Will Yun Lee ('Four Assassins')
'From Hong Kong, With Love! '
Will Yun Lee was born in Arlington, Virginia, to parents recently emigrated from Korea. He was raised by both immediate and extended family and moved often, exposed to life on the tough Bronx streets and idyllic Hawaiian beaches. By his teens he was living in the San Francisco area with his father, a Korean Tae Kwon Do Grandmaster. Lee also became an accomplished martial artist and won an athletic scholarship to the University of California at Berkeley.
While in school, Lee worked at the East Bay Asian Youth Centre teaching high-risk teens from ghetto neighborhoods not unlike those he had known as a child in the Bronx. It was there that his ongoing commitment to young people began, a commitment that continues to play an important role in his life.
It was also at this time that he became seriously interested in acting, and after landing a role in Nash Bridges he moved to Los Angeles to pursue his career. Guest star roles in series such as "Profiler" and "Brimstone" led to a role in the TV movie The Disciples for UPN, and soon after to "What's Cooking," TNT's "Witchblade," the "Fallen" mini-series and the cancelled-before-its-time "Bionic Woman" in 2007.
Lee has since gone on to star in such Hollywood hits as 'Total Recall,' 'Red Dawn,' NBC's 'Hawaii Five-O' and upcoming has 'The Wolverine,' 'Cobu,' and 'Lost For Words.'
And in his latest movie now on DVD, 'Four Assassins', four colleagues reunite in a dangerous face-off. In this stylish and tense action-thriller, ace hit-man Marcus Nang (Will Yun Lee) reunites with three colleagues in a swanky Hong Kong hotel room. But the real reason why they are there alone with the choice of location are mysteries yet to unfold.
Chatting recently with the man himself Will Yun Lee, I first wondered, as 'Four Assassins' was actually filmed in Honk Kong back in 2010, was talking about it today (some 3 years on) a little weird? "I've actually seen it not that long ago at some festival. I think just because I lived so much with that movie I still remember it all. I brought my friend there, Miguel Ferrer and it was so great to work with him again. In fact, Stanley [J. Orzel, the director] , Miguel and I really worked hard to find the truth in each scene. So I feel like I know every scene of the movie."
It was originally called ‘Far Away Eyes,’ so do you know when and why they decided to change it? "I can't really remember. I think it was really late and after I shot the movie. The producer told me it was going to be a different name, but I'm not sure when that was. But I kinda felt it was going to go through a name change, because it's probably easier to sell as 'The Four Assassins' then 'Far Away Eyes'."
Being shot entirely on location in Hong Kong, but being that it was basically filmed as a one-room shot, that could have been anywhere! "Yeah, it was one location. I think it was like a former military housing unit. But whatever it was they transformed this one building. We basically lived like vampires for 21 days in this one location. And they just kept redressing different rooms."
The way this whole movie (save for the flashbacks) plays out it could easily be an Off-Broadway stage play! Did you feel that same vibe filming the living room and dining room group scenes, perhaps? "That was actually one of the main reasons I took the movie. Because I thought 'How can you make a movie that's watchable and entertaining using just the one location?' Basically, it was all shot at a dinner table for ninety minutes. So that was what was enticing to me to take the role. Because it was a challenge as an actor for ninety minutes to tell a story without really too much of anybody dying!"
There was one scene where you had a really fast, smart gun grab with Chase at the top of the movie. Was that all you? "That was me, but that was also our Stunt Choreographer putting together some slick moves and nice editing. Making you look better than you actually are."
Did you know during filming that they would put the old song ‘Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Than You Think)’ recorded by Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians (in 1949) in as your theme song? ‘Cause man, it was a brilliant choice! "Stanley gave me that song to listen to and I'd never heard that song before. And I just didn't know how it was going to work. I just wasn't sure about it at all. But when I saw the movie it was a fun thing. The juxtaposition of that song for what Marcus does is just great."
Talking about the dinner table scene, the food looked really good and hot when it was served. Did you actually eat it whilst filming? "We were eating pieces, but there were a lot of things that I stayed away from," he laughs. "But we were going through this whole thing of will the audience buy this whole hot pot soup thing. Where Chase starts feeling the first effects of the fact we're trying to make him believe that there's poison in his food. And I just didn't know if the audience would believe this. But that pot came in to the dinning room and literally we all started coughing and our eyes stated burring. It was that hot. We actually had to pull it from the table and pull the plates off and change the contents of the soup as it was killing us through the scene! I've actually never seen a dish that can actually, physically at a high capacity burn the cornea in your eyes," he laughs.
Indeed, everything at the dining table looked tasty save for when the chicken feet came out! They looked raw, and worse yet it looked still alive! "Oh yeah, that was nasty. Every one stayed away from those," he laughs.
The waiter wore a permanently scared stiff expression for his time on screen! "Yeah, he was great! He was hilarious. I think he's a very big actor in Hong Kong. And I think he just wanted to do a movie in English and decided to do us a favor and pop in for a cameo."
The killing of the fat guy in Wales was hilarious, but very Three Stooges in its creation! Did you ever feel that its comedic tone was a little too much for what is essentially an action movie? "It was one of those things when I saw it first in the theatre that it just made me laugh out loud. Because I had no idea how the scene was gonna play Because it didn't really play like the Three Stooges when you were shooting it. But I thought with that song 'Enjoy Yourself' and with the quirky throw in scene of killing this guy it just added to the quirkiness of the film. And I think it was just the right touch of giving you somewhat of a laugh before we all sat back down at the dining room table again."
Did you yourself have any say in what was being filmed? Like did they change something because of your suggestion? "Yeah, it was definitely a strong collaborative effort between me, Stanley and Miguel. We just really sat down and worked through the script, scene by scene. There was a lot of changes constantly happening as we were shooting. So, yeah, it was ever-changing, constantly changing. And I love the director for that. Not having the ego to put you in a fox hole, but work the actors and kind of really shape the movie."
’Suffering makes life ultimately worthwhile’ - very true, but can you relate to it on any personal level, perhaps? "For me I have competed in martial arts for a long time and whether it's acting or whatever, it's always about that whole process of getting to where you want to eventually get to. And it takes a certain amount of sacrifice and pain, if you want to call it that. But ultimately, for me, it makes the rewards that much better. When you get to where you want to go. Or just the first pit stop. Or the second pit stop that you want to be at."
‘I was never afraid of death - after all, it lasts forever’ - again, very true, so what’s your own personal opinion on death? Are you afraid of it? "Yeah, I think to an extent. Yeah, probably that would be my most honest answer. Because there's still a lot of things left that I want to do." Does this mean you believe in the afterlife? "Yes, I do. I definitely do."
What is the price of love? - a good question, so, what is the price of love to you, personally? "I think it's sacrifice. In sacrificing something sometimes that you want to do for the greater good. Like, me and my wife are about to have a son in June and that will bring little changes in our lifestyles. Moving rooms around and such. And we have to get this and that for the baby. So I guess it's certain sacrifices for something that you love."
Is it true that all assassins after their kills have to throw their shoes away each time?! "When I was doing research for the movie, and it's disturbing that it's actually out there and that you can find it, there was a man killed many, many years ago by a housewife who turned hit man. And she wrote this manual. And it's unbelievable that this information is out there. But that was one of the common denominator things that I researched. That was a huge thing, making sure your shoes were thrown away."
"There's just so many different things, but in this one manual she made this example of if you threw this body away in a certain part of the city or desert the residue off your shoes a lot of times can be kicked up into the AC vent. And that residue would then be left inside the car. And whatever car was found would possibly then be able to tell you where the body was."
Your character is a gun and knife collector, so in reality do you like to collect anything in the same en masse manner? "If I could, and this is just something that my wife makes fun of me with, but I've recently gotten into the Ukulele. I'm on my second, but I'd have a lot more. But she would either lock me out of the house or stop the credit card payments," he laughs.
In the movie, what turned out to be your favorite scene? "Probably the end, with Miguel. Because we'd labored over the ending and wanted to really give both these guys a reason why it was such a long dinner? Like, why didn't he just kill Marcus right away and get it over with? So we wanted it to resonate to why he had kept him alive so long. And that's the friendship between Miguel and myself. And for me that was great, because we've been friends for so long it was a nice scene. Like you said, it felt like a play. Like I felt like I'd been just sitting down with one of my close friends for the past 5 weeks rehearsing a play and shooting it. And I think the culmination of that was the most satisfying."
Your upcoming movies include 'The Wolverine,' 'Cobu,' and 'Lost For Words,' but which are you most excited for us to get to see you next in? "Well, The obvious answer is that 'Wolverine' is one of them. Because it's stunning. Having been on the movie set and worked with James Mangold and Hugh Jackman, I mean, the sets are stunning and it's just such an epic 'Wolverine.' It was filmed in Australia and Tokyo. I think this movie is going to be a very different kind of 'Wolverine' or 'X-Men' that we're used to seeing though. Because there's so much Japanese culture and tradition weaved throughout this 'Wolverine.' So yeah, that's one of them."
You must be loving all these high profile Hollywood movie roles?! "Yeah, I'm like a kid. I still can't believe that I get to be in this business. And so anything I do is great. I mean, my favorite day on a movie set is the first day. Like a 5.00am crew call and then you go get your coffee on the set whilst you're watching the sun come up. To me that's exciting. So I am excited about all of them coming out and seeing what the filmmakers have put together."
Will your character Sang Min be appearing again in the new season of Hawaii Five-O? "Yeah, I pop in every once in a while," he laughs."They invite me every once in a while to come play. So, probably two or three times a year I show up on the show."
I have a mate (Tim Allen) who has appeared as an extra in Hawaii Five-O (season one) and he said to ask you how you like the food catering on set?! "Hawaii Five-O has the best food catering out of every show that I've ever been on! One because they always have Kim Chee, which is a Korean dish every day, and two because it's always a combination of Hawaiian, Asian and American food. And that's just unbelievable."
You must love working on that set, in that beautiful surrounding landscape? "It's truly one of my favorite sets to be on. And I mean that honestly because the people, they always make you feel like you're at home. It's really amazing. And they're so proud to have Hawaii Five-O on their island. And you can feel it. And you can feel it's like a very special, small family."
You have been working out with Apolo Ohno recently at the gym - what’s that all about? "We're just friends. We train at the same gym. There's a small group of guys that we all train with. We all kind of push each other to kinda go harder. He's a great guy."
And yet outside the gym, according to your Tweet, didn't you hurt your knee the other day on your coffee table? "Oh yeah," he laughs. "I was talking about people fighting in the UFC and I remember getting hit back in the day when I used to compete. And now if I just hit the coffee table that's about as much pain as I want," he laughs again.
Are you big into all this social media now online? "No, not really. I have this Facebook thing, but I still don't know how to use it. So I'm just constantly away from the Facebook. But Twitter is easier so I enjoy using Twitter. But obviously I'm inept because I can't figure out how to use Facebook ... while every eight year-old knows how to use it," he gently laughs.
Finally, and throwing you a journalistic curve ball, we here at Exclusive Magazine love Penguins … do you and do you have any Penguin memories growing up?! "We actually have two that are outside of our city that we actually lease," he starts off, in a straight, monotone voice. Seriously, I ask. "No, I'm kidding," he then breaks into huge laughter. "I have no connection to a penguin, sorry."
But, if you did have two penguins, what would you name them? "Teddy and Rusty!"
Why Teddy and Rusty? "They're my dogs names!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
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