Badass Alert: An Interview with GI Joe: Retaliation’s Byung-Hun Lee
The Korean superstar slices and dices his way into our hearts.
Just because we spend most of our waking hours obsessively consuming anime, manga and all manner of Asian pop culture doesn’t mean we aren’t pretty excited to see The Rock blow things up in GI Joe: Retaliation. But why should the average otaku care about the film? Well, apart from one seriously stunning cliffside ninja fight (worth the price of admission alone), you should know that Korean superstar Byung-Hun Lee is reprising his role as Storm Shadow, Cobra’s resident badass ninja. Being that this is one of Lee’s first big breakthrough roles in the US market, we wanted to catch up with the abdominal Adonis and, thankfully, he obliged.
TOKYOPOP: We’re really excited to see you don the mantle of Storm Shadow once again. What can we expect from our favorite ninja in white this time around?
Byung-Hun Lee: In the first GI Joe, there wasn’t a chance to show my emotions, no room to act, so most of the scenes were kind of action heavy. I can show a lot of emotions and express a lot of Storm Shadow’s inner feelings so the audience can know what the secret was and how his past affects him in this movie.
TP: After years of playing romantic leads, you’ve been taking on the role of the bad guy in films like The Good, the Bad, The Weird and the GI Joe series. Do you find that your prefer one to the other? Is it more challenging acting-wise?
BHL: I’ve been doing this more than 20 years and, as you said, The Good, the Bad, the Weird was my first villain role, followed by GI Joe, and it was strange and felt weird. But, as I was shooting those films, I had a lot of fun, even more than I did as the “hero.” It was very interesting. No matter if it’s a good role or a villainous role, they all have their own charming points.
TP: Do you find yourself attracted to genre pictures like G.I. Joe and RED 2 in particular or is it more of a “which roles do I find engaging” type situation?
BHL: As long as the story is good or the style is good, I usually don’t care about what I do. I don’t care about the character so much as I do about the style.
TP: What was your favorite memory or experience from filming Retaliation?
BHL: Hmmm – you know, on the set, we had a lot of fun because the director John Chu is such a funny guy. He’d really make us relaxed. He’s a really good friend of mine and we had a great time. We shot in New Orleans, so our wrap party was a lot of fun. That was probably my favorite.
TP: Tell us about the training you had to do for this film. Obviously, it’s a very physically demanding role.
BHL: I had to do two things – training martial arts and training my body. Every day, I had to spend four hours training, including learning new weapons like the sai. When I’m training martial arts, it’s very hard. I brought my personal trainer from LA. It’s a very strict procedure.
TP: You’re obviously a superstar back in Korea, but we’re just now getting a taste of your talents here. How has the experience of entering into the American market been for you?
BHL: I’m still trying to adjust to the Hollywood system and trying to find what I can do and how long I can go. It’s very interesting for me. I’m on a journey and I think it’s a process to get settled in. I want to challenge myself. I don’t know what’s next.
TP: Well, we’re glad you’re on the journey. Shifting gears slightly, last year saw an explosion of K-Pop on the American market. Are you an avid listener? Do you think this is just the first wave of Korean pop culture we can see coming our way?
BHL: As I think they just saw a really little part of Korean popular culture. I’m not talking as a Korean; I just want to tell you from an objective point of view. There’s a lot of talent in Korea and some amazing content yet to come. I think you’ll see it later on.
TP: Any last words you want to leave our readers with?
BHL: Yes. You will see a lot of great fight scenes in GI Joe: Retaliation and you’ll also see great abs. In 3D! [laughs]
GI Joe: Retaliation is in theaters now and you can read an interview with director John Chu over at Nerdist.com! Will you be seeing the movie? What roles would you like to see Byung-Hun Lee take next? Let us know on Facebook and Twitter!