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INTERVIEW'Ballerina' director says Jun Jong-Seo was irreplaceable for role

Director Lee Chung-hyun couldn't envision anyone other than actor Jun Jong-seo for the lead role in his latest Netflix original film, "Ballerina." The two previously collaborated on Lee's feature debut thriller film “The Call” (2020).

“Once I finished up the script, I thought about who could play this lead role. And I felt that no other actor can replace (Jun) for this role,” the director said during an interview.

 The director, who knows Jun intimately as the two have been dating since 2021, noted that the actor's real-life persona shares many similarities with her on-screen character, Ok-ju.

“Jun, in real life, is the type of person who jumps headfirst into the eye of a storm without looking back, if she believes something is wrong. And I thought that was a lot like Okju. When she takes on a project, she always goes the extra mile. She purely just gives everything,” he said, expressing his deep trust in her.

The action thriller, which hit the platform on Oct. 6, follows the vengeance story of a former bodyguard named Ok-ju. Living a lonely isolated life, Ok-ju runs into her former classmate, Min-hee, played by Park Yu-rim, and forms a strong friendship until Min-hee takes her own life and leaves a note asking Ok-ju to take revenge for her.

 While grieving Min-hee’s death, Ok-ju hunts down the ruthless Choi (Kim Ji-hun) who is involved in drug and sex crime rackets, to take matters into her own hands and carry out her high-octane brand of payback for her friend.

The film landed in the third spot on Netflix’s official top 10 weekly streaming chart for non-English films in the first week of its release.

Director Lee expressed immense faith in Jun's acting skills, noting that she brings a unique and insightful interpretation to her roles.

“Since ‘The Call,’ I feel Jun finds better interpretations of the character than the director. She proved to exceed my expectations in ‘The Call’ already. And I had faith in her as an actor who gives a surprise to the creator. So we discussed her role a lot but on the set I just worked with what Jun brought to the table."

Lee was inspired to make the film due to the prevalence of sex crimes, both in Korea and globally.

“When I was thinking about my next project, there had been a lot of such crimes in Korea, which influenced me. But sexual exploitation is also an issue all over the world and something that is worth discussing," the director said."Ballerina" culminates in a satisfying climax where Ok-ju exacts revenge on Choi and the drug ring he is a part of that also sexually exploits girls and women.“

I don’t think I’ve seen any work, yet, that covers a cathartic revenge for online sex crimes or sexual exploitation of women. So I made this film thinking ‘I wish there was a work that would resolve that," Lee said.

The film combines intense action and elaborate cinematography topped with stylish visuals and music, directed by rapper and producer GRAY.

Lee aimed for the film to be a "sequence of ballet," not just in its narrative but also in its aesthetics.“

I especially paid more attention to the art and music (of the film). I wished the process of the lead character seeking revenge to appear as a ballet performance. I wanted this process to be seen not only as beautiful but also as cruel, yet aesthetically pleasing,” he said.

The director also emphasized his desire to highlight underrepresented locations in Korea through the film's cinematography.

“The narrative was important, but I also focused on (the aesthetic part). I believe there are plenty of unique locations around Korea, but I felt they have not been presented well in content. So I had in mind to show some of them with this movie.”