Lee Byung 'Hunk' stars in Red 2

NEW YORK - Within the first five seconds of his appearance in Red 2, Korean actor Lee Byung Hun sheds his clothes, revealing what looks like eight-pack abs.

Red 2 is his third Hollywood action-packed movie after playing villainous ninja Storm Shadow in this year's G.I Joe: Retaliation and 2009's G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.

The common denominator? All feature him topless - much to the delight of female audiences.

Said co-star Helen Mirren: "I think the great thing with Red 2 is we have the addition of Byung Hun, who is that incredible, physical presence.

He is a taekwondo champion isn't he? So there's an example of an amazing, young, at his peak of physicality kind of person."

For his part, Lee was overjoyed to be cast as Han Cho Bai, a contract killer hired to get rid of Bruce Willis' Frank Moses.

"It was like a dream come true," he told FiRST. "I was so excited to work with those legends. I grew up with their films since I was a kid."

Though Lee had a translator in the room during the interview, he responded carefully and fluently in English, with a shyness that made him all the more charming.

On what it felt like to act opposite his award-winning co-stars, the 43-year-old heart-throb said with a laugh that it was definitely a different experience being one of the younger ones on set.

He said: "You know, in Korea, I'm used to being one of the oldest.

There are a lot of young actors and actresses, so I need to be a leader or something like that. But in this film, I was the youngest. So it felt a little weird. I needed to be cute."

It's a little hard though, to view Lee as anything but the martial arts expert that he is.

He said he first picked up taekwondo when he was four years old, but hurriedly went on to reassure the journalists gathered that he only has a six-pack for acting purposes. Otherwise, he works out "like normal people", he said with a laugh.Frequency

He added that he usually works out thrice a week, hitting the gym for 1½ hours each time. But for Red 2, Lee increased the frequency of his workouts to six times a week, and reduced his intake of salt, sugar, alcohol and carbohydrates.

The other challenge, Lee said, was performing the comedic aspect of Red 2, due to Western and Asian cultural differences.

To cope with this, he said he spoke with US director Dean Parisot, who reassured him that he should try different styles of acting and that they would pick the best version.

Though he seems to have gained a firm foothold in Hollywood, Lee said he definitely intends to carry on working in the Korean film industry and does not see himself moving to the US.

"There's no limit and I'm doing both (Hollywood and Korean films) these days but I don't want to lose my base. (Korean films) are what I can do best, in the Korean language with the Korean culture," he said.

"I'm still watching myself. Every time I decide (on) some project, I always do my best. I don't think about the future. I just do my best in the present."

tnpshow@sph.com.sg


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