Lee Jung-Jae Says His Cannes Directorial Debut ‘Hunt’ Is as Noir and Political as ‘Squid Game’

Lee Jung-jae at the 27th Annual
Gilbert Flores for Variety

Lee Jung-jae, who made history with his work on “Squid Game,” is now making his directorial debut with the spy movie “Hunt,” which is premiering at Cannes.

Through “Squid Game,” he was the first Asian person to win the Critics Choice and Screen Actors Guild Awards for a dramatic lead actor role, and will likely continue that history as the first to be nominated for an Emmy for a non-English speaking role. But Lee is optimistic he won’t be the last.

“I hope later on we don’t need to put any boundaries like Asian men and non-Asian men,” he tells Variety. “I hope this boundary just doesn’t need to exist going forward.”

While making “Hunt,” Lee described how he used persuasion versus control while working with actors.

“Instead of control, I’d say we had a lot of conversations with the actors. First, I listened to what they wanted to express through this script. Then I talked to them about what I thought they needed to do. It was more like teamwork,” Lee says. “Because I’ve been acting for quite some time, I remember that where there were conversations with the director, my performance was more natural.”

But just as “Squid Game” delves into socio-political matters underneath the immediate issues of survival, Lee says that “Hunt” at its core is about heavyweight issues of disinformation, propaganda and political manipulation.

“The film was set 40 years ago, in the early 1980s. And at that time, there was a lot of control of the media, control over information and fake news. And I thought we’re now in 2022 [we wouldn’t] see that anymore. But there are a lot of people still processing information to their advantage, making fake news and propaganda,” says Lee. “It still is relevant to this day. I thought that if I use this subject matter to make a movie it could really get to the heart of the people now.”

It is an issue that Lee cares deeply about. Having bought the initial IP for the project with the intent of recruiting other filmmakers to complete the job, Lee replaced several of them before taking on the project as his own.

“When they wrote the script and tried directing, it wasn’t the subject matter that I wanted to focus on the most. So I took it into my own hands. What I wanted to focus on the most is that the fact that people who still use fake information and [twist] news to their political advantage still exist,” said Lee.

Lee is excited by the boom in Asian cinema and television, particularly coming from his native country of South Korea. “I think it’s a very good opportunity for Korean people to converse with the global community,” he says. “Squid Game” became the most watched series in Netflix’s history after dropping in 2021.

“Squid Game” creator and director Hwang Dong-hyuk is currently developing season two, hoping to shoot in 2023. Now that he’s a director, would Lee want to helm any future “Squid Game” episodes?

“I think director Huang would be the one person who would do the best job,” Lee said. “He should be the one to do it.”