Actor Lee Je-hoon learns to take nothing for granted
Actor Lee Je-hoon shines brightest when he's playing the hero.
Currently, he's taken on such roles in the Netflix series “Move to Heaven,” released on May 14 and on weekends in the hit drama series “Taxi Driver” airing on SBS. However, both the characters he plays are far from perfect, leaving room for character development and for the story to flow.
In “Move to Heaven,” Sang-gu is an ex-boxer who becomes the guardian of his older brother's son, Geu-ru (played by Tang Jun-sang), who has Asperger's Syndrome and works as a trauma cleaner. The brother's will states that Sang-gu will be entitled to the family's properties, but only under the condition that he takes care of Geu-ru.
While the pair initially find it tough to bond, Sang-gu eventually warms up to Geu-ru and the work of cleaning trauma scenes, all the while providing him the protection he needs.
In “Taxi Driver,” Lee plays taxi driver Kim Do-gi, who avenges injustices on request from his clients. But he grapples with his traumatic past and deliberates whether his ways of revenge are truly “just.”
“I was initially a little bit worried about the two series overlapping,” Lee said on Monday when he spoke to the Korea JoongAng Daily during an online interview about his role as Sang-gu in the Netflix series. “I thought the two projects might divide public interest, but to my relief, people seem to enjoy each of them individually.”
According to the actor, he came across the Netflix series first, which he said influenced his perspective on society and ultimately, his decision to star in “Taxi Driver.”
“After my decision to star in ‘Move to Heaven,’ I became more interested in people and society,” Lee said. “The heart of the series is ultimately about people’s attention and interest. When I look back on my own life and think whether there was ever a time when I properly reached out, let alone expressed a word of comfort to those who were dear to me, I can't think of any. I felt awkward about it. Moreover, these are difficult times, what we’re going through. But, I believe that we can pull through, and be happy if we spend more time asking about our loved ones — contact them and ask them how they’re doing and about their health, tell them about what you’ve been up to. I hoped to convey such message through the series.”
On the day of the interview, the actor had just finished filming the last episodes of ‘Taxi Driver’ and said that while he hadn’t quite gotten the time to read any reviews, he had gotten some feedback from his close acquaintances.
“The most memorable review I’ve heard was from a friend who said tears kept flowing while they were watching,” he said. “They said it’s funny how they sympathized with each death even though they haven’t had such experiences themselves. I think they saw the sincerity of the writer and the hard work the crew put into this story. Come to think of it, all of the 10 episodes are so, so precious to me and I was sorry to see it end. If possible, it would be great if the story could be extended and the stories of minorities and people who wish to be heard can be represented [in another season].”
The actor also predicted that more series with omnibus episodes will be released.
“I don’t know about films, but for series, I think there’s going to be more like ‘Move to Heaven,’” he said. “As we live in the contemporary era, I think people are very much influenced by the news and stories that they hear every day and it’s same for me too. We are constantly thinking about how we should live and what opinions we should voice to create a positive change. As an actor, I believe the decisions I make about what projects to choose are also impacted [by such social phenomenon].”
When asked what news interests him, the actor indirectly answered by revealing a short film that he will be directing.
“The reason why I chose to create this film — I wrote the script as well — was that I wanted to talk about the thoughts that youths in their 20s and 30s have,” he said. “To be more specific, how they see the economy, use it, consume it, and what they want to gain from it. My film will be available via the streaming service Watcha around November.”
Although the main narrative centers around the trauma scenes that Sang-gu and Geu-ru encounter, their personal stories also surface through the episodes. To physically prepare for his role as ex-athlete Sang-gu, the actor underwent intensive training for four months prior to filming.
“I was working out at least six days a week,” he said. “Physically, Sang-gu had to give off an aura of an intense, tough character, so I worked really hard on my body. In prior interviews, I always said that I wanted to try out boxing when asked what I wanted to do next, so it was very fulfilling for me. I also added a little twist to my character. Originally, Sang-gu was only involved in the sport through illegal gambling, but I suggested that he should be an ex-pro-athlete. Boxing, to me, feels like a very honest and sacred form of sport. There’s only two set of fists, fighting each other in a bath of blood and sweat. And I wanted to portray Sang-gu’s innocence through this sport, and thankfully enough, producers let me try that out.”
Lee and Tang also had a chance to meet with an actual trauma-scene cleaner named Kim Sae-byeol when filming was completed, footage of which is available on Netflix Korea’s YouTube channel.
“What I felt from meeting Kim was that it would be extremely difficult to do this job without a warm heart and respect for the deceased,” Lee said. “I mean, usually, how workers feel about their profession or what mindset or principles they have, is for them to decide. But this job of cleaning trauma scenes is like being a mediator between those who have left this earth and those who remain, and the situations and emotions that they have to deal with ask a lot of them. You know, we hear sayings like don’t take your loved ones for granted, but they don’t really touch us. But through his story and ‘Move to Heaven,’ that saying somehow felt more true. To be able to express affection and appreciation for your family, or your loved ones whom you haven’t seen for a long time, is very important. I think I’ll retain this understanding, and act on it both now and in the future.”
BY LEE JAE-LIM [firstname.lastname@example.org]