Although actor Lee Byung Hun is well-respected and admired for his superb acting skills in South Korea, he, unfortunately, faced discrimination while working as an actor in Hollywood.
Lee Byung Hun first debuted as an actor in 1991 in the K-Drama Asphalt My Hometown, and he has since become one of South Korea’s top actors. Most recently, he appeared as the Front Man in Squid Game, which earned him fans from all over the world.
Lee Byung Hun launched his Western acting career in 2009 with the film G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. He also appeared in the 2013 film Red 2 and the 2015 film Terminator Genisys. His performances in these movies impressed people all around the globe, and he even got to leave his handprints on the iconic Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Although he wowed everyone with his acting skills, Lee Byung Hun faced discrimination from his own colleagues. He once told Dailian that some of the people he worked with in Hollywood ignored his attempts to introduce himself and wouldn’t even make eye contact with him. He also revealed that some of them didn’t bother to shake his hand until “we finished filming.”
The discrimination he faced on set angered Lee Byung Hun. He said, “I wasn’t just sad, rather I felt the urge to cry, I was so angry.”
Lee Byung Hun unfortunately faced discrimination while away from his films’ sets, too. Workers at a coffee shop once asked him if he was a movie star, and he thought they recognized him. After they told him how much they loved The Hangover, he realized the workers had mistaken him for Korean American actor, Ken Jeong.
Heartbreakingly, by the time he was mistaken for Ken Jeong, Lee Byung Hun was “used to the discrimination.” “I was just another foreign actor who couldn’t speak English,” he said.
With the recent success of Squid Game, Lee Byung Hun is belatedly getting some of the respect he deserved while working in Hollywood many years ago. He received the Asian Film Excellence award at the 15th Asian Film Awards held in October 2021, and he mentioned how grateful he is that South Korean storytellers can be proud of Squid Game and its achievements.
Everywhere I go, people talk about Squid Game. Recently I went to the U.S. and people there talk about it too. Before, it was Parasite that showed the power of South Korean films, and now it’s Squid Game… My heart is full knowing Asian storytellers can feel proud.
—Lee Byung HUn