Although he's a popular leading man in Korean cinema, many fans in America will be introduced to Byung Hun Lee for the first time in this week's 'G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra'. Lee plays the Storm Shadow, Cobra's evil white ninja opposite Snake Eyes, the black-clad hero on the side of good.
This week Mania.com had a chance to talk exclusively with the actor who admits the world of Joe vs. Cobra is all new to him.
"It didn't show in Korea. I had no idea about G.I. Joe when I first got the script," Lee said, admitting he was a little hesitant to take the part. "I had a lot of time to discuss the character Storm Shadow with [director] Stephen Sommers and [producer] Lorenzo di Bonaventura."
Fans of the characters know his back story is closely intertwined with that of Snake Eyes, played by Ray Park in the film. Lee told us he bonded with his opposite number immediately.
"He was my first friend in Hollywood actually," Lee said of Park. "In the movie we are hating each other but in real life we're really good friends. We took a lot of time to practice the choreography and training before the production."
Although stunt coordinator R.A. Rondell worked out many of the battles for the movie, including the showdown between the two ninjas, Lee and Park employed their respective martial arts expertise to make the on-screen confrontation as explosive as possible.
"Ray and I talked about the choreography and our skills and specialties. We had a lot of discussions and changed things a little bit," Lee said. "For example, Ray Park's style is WuShu. My martial arts is based on Taekwondo. Taekwondo is more simple, but strong.
"Our movements were totally different, actually. So I wanted the stunt guys to focus on the differences between Snake Eyes and Storm Shadow's technique."
One element of the battle did present a challenge for Lee. "I've never filmed with the sword before, so I had to train a lot. I usually use my kicks in movies," Lee said.
As for the complexity of the Snake Eyes/Storm Shadow relationship, Lee admits that they don't reveal and resolve everything in one movie, as there are ten or so other characters with stories to tell. Like most adaptations, the film is designed to introduce G.I.Joe to new audiences as well as entertain the die-hard fans.
"I think there is a little hint and little emotions, but not too much. The director and producer intentionally added something subtle and were thinking about the next one," Lee said alluding to the presumed 'G.I.Joe 2'. He confirmed for us that he's signed to play Storm Shadow in additional films if the studio calls for it.
Byung Hun Lee said he enjoyed the new experience of playing a thug for a change. However, don't expect him to follow the path of martial arts superstars Jackie Chan or Jet Li and start headlining action movies here in the U.S.
"This was my first try to be a comic book character, so that's why I hesitated a little bit to commit to this production," Lee said, adding that, while high-octane superheroes may be popular in America, this kind of movie is new to him. He's not thinking in terms of the next superhero (or villain) he'll play. "I've doing more realistic characters and projects, so I don't know."
He's already working on his next project in Asia, but would consider doing another American film if the right project comes along. We asked him if there's a particular director he's interested in working with.
"There are a lot of good actors and directors in the states I think, but I'd really like to work with director Cameron Crowe. I like his work."
For now you can see Byung Hun Lee as Storm Shadow in 'G.I.Joe: The Rise of Cobra', opening everywhere today.