There is no doubt that one of the most beloved properties of the 1980s has got to be G.I. JOE. From action figures to cartoons to comics, G.I. JOE populated and consumed almost every fan-boy’s childhood. Starting this weekend fans can rejoice as the popular franchise finally makes the jump to the big screen in the live-action summer blockbuster “G.I. JOE: The Rise Of Cobra.”
There are many characters in the “JOE” pantheon that are cherished by fans but probably non-more than the character of Snake Eyes and his mortal enemy Storm Shadow. Fan’s of the classic Larry Hama written, Marvel Comics’ series “G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero” are well aware of the bitter history and rivalry between these two characters. CBR News had the opportunity to sit down with Byung-hun Lee this week and discuss the new film, playing Storm Shadow, the responsibility he feels that he has to the fans and fighting opposite Ray Park.
CBR News: Were you aware of “G.I. JOE” or the character of Storm Shadow before filming?
Byung-Hun Lee: Not at all because in Asia they didn’t show the cartoon, so mostly nobody knows what it is. For me, when I first got the script from my agent, I didn’t know what it was. So I asked my agent and a lot of my friends in LA and in the states. They told me it was a huge cartoon and that especially Storm Shadow was a really powerful character. So first I hesitated a little bit because it was not familiar with me. I’ve been acting in more realistic (movies) and, this as you know, is based on the cartoon and the characters are a little bit more intense. But I think this is going to be really good opportunity for me to be shown in Hollywood and in the states.
CBR News: How did you prepare for the role of Storm Shadow? Did you do any research like watching the cartoons or reading the comics?
Byung-Hun Lee: I just learned about G.I. JOE and my character from Stephen Sommers, Lorenzo (di Bonaventura) and the actors and actresses, so I learned a lot about G.I. JOE. I first asked Stephen, “Should I watch the whole series of the cartoon?” He said, “I think you don’t have to because I want you to make some creation of the character.” So we had to discuss about the character a lot. We made his history and character just before the project (started filming). I learned about the original character too from the other actors so I’m a big fan of G.I. JOE now.
CBR News:The property is so beloved by fans, did you feel a responsibility to get it right and do you think that this movie will live up to their expectations?
Byung-Hun Lee: Of course I did because I realized when I got to LA that it is a huge comic and that there are plenty of Storm Shadow fans. So I had to at first have a lot of practice and training with the sword because he is a martial arts expert especially with the sword. I needed to learn about Storm Shadow and his original character because I didn’t want to let the fans down.
CBR News:As a martial arts expert yourself was there still a lot of training with the sword that you had to do to get ready for the film?
Byung-Hun Lee: That was my first experience with the sword. Actually I did a lot of action films in Korea and Asia but with the sword was my first experience. My martial arts are based on Tae Kwon Do, Korean martial arts. But Snake Eyes, his martial arts are based on WuShu so it’s more clean and fresh. But Tae Kwon Do is, as you know, more powerful but simple. Vast differences between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow in this movie.
CBR News:Ray Park is a martial arts expert as well, what was it like working with him on the fight scenes and the choreography?
Byung-Hun Lee: I had to get into LA a little earlier because I needed to do some training with the sword and Ray Park, so we trained a lot. The choreography, I think, they need some differences. Even though they have one master, but still they would have their own skills and their own martial arts. So I suggested for Storm Shadow why don’t we use Tae kwon Do more and for Snake Eyes why don’t we use more WuShu style. So that’s the big difference actually. He was so happy with that and me too.
We talked a lot about the choreography. Actually the stunt guys they teach us how to do it, the choreography. But we needed to change it a little bit in the situations. We suggested a lot of things to the stunt guys and then they accepted it. So they controlled the choreography but for me, more simple and powerful, for him (Ray Park) more skills. So we discussed it a lot, about the choreography and changed a lot I think.
In the movie, as you know, we were enemies with each other. We hate each other so much. But in real life we’re real good friends so we talked a lot and we hangout a lot.
CBR News:What was it like for you working with the rest of the actors in the cast?
Byung-Hun Lee: It was really good, I think. When I first got here it was a little bit hard to join them and participate in the group because this is my first experience in Hollywood and it was totally different. Especially the language, culture, environments and people so it was a little bit hard to join them. But Marlon Wayans is a really funny guy. He was so friendly to me but I didn’t understand what he says. He uses a lot of funny words and he talks so fast. So I couldn’t join with them but later he’s my best friend now.
CBR News:How was your experience working with the director, Stephen Sommers?
Byung-Hun Lee: Stephen was really passionate. He never sits down in a shooting place. He never drinks alcohol at all. It was so impressive for me because he got a lot of passion inside of him, I can feel it. I realized, he didn’t tell me but I realized, in myself that he wanted me a little more intense because Storm Shadow requires intense emotions. Also the audience can feel his tense and his fever even though he is not saying anything but still the audience has to feel his anger. So I think he want me to do that so it was helpful.
CBR News:Finally, you’re a huge movie star in your native country of South Korea, now that you’ve made a big Hollywood movie would you like to do more in the future?
Byung-Hun Lee: Of course, if I have a good chance to participate in a good project then it’s on. I could enjoy and join them. I would like to have different genre. I would like to have different experience with a different genre and different characters but anything’s possible.
“G.I. JOE: The Rise Of Cobra” attacks theatres today!