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Why Squid Game Star Lee Jung-Jae Took The Bold Leap Into The Director's Chair For Hunt - Exclusive

Before his electric turn to international stardom as Seong Gi-hun in "Squid Game," Lee Jung-jae had built a strong career as a leading man in a host of popular cinematic outings. As an actor, he won several awards for films like "An Affair," "City of the Rising Sun," and "The Face Reader" even before his record-setting "Squid Game" outing. Not content to rest on these laurels, the distinguished performer is now taking a turn in the director's chair with his new thriller, "Hunt."

"Hunt" takes place after a time of real-life political turmoil, set four years after the 1979 assassination of South Korean dictator Park Chung-hee. In "Hunt," a subsequent failed assassination attempt triggers another political crisis, including within South Korea's own intelligence agency. Lee Jung-jae directs the thriller from a script he co-wrote and also plays Korean Central Intelligence Agency Unit chief Park Pyong-ho. 

Pyong-ho is a respected agent who is challenged by suspicions that there's a mole in the agency connected to the assassination attempt, and the film is a tense cat-and-mouse game as rival Intelligence figures try to discover the mole before the next crisis is far more fatal. In an exclusive Looper interview with Lee Jung-jae, the filmmaker revealed the reason why he took the novel pivot into directing.

He simply knew Hunt better than anyone

As with so many films, the story of the star's shift into filmmaking for "Hunt" starts with a script. "When we first bought the rights to the first draft of the script, I had initially searched for the right directors and writers to further develop the project," Lee Jung-jae explained. "That didn't work out," he admitted, "because I had specific directions regarding how I wanted the revisions to be executed."

Finding the right person to develop the project further proved more challenging than he anticipated, and it was pivotal to his decision to change the story himself. "I couldn't find the right people who share[d] that same vision that I had, so I ultimately decided that I could try doing this myself."

The first step was retooling the script's theme from the first draft, and with some hard work, everything else fell into place. "Based off this change in theme, I changed the situations and change[d] the characters to match the theme as well," he said, "which is why it took a while to develop this material."

After the long path to shaping the script was finally complete, Lee Jung-jae reached a point where he realized that, frankly, he knew "Hunt" better than anyone. "The next thought that naturally occurred was, 'There probably isn't anyone else who knows the script better than I do,'" he explained, "so I decided to take that leap of faith and try directing it as well." The end result is one of the best thrillers of the year, and a true stunner of a directorial debut.

"Hunt" is available in theaters and on VOD.