Lee Byung-hun's return to drama in Netflix's "Mr. Sunshine"
Writer: Naseem Randhawa
Lee Byung-hun at the press conference of "Mr. Sunshine" in Seoul.
South Korean superstar Lee Byung-hun has been making his mark in Hollywood in the past few years, so it was about time he returned to the very medium that started it all for him back home.
Netlfix's upcoming "Mr. Sunshine" sees the 47-year-old Lee playing one of his most complex characters to date.
As Eugene Choi, he is a cynical man resulting from his pitying childhood in the late 1800s after his family of servants are killed, thus forcing him to run away from Joseon to board an American warship.
Years later, having been Americanised, he is sent back to his homeland as a vengeful US marine officer where he finds himself faced with a double-edged aristocrat's daughter (played by Kim Tae-ri) against a historical backdrop of political turmoil.
If the plot of the drama sounds great, that's because the USD 36 million produced drama is 24-episode epic that is created by the writer-director team of Kim Eun-sook and Lee Eung-bok; the great minds that produced the 2016 hit, "Descendants of the Sun", and following that, "Goblin".
With audiences around the globe having seen Lee in recent Hollywood blockbusters like "G.I. Joe", "Red 2", "Terminator: Genisys" and "The Magnificent Seven", thanks to Netflix they can now keep seeing him via "Mr. Sunshine", as it premieres worldwide in over 90 countries this Saturday. 7 July!
Cinema Online flew to Seoul, South Korea to meet with the man himself who told us more about the ironically named "Mr. Sunshine", and why he finally returned to drama.
The cast of "Mr. Sunshine": Byun Yo-han, Lee Byung-hun, Kim Tae-ri, Kim Min-jung and Yoo Yeon-seok.
Cinema Online: It has been nine years since your last television series, "Iris", and since then you've been busy making movies in Hollywood. What made you decide to star in "Mr. Sunshine"?
Lee Byung-hun: As you probably know, I started my career through TV dramas and of course I've done a lot of films as well, but I've always been open to more TV. I am always interested in a good TV project like "Mr. Sunshine".
Are you worried that "Mr. Sunshine" might remind people of the director and writer's previous popular works?
It's the first time for me to work with the director and writer, but I think "Mr. Sunshine" is different from all the other stories and characters they have created. This series has its own feel and I'm really looking forward to the output.
Both you and your heroine Kim Tae-Ri come from different acting backgrounds, what was it like coming together to film this. Do you guys already know each other before this?
I've worked with a lot of actors throughout my career, but I think it was really special working with Tae-ri because, although this is her debut in a TV drama, it doesn't really seem like it at all. She is really great at expressing her emotions and she is also very intellectual. She left a good impression with me.
Did you have to undertake the learning of any special skill or knowledge in order to successfully play the role of the Korean-born American soldier Eugene Choi?
Preparing for this, there was a lot of action and a lot of drama, of course. There's also an exotic backdrop. I didn't try to learn anything specific as I think it's all about perspective. I had to gain the perspective of my character - of running away from Korea at the age of 9 to the US and trying to become an absolute American. So, the way I thought of things had to be very Americanised and the opposite of what life like is in Joseon, so that was something interesting.
"Mr Sunshine" features a great romance between Lee Byung-hun and Kim Tae-ri's characters.
Personally, what was the biggest difference for you between shooting for film and TV?
Cinema Online, 03 July 2018
I think the biggest difference between TV and film is the production process. For a film you have a 2-hour or so running time and filming runs for a couple of months. You have time to discuss the scenes and to come up with new ideas. Drama is not like that. You're shooting a lot for a short period so it requires a lot of time investment, not only for the staff, but also the actors. The shooting process is also quite intensive, but the impact a drama delivers is particularly larger, especially since this will also be on Netflix and thus shown in 90 different countries around the world. It should leave a big impression.
Apart from its historical significance, what do you want viewers to realise about love after watching "Mr. Sunshine"?
If you generally look at the drama, it is based on historic times and turmoil, so obviously politics plays a huge importance in the backdrop. Me and Tae-ri both play the role of independent fighters and so there is a lot of complex emotions involved. There is hate and love, as well as friendship and rivalry. Unfortunately, there is a lot pain and inevitability in this story, and this is a good representation of what people of that time had to go through.
What in your opinion is the key standout feature of "Mr. Sunshine"?
I think the interaction, conflict and tension really stands out. Particularly our character's first interaction. When me and Tae-ri's character first meet each other, both of us have masks on and have guns pointing at each other. It is that kind of tension that makes this drama so great.
"Mr Sunshine" will premiere exclusively on Netflix this 7 July 2018.