview with The Hollywood Reporter (THR), Lee talked more about the circumstances leading up to his directorial debut. He had adapted the screenplay from another writer’s drafts – another first for him, as he had never written a screenplay before. Lee told THR that he “tried to write from the point of view of the audience”, but also admitted that he only wanted to produce the project and “co-develop this story with another filmmaker who would write and direct it”.
This led him on a hunt (no pun intended) to find the right director for the story, meeting with a veritable rotation of them across months. Upon feeling at “the point where there were no more prominent directors for [him] to meet”, Lee realised the futility of his search, and “decided, okay, I’m going to have to write and direct this thing myself”.
Lee asserted that his experience on Squid Game – which landed him a Screen Actors’ Guild Award for Best Male Actor and a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actor in a Drama TV Series – did not affect Hunt’s production or his own creative process. However, he believed that the show’s critical and commercial success contributed to how “more people seem to be paying attention to the film and have taken an interest in watching it – and that’s been tremendously helpful to everyone involved in it”.
He added that Squid Game propelling his name to a global level of recognition “affected [him] tremendously” and made him “more cautious about the projects that [he chooses]”. Ultimately, he concluded that his experience with the show “reminded [him] of how lucky” he is to have the opportunity to work in show business to begin with.
Hunt is set in 1980s South Korea, at a time in which Lee told THR “information was strictly controlled by a few powerful people”. The plot follows two agents from the Korean National Intelligence Service, played by Lee and Jung Woo-sung (The Good, The Bad, The Weird) as they race to uncover a North Korean spy and ultimately come face-to-face with uncomfortable truths about their country.
The film will screen at the Cannes Film Festival’s Midnight section, alongside other genre films from France, Belgium and the United States.