An Interview with Lee Byung-heon behind the stage of “IRIS Concert”
Lee Byung-heon, one of Asia’s top superstars, pulled in massive crowds across Japan earlier last week as he toured to promote his latest performance one of South Korean’s most expensive television series ever.
Speaking to Reuters in between two events, Lee talked about his recent breakthrough in Hollywood movies such as “I Come with the Rain” and “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra” and his role in the latest South Korean drama due to make waves in Japan.
“No matter how fluent English he or she speaks, to perform in Hollywood their acting would be only mimicking those of western actors unless they fully understand the culture there. So, I admit that to advance to Hollywood is a remarkable thing for an actor, but if you’re not fully aware of western culture, you should stick to what you know from your own cultural background,” Lee said when asked if strong language skills were enough to help Asian stars break in to Hollywood and other markets.
The “Korean Wave” — a boom in South Korean pop culture — swept Japan and much of Asia from as early 2000.
But even though South Korean dramas, especially those of the romance genre, have become a staple of Japanese cable and daytime TV, a prime-time slot on network television has been virgin territory until now with Lee’s latest espionage spectacular called IRIS.
The series is notable for being one of a very few foreign dramas to ever appear on Japanese network TV during the 7-10 p.m.
“Golden Time” slot, which is typically heavy on quiz shows featuring local stars.
IRIS revolves around two operatives, played by Lee and Jung Joon-ho, and their sultry colleague, Kim Tae-hee, in the ultra-secret spy organization NSS, caught up in North/South political intrigue from Hungary to Japan in a shadowy world of assassins and arms dealers.
While the drama focuses on the political issues of the North/South divide, tensions between the two Koreas in the real world have also racked up since the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan.
“When I see dramas or movies that feature the South-North Korean cooperation, I feel very happy and wish that we can be that friendly and that close someday, because we are all brothers. I believe the same hopes are shared by everyone; South and North alike. But in the current situation, in which you don’t know what’s going to happen in the next moment, I feel very sad and regretful,” Lee said.
The series, which has started airing on Japanese broadcaster TBS, was a blockbuster during its original 20-episode run on South Korean public broadcaster KBS last autumn with average viewer ratings of over 30 percent and while Lee has enjoyed popularity in both Japan and South Korea, he explained that a certain amount is down to luck.
“Certain amounts of good luck always exist behind any stories of success though the “amount” is different in all cases. One of the key things that leads to success for an artist like me is what I choose to perform or in other words choosing your own work,” Lee told Reuters.
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