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Sunday, January 17, 2010

“James Dean of Asia” On CNN’S Talk Asia

CNN recently released a press release announcing an interview with Lee Byung-hun that will air on Talk Asia

Dubbed the “James Dean of Asia”, Lee Byung-hun is one of South Korea’s favourite leading actors, starring in over twenty soap operas and more than a dozen films. He broke into mainstream Hollywood with his role as Storm Shadow in “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra”, and the Korean superstar soon won fans with his good looks and versatile acting skills. On this week’s TALK ASIA, CNN’s Anna Coren spends the day with Lee and joins him on the red carpet of the 14th Pusan International Film Festival’s opening night.

The Korean actor’s Hollywood debut, Stephen Sommers’ action flick “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” grossed over US$300 million worldwide. With a sequel already in the works, Lee reveals that he actually was not aware of the toy action figures and even initially turned down the role: “When I first heard about G.I. Joe from my agent, I didn’t know what it was. I refused it at first. But everybody told me to do it because it’s going to be so huge and it’s going to be a huge opportunity to go there. One of my very good friends Park Chan-wook, who made “Old Boy”, advised me if you really want to go to Hollywood, why don’t you do it? It will be a very good opportunity.”

Despite his fluent English, the thought of acting in western films never crossed the 39-year-old’s mind: ”I actually didn’t think about going to Hollywood. A few years ago, nobody thought it would happen. Because it’s just a dream for Korean actors. Nowadays it’s not a dream anymore. It’s reality.” His performance impressed Josh Hartnett, his co-star from “I come with the Rain” as the American actor says: “I became a big fan of his on set because of his sort of amazing work ethic, his ability to be at once kind of a big movie star and an incredibly gifted actor.”

Lee’s popularity at home has not been diminished by his time spent in Hollywood as the TV drama “Iris” he recently starred in topped the ratings. TALK ASIA visits the set of “Iris”, Korea’s most expensive soap opera, where the star explains why the ‘Hallyu’ or ‘Korean wave’, has expanded rapidly worldwide and increased cultural interest in Korea: “The Korean drama still talks about the family thing, their love, their hate. They could feel the old emotions. That’s why the Japanese people and Chinese people love the Korean dramas.”

His career took off domestically with “Joint Security Area” - a box office smash about how a secret friendship is formed between the North and South Korean soldiers working in the DMZ, as he recalls: “We were surprised by the size of the audience. That movie made me so popular and famous in Korea. So I was very thankful to Mr. Park (Park Chan-wook).” Lee believes that the movie struck a chord with the audience: “It’s not about the ideology or something like that. It’s not about politics. That movie was based on the truth.” When asked if he sees a reunification between the North and the South in his lifetime, the South Korean replies: “personally, I hope so. Yes, it could happen I think.”

Often under the spotlight, Lee admits he misses being anonymous. He describes to Coren how he pretended to be a taxi driver once to enjoy those times: “Actually it was illegal because I don’t have taxi driver’s license. But anyway, I borrowed a taxi from my friend. He was the boss of the taxi company. I borrowed a taxi and I drove for a few days. It was so fun and such an interesting experience. (Coren: So you’re picking up people and taking them to destinations?) Yes, nobody recognised me because I was hiding everything. I thought they were scared because nobody does that with the mask, hat and glasses. No driver does that.”

Lee Byung-hun’s full interview will be available after the first airing online at


Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Singapore and Taipei

Wednesday, January 20 at 2130

Thursday, January 21 at 1230

Saturday, January 23 at 2000

Sunday, January 24 at 0430 & 1730

Monday, January 25 at 0730

Bangkok and Jakarta

Wednesday, January 20 at 2030

Thursday, January 21 at 1130

Saturday, January 23 at 1900

Sunday, January 24 at 0330 & 1630

Monday, January 25 at 0630

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