Lee Byung Hun enjoys playing both lead and cameo in Our Blues

Nathalie Tomada - The Philippine Star
Lee Byung Hun enjoys playing both lead and cameo in Our Blues
Lee Byung Hun on starring in the omnibusstyle Netflix K-drama: ‘In some episodes, I was the lead and in some, I was almost like a cameo. That was the interesting part.’

Lee Byung Hun found himself playing both leading man and supporting actor in the Netflix K-drama Our Blues.

The first four episodes of the star-studded, omnibus-style series about intertwining lives and relationships in Jeju Island have yet to focus on the 51-year-old actor’s story arc. But there are intriguing bits and pieces of his character as told through different timelines.

One thing’s clear, his character Lee Dong Seok is a hard-working and well-liked salesman who peddles a smorgasbord of wares from his truck, and he falls in love with Shin Min A’s character Min Seon Ah who rejects him outright after a stolen kiss.

In one episode (spoiler alert!), Seon Ah is revealed to be a mother going through depression and whose marriage is in danger of crumbling apart. What role will Dong Seok play in what appears to be the troubled life of Seon Ah? The April 25 episode teases their love story, with Dong Seok asking, “Am I not worth having feelings for because I’m poor?”

Meanwhile, appearing as lead in one episode and making a cameo in the next proved to be a very different experience for one of South Korea’s top stars. Lee is best-known as one of the pioneering Korean actors to penetrate Hollywood (G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Red 2, Terminator Genisys and The Magnificent Seven) and whose movies are among the highest-earning in South Korean box-office. Among his most recent roles is the Front Man in the megahit Netflix series Squid Game.

“That was the interesting part. In some episodes, I was the lead and in some, I was almost like a cameo. I only appeared for a little bit. That’s why the layers in this drama are so thick and connected. It’s a progression of people who live their daily lives, and the camera is just moving around to zoom in on one person after another,” Lee said through an interpreter during a recent virtual presscon attended by The STAR and other Asian press.

The 51-year-old actor plays a traveling salesman in the series.

“It closes in on one person, fades out and zooms in another, while the characters are just going about their daily lives. But the camera is just moving around. That’s the feeling this drama gives you.”

While sharing the most fun moments he had while filming on set in Jeju, he particularly recalled his experience with the show’s writer Noh Hee Kyung (It’s Okay, That’s Love, Padam…Padam) who wrote equally important male characters.

“About fun moments, it’s not really related to Jeju per se, but you know how writer Noh tries to finish all the scripts before we begin shooting, but sometimes that doesn’t necessarily happen. So, she’d give us three volumes of scripts first, and then two, and then one, and it goes on like that. So, every time there’s a newly added script, we’d all read them. And I actually didn’t know the name of my character. What’s interesting about an omnibus drama is that in one episode you’re the lead… (and in another you’re not),” he said.

“First, there’s Han Su’s story (played by A Korean Odyssey’s Cha Seung Won). And because I’m so used to playing the lead role, I was like, ‘Oh, I must be Han Su.’ So, I read through two volumes and I was like, ‘I love this character! This is going to be so much fun! So, I should feel this way when I am acting him out in this scene.’

“And then I got to the end of volume two of the script, and it says he’s extremely good at basketball because he’s really tall. He even dunks and he was the tallest of his class back in high school. Then I knew for sure, ‘Okay, that must be me.’ Only later I found out he wasn’t mine,” he laughed in recollection.

Lee happily continued: “And then there was Jeong Jun (played by Uncontrollably Fond’s Kim Woo Bin), so I thought I was the boat captain. And then In Gwon (Park Ji-hwan) was a good fighter so I thought he was mine. Only after I read five to six volumes of scripts that I asked, what was the name of my character again? And writer Noh said it’s Dong Seok. So, I had to start off all over again on a clean slate and started looking into Dong Seok.”

In Our Blues, Lee gets paired with the Hometown Cha-Cha-Cha star Shin Min A. The drama marked the third time they worked together, although this was the first time they acted as a romantic pair.

“I first worked with Min A in her debut piece (Beautiful Days, 2001). She was my younger sister in that drama,” he recalled. “Then we worked together on A Bittersweet Life, where my character had unrequited love for her. Being in a romantic relationship, or our characters both liking each other in a drama is the first time this time. Young, cute, youthful and energetic was how I always imagined Min A. But through filming this drama, I thought that she had a depth to her, and her acting has depth, too. I was surprised and impressed, and I think we had good synergy.”

Asked if he felt any pride seeing how much Shin has grown as an actress since then, Lee said, “I don’t think I can say I’m proud of her. She’s too mature and great an actress for me to make that kind of judgment. I’m in no position to make judgments. All in all, it was amazing to work with her.”

Lee also noted that he and Shin had great chemistry and their romance on screen felt like a documentary because of its “realistic tone.” 

“The tone may be realistic, like a documentary. But I think from Dong Seok’s point of view, Seon A is like a fantasy. Something that doesn’t really exist for him. Something that’s always just out of his reach,” he said.

“The situation and color tones are different, but it was kind of similar in A Bittersweet Life. The female lead is like a fantasy for the male lead in that movie, too. Unattainable. Though the tone is very different in this drama, the feeling is very similar. That’s how I felt.”

As mentioned, the storyline of Lee’s character has yet to unfold in Our Blues, which Filipino audiences can watch Saturday and Sunday nights on Netflix.

When asked what viewers could expect and learn from his character in the episodes to come, Lee said, “Not just Dong Seok, but I think this applies to all characters here. People say, every soul has a scar. This drama shows those scars. Living life itself means trying to forget those scars, and trying to overcome those scars. It’s a repetition of those two actions.

“Those parts will show through all of the characters in this drama to the viewers. The shape and form of those scars and challenges will be different. But people with wounds and how they overcome those scars will be manifested in this drama in a touching way and impart hope.”



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