The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Lee Je-hoon reflected on his youth while filming 'Escape'

By Lee Yoon-seo

Published : June 26, 2024 - 13:27

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Lee Je-hoon (Plus M Entertainment) Lee Je-hoon (Plus M Entertainment)

Actor Lee Je-hoon, 39, said that he identified with his role as a North Korean soldier defecting to South Korea, reflecting on his fervent aspirations to achieve his dreams in his youth.

In "Escape," an action flick set to hit theaters on July 3, Lee plays the main lead role of Gyu-nam, a North Korean soldier who sets up a plan to cross the border to South Korea with dreams of leading a free life.

According to Lee, "Escape" was one of the most difficult projects in his 18-year career.

"As I prepared to portray Gyu-nam, considering the difficult circumstances he endured, I envisioned that he might struggle with insufficient food. So I pushed myself to lose weight. I even undertook extreme dieting. Using up all my energy made me feel dizzy. I had to consume sugar to stay conscious, but I constantly questioned whether even (eating sugar) was the right choice," said Lee, during an interview held with reporters on June 20.

"Knowing that the shooting needed to be finished by a certain time, I endeavored to throw myself into (acting as Gyu-nam) completely, without any regrets. I wonder if there has ever been a piece of work that pushed me to such limits," said Lee.

Lee mentioned that another challenge in portraying Gyu-nam was mastering the modern North Korean dialect for maximum authenticity.

"I held intensive dialect coaching sessions with a North Korean defector in his early 20s who taught me the current North Korean language used by North Korean youth. As I had heard North Korean often in North Korean-related dramas and movies before, I initially thought learning the North Korean dialect wouldn't be difficult," he said.

He was advised to abandon those preconceptions.

"Realizing it would be a challenging process, I diligently practiced by recording (the North Korean defector's voice) and studying the text he spoke. I aimed to grasp the conversational tone used by younger North Koreans rather than relying on the North Korean dialect I was familiar with," he added.

"Escape," starring Koo Kyo-hwan (left) and Lee Je-hoon (Plus M Entertainment)

According to Lee, he empathized with Gyu-nam's desperation to achieve his dream, as he had shared the same kind of ardent aspiration in his 20s.

"I dedicated my twenties to becoming an actor. Whenever I spoke about this dream, most people expressed concern rather than support," Lee said. "Acting is an uncertain path that depends on being chosen by others. Despite the uncertainty, I was determined to pursue it and embrace the challenge. ... My future was unclear, just as it was for Gyu-nam," the actor said.

Lee said through the story of Gyu-nam, he hoped young people would be inspired to challenge themselves to achieve their dreams.

"I don't see 'Escape' as a film centered on ideology. ... My motivation in acting in 'Escape' stemmed from believing that portraying a man who embodies resilience in pursuing his dreams without fear of failure could draw empathy from the audience," he said.