Lee Jung-jae: Directorial debut 'Hunt' came before 'Squid Game'

Emmy winner Lee Jung-jae is now a writer/director too. File Photo by Mike Goulding/UPI
1 of 6 | Emmy winner Lee Jung-jae is now a writer/director too. File Photo by Mike Goulding/UPI | License Photo

LOS ANGELES, Dec. 2 (UPI) -- Squid Game star Lee Jung-jae said he was working on his directorial debut, Hunt, in theaters Friday, before he starred on the Netflix hit.

"I started writing the script long before Squid Game was in production," Lee told UPI in a recent Zoom interview via a translator. "While Squid Game was in post-production, we were shooting."


In 1983, Korean National Intelligence Service agent Park Pyong-ho (Lee) fails to bring in a North Korean defector when a mole in the organization sabotages his mission. While Park hunts for the mole, Kim Jung-do (Jung Woo-sung) investigates the entire agency and suspects Park is that mole.

Lee, 49, rewrote an earlier screenplay by Jo Seung-Hee based on actual events. The characters of Park and Kim are fictional.

"They're people who could exist and people who I wish existed during this time," Lee said.


The script incorporates Lee Ung-pyeong's 1983 defection, the Gwangju Uprising of 1980 and the 1983 assassination attempt on South Korean President Chun Doo-hwan in Rangoon.

As Park and Kim navigate similar perils in a historical thriller, Lee said he wished he had more than two hours to spend with the characters he invented.

"Because I wrote these characters and I loved them so much, I just wanted to tell the audience more and more about them," Lee said. "It felt like there's never enough time to convey the characters to the depth I wanted to."

Lee said he remembers following reports of the defection in 1983. He said he hopes the depiction of such events in Hunt makes the history entertaining for audiences.

"It was a very large event when it occurred in Korea," Lee said. "It was something that many Korean citizens mourned and looked out for as it was happening."

An actor since 1994, Lee said he never aspired to direct previously, but decided to direct himself while writing the script.

"I really felt like writing a script was a big endeavor," Lee said. "In Korea, being a director kind of goes hand in hand with writing your own script."


Lee said he enjoyed the collaboration with people in departments such as music, editing and color correction.

"Directing is a lot like conducting," Lee said. "You're building this story shot by shot, scene by scene."

The intrigue and espionage of the defector and mole put Park and Kim in dangerous situations trying to prevent terrorist bombings and assassination attempts. Lee said he aimed to create action scenes that were "both short and impactful."

He said he scripted Hunt's action scenes in detail to ensure they would stand out.

"The one thing I really didn't want to hear was, 'Oh, I've seen this scene before in another movie,'" Lee said.

Lee will have more acting work. He landed a role in the Star Wars Disney+ series, The Acolyte, and Squid Game creator Hwang Dong-hyuk is writing a second season of the show about contestants in a death match.

Although he directed himself in Hunt, Lee will only act in those shows. He said Hwang will remain in charge of Squid Game, though he has not shared Season 2 scripts yet.

"He says it's coming soon, so I'm also patiently waiting," Lee said.

In the meantime, he is making notes about current events that might inspire his next movie. Lee said he is more interested in depicting true stories than pure fiction as a writer-director.


"I'll collect little clippings," Lee said. "I have a lot of files like that. Soon, I'll have to organize those and try to write a script with it."

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