Interview with Hyunri Lee

It’s been Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist fever all the way and with the growing success of the series, gaining 10 million views in just two weeks – have you had your Street Fighter fix yet?

Meanwhile, we’ve been fortunate to get the lowdown with all the leading men, but what about the main lady, Sayaka, who plays Goki’s love interest giving substance and depth to the whole storyline? Well, in no. 7 of our SFAF series (click here to see our previous Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist posts and interviews), we speak with the delightful Hyunri Lee who plays the role of Sayaka. She has lived in England previously, was a fashion model in Korea, has acted in TV shows and is now making a name for herself in movies as demands for her talent are on the rise, so let’s check in with her.

Great to have you with us Hyunri!

Hi Raj! Thank you!

Annyong haseyo (how are you)?

Hahaha! You know Korean?

Sayaka out in the fields -SFAF

Sayaka out in the fields -SFAF

A little yes… 😉 So, let’s get started, tell us when were you born, where do you come from?

Great! Well, I was born on the 18th of Dec 1986. My parents are Korean, but I was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan.

What is your height and weight?

I am 1.68cm (5’ 6) tall and weigh 48kg.

Can you tell us about your background in terms of sports or perhaps martial arts?

I’m not so into fighting (sorry!) my brother did taekwondo though! When I was younger I would do ballet dancing, swimming and I’ve recently tried kickboxing which was really fun. When more movie opportunities came along I switched it for traditional Japanese dance. I’ve also recently joined a class which teaches traditional Korean dance and I’ve been practicing yoga for 18 years.

Can you tell us a little more about your acting background?

Well, my acting started in Korea and since graduating from university in Japan, I’ve been acting for 5 years. My acting career in Japan started with TV dramas. After several of those I started to do movies. This year I’ve been in six films. One of them is coming out in Japan in a couple of months (on the 30th of August) called “Hear The Voice of Water”.

Now onto “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist”, how did you become involved?

I had an audition in Japan. At that time it was difficult to schedule as I also had other movies going on. Togo (Igawa) san helped coordinate things so I really appreciate his help. Initially when my agents mentioned the role for SFAF, I thought I was being cast for the role of Chun Li!  I hadn’t known about Sayaka before as I think she mainly appears in the comic. To better follow Joey’s idea of how Sayaka should be portrayed, I didn’t look too closely into the animated film so as not to get too influenced by that.

Were you a “Street Fighter” fan before SFAF?

Yes. My young brother is a huge fan and he loved playing it and I played with him. I’m not really so good at video games but I knew the characters well enough i.e. Chun Li, Honda, Dhalsim, Ken and Ryu and so on.

Sayaka, Goutetsu and Gouken

Sayaka, Goutetsu and Gouken

You portray the character Sayaka, can you tell us about your role?

Well, Sayaka is always crying in this drama, I was very happy to take this on! I tried to understand the time in which she lived and her emotions. If I was Sayaka, I would’ve left the dojo with Goki, because I loved him. However, in this story, her uncle (Gotetsu) told her what to do, to stay with Gouken so there’s a big difference between the real me and Sayaka.

Was there much in the way of physical preparation?

Well, I didn’t have any action scenes!   I noticed the guys had to eat a lot to build their muscles so they would eat loads of meat and protein and would eat five meals a day. We all lived together in the mountains sharing breakfast, lunch and dinner together, I must admit, I ate a lot!  I was worried about my weight but I controlled it and went to the gym with the guys so, in the end, I didn’t gain too much! Before shooting, I had been vegetarian for two years but I think that got compromised a bit (laughs).

What was it like working with your co-stars?

Shogen: We’ve worked together in Japan before, so it was a new and fun experience for us to be shooting in Bulgaria!

Gaku: He is a close friend, even though we had some major differences of opinion!

Joey: He always asked me my opinion about my role and scenes to make the acting even better, I respect him as an actor and director.

Chris: He’s gentle and kind, I think he’s a well-balanced person.

Mike: He is the life and soul of our team, always nice, funny and making me laugh. He was also good at mimicking Sayaka!

What is your favourite scene in the movie?

Ryu and Ken hanging-out at the night club.

SFAF will also mark one of your first films or series made in the West, how did the experience of making SFAF differ from working in Japan? 

I’ve worked with French and Portuguese film crews before SFAF. The biggest difference with Japan and the West is the sense of time. For instance, the DP of SFAF said they must take breaks, lunch and dinner when meal time arrives. In Japan, if they don’t have enough time, they don’t eat! They call it “Meshi-oshi”. Meshi means meal, “oshi”means “delay”, so ‘delayed meal’. Well, I like both styles, I can’t say which one is better!

What fun or unusual moment do you recall from your experience on SFAF ?

There was a guy called Haruka, an attractive assistant Japanese/English translator who was well liked by all the cast and crew. One day we tried to cut his hair to make it super cool but it didn’t quite turn out as planned; the next day he ate a lot of sushi at Wasabi’s, not sure what happened there!

What are your thoughts for the series moving forward?

Hyunri in a downpour - SFAF

Hyunri in a downpour – SFAF

Well, we really hope it will develop!

Moving on now…Who are some of your favourite martial arts actors?

Bruce Lee, and Jackie Chan, I watched a lot of their movies and Jackie is so famous in Japan!   I really enjoyed Police Story. These days I’m also getting more into Steven Seagal’s movies because his daughter, Ayako Fujitani, who lives in L.A., is a friend of mine.

Which other actors inspire you?

Gong Lee , Ayako Wakao, Jennifer Lawrence.

What are your top 5 Asian movies? 

  1. In The Mood For Love
  2. Secret Sunshine
  3. Bad Guy
  4. Vengeance Is Mine
  5. The Scent Of Green Papaya

And some of your top American/European films?

  • Where The Wild Things Are
  • Laurence Anyways
  • The Beat That My Heart Skipped
  • Silver Linings Playbook
  • Love Streams
  • To The Wonder

Which actor/s would you like to work with in the future? 

Tony Leung

How do you like to keep healthy?

I like to walk or run for an hour every morning. I also like swimming, yoga and gyrotonic exercises.

Hyunri Lee - movies

Hyunri Lee – movies

What’s your favourite exercise?

Actually, it’s jazz dance!

Which foods do you find keep you at your most energetic?

Banana and nuts, I’m not on a diet though!

What do you like doing to relax?

Going to the sea, swimming.

What type of music do you like most?

House, jazz and classical.

Do you have any favourite books, perhaps Japanese and English ones?

Japanese: All of Yukio Mishima’s novels. English: “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho.

What in life do you really:
a) Like? Truth
b) Dislike? Lies

What would you say is your proudest accomplishment so far?

To have found a person or thing I can say I love more than myself.

What are you really keen to accomplish in the next 5 years?

Move to L.A or Paris.

What advice would you give to someone who is considering taking-up acting? 

“You have chosen a field where you’re going to be hurt to the blood. But to retreat from the pain is death.” (Stella Adler)

Hyunri - modelling

Hyunri – modelling

What message would you like to share with Kung-fu Kingdom readers?

Thank you for watching the “Street Fighter: Assassin’s Fist” series! I hope you enjoy the drama as well as the action, and we hope to develop the second series. Please tell your friends about it and help us spread the word!

If people would like to find out more about you where’s the best place to go? 

They are welcome to visit my website:



Thank you Hyunri for your kind participation in this interview.  SFAF is really taking off and we wish you all the very best in continued success with it as well as your upcoming movie projects!

Thanks Raj!   Be in touch soon!


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Raj Khedun

Raj, a wing chun student, enjoys spending time studying various aspects of the martial arts, from theory to practically applied skills. He enjoys interviewing prominent and dedicated martial artists from all over the world, who have something inspiring and stimulating to share. He also manages projects in terms of filming, reviews of movies/books and other quality features.

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