Byung-Hun Lee Is a Big Deal in South Korea. But Not in the U.S. Yet.
Courtesy of CJ Entertainment
I was told I was going to meet the Korean Brad Pitt.
With that in mind, I walk into the Los Angeles office of CJ Entertainment, the largest entertainment company in South Korea, where I am introduced to Byung-Hun Lee. He currently stars in The Prince and the Pauper-type period piece, Masquerade, which is having its week-long run at CGV Cinemas in Koreatown.
His past acting credits include G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (as Storm Shadow) and A Bittersweet Life, which had its premiere at the 2005 Cannes Film Festival. He will appear in Red 2 alongside Bruce Willis next year.
Suffice it to say, he's a pretty big deal. So few Asian actors make their way over into the competitive industry of Hollywood. He's one of only two actors from Asia with handprints and footprints immortalized outside Grauman's Chinese Theater.
For being the Korean version of someone married to Angelina Jolie however, the 42-year old actor seems more like the type of good-natured guy who'd always hold the door open for you. Except that this one could probably kick your ass too, only if necessary of course.
"The first movie that I saw was Papillon," Lee recalls of his childhood. "If the movie was popular, people would have to stand to watch. I couldn't see the screen because I was so small. My cousin would be like this," he gestures setting a little kid on his shoulders.
At 21, a family friend encouraged him to audition for an acting part. "I don't know why," he says. "I've never acted before then." Angela Killoren, CJ Entertainment's marketing vice president tells him, "They just thought you were good looking."
Although by now he's proved his talent as an international actor, Lee is as unpretentious and humble as they get. When asked if he had met any crazy fans here, he says jokingly, "I've never really seen American fans. Maybe someday." The actor adds, "Although there was this group of girls. One of them came up to me and asked, 'Are you a movie star?'"
To which he responded, "How do you know?" He starts to laugh. "She said, 'Wow, Hangover was so fun!'"
By the end of my fifteen minutes with Lee, he reaffirms that lighthearted humor trumps celebrity glitz anytime.