Yesterday, as I was scrolling through my Facebook timeline, I saw someone post an article that made me feel embarrassed and disappointed. At the same time, I wasn’t surprised by what I had seen.
The shared article stated that “an American reporter [had] gone viral on social media” for asking Squid Game’s leading actor, Lee Jung-jae, about what it’s like to be a breakthrough actor when, in reality, Lee has had a longstanding acting career in Asia. Unfortunately, this is a pattern I’ve noticed quite often.
Of course, it’s completely understandable if Americans, in general, are not well informed on the background stories of foreign — in particular, Asian — actors.
However, it’s completely different if you are a reporter who is unfamiliar with the work of the actor they are interviewing. This only shows ignorance, unprofessionalism and inexperience on the interviewer’s part. It perpetuates the idea that Western cinema is at the center of the universe when in actuality, brilliant works of filmmaking and art exist all across the world.
Korean movies and TV shows have a reputation of breaking box offices with its movie hits such as “Oldboy,” “Snowpiercer” and award-winning movie “Parasite.” Essentially, the South Korean film and TV industry is one of the best.
Hollywood has a storied past of not properly recognizing international cinema, despite many renowned Western films being heavily inspired by international cinema. Nevertheless, “Parasite” became the first non-English language film to win the prestigious Academy Award for Best Picture Oscar in 2020.
The film’s director, Bong Joon-Ho, rightfully called out this trend. In his speech accepting the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language film, Joon-Ho stated, “Once you overcome the one-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”
There is a seeming reluctance in the American film industry — from awarding institutions to journalists — to overcome this one-inch-tall barrier and become familiar with films in a different language.
This may be because watching a film in a different language requires that one decenter their own experience. There may be some discomfort in this process — there may be cultural themes or practices in the film you may not understand — but this slight discomfort does not justify completely shutting yourself off from international cinema and art.
According to the article, Extra reporter Katie Krause told Lee “I’m sure you can’t leave the house anymore without people recognizing you,” and asked him, “What has been the biggest life change for you since the series came out?”
Clearly, the interviewer was unaware and oblivious to the fact that Lee is a well-known actor who already has a great reputation for his earlier works in Asia. He began his acting career in his first TV show “Dinosaur Teacher” which was released in 1993 after his brief years of modeling.
His various roles as romantic leads, criminals and aristocrats demonstrate his level of experience within his acting career over more than 25 years. One can only praise him for his humility after his outstanding performances, especially as Seong Gi-hun in “Squid Game.”
Just because an actor has only now been considered “Hollywood famous” doesn’t mean the actor was not famous before. Assuming that Lee is a breakthrough artist –– when he clearly is not –– seems disrespectful and unprofessional.
In response to the interviewer, Lee replied eloquently — and, perhaps, with a hint of wit — saying “Yeah, you are right, indeed. The biggest change has to be that I’m so recognized by everybody everywhere … That is, in the United States.”
A thoughtful answer to a not-so-considerate question.