Wednesday, November 25, 2009

my interview with korean superstar rain

here's the text of my story published in the philippine star containing my interview with korean pop superstar rain.

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When it Rain(s), it really pours
By Raymond de Asis Lo, L.A. Correspondent

MANILA, Philippines - Rain (whose real name is Jung Ji Hoon, lead star of Full House which will soon air its Filipino adaptation on GMA 7) walked into the little corner assigned to us for the round-table interviews inside the famous Yamashiro restaurant, which sits on top of the Hollywood Hills, with a big smile on his face and an English interpreter in tow. He was holding in his hands his watch and his bracelet. “I love bling-bling,” he said. We asked him why he wasn’t wearing them and he said because it was heavy.

The Korean superstar is in town to promote his first major Hollywood movie after doing a bit part in the movie Speed Racer two years ago.

The Philippine Star met with him over the weekend for the junket of Warner Bros.’ latest film Ninja Assassin, a bloody and violent film that puts to shame some of the most violent films ever made (that’s not counting the recent spate of mindless gory horror movies, of course!) in Hollywood. The movie feels like watching a blockbuster video game only that this one is live-action and way more visually arresting and exciting. The fight scenes are choreographed like a ballet only that the props are the flying limbs and the sputtering of blood from everywhere. The screening this writer attended ended with a loud cheer from the audience.

Tall, handsome, and charismatic (he kept referring to his publicist as “my sexy publicist”), the actor made the lady journalist from Spain exclaim that he looked like he was only 21 years old. Rain is 27. He now wears his hair short and looked very lean — thanks to a diet of chicken breasts, vegetables, salmon, and white eggs. He also had to endure rigorous and punishing training for eight months!

“I hate martial arts!” he joked. “I had to make my body fit like Bruce Lee. I trained for eight months, five days a week for eight hours a day — it was horrible! I learned a lot of martial arts and learned how to use the chain.” The actor had a stunt double who said that Rain easily coped with the training regimen and even helped in setting up some of his fight sequences. To show the strength that he gained from the training, there is a scene in the movie where he does a standing up push-up — on a bed of nails, at that!

Asked if there were any instances that he didn’t feel like training because his body was hurting and he didn’t want to carry on, Rain replied, “No, it’s my big opportunity… I wanted to focus on the film so I did my best. Joel (Silver) is producing, the Wachowski brothers (the makers of the Matrix Trilogy) are producing, how can I say no to that?”

The actor had to give up touring and performing for almost a year to make this movie. This sacrifice he said was necessary because he always wanted to work in Hollywood . “My role model is Al Pacino. He is my hero and I love Scarface — it is my favorite.”

But if he can have his choice, he’d like to work with Megan Fox. “I love Megan. She’s lovely.” The sultry actress was quoted to have once said: “There’s this Korean Justin Timberlake named Rain, and I’m really in his situation now. I’m trying to fix this up. I’m working hard.” Whatever she meant by it, tabloids picked it up and proclaimed that Megan has a crush on the singer.

Rain portrays a ninja assassin who is being hunted by his former master after defying an order to kill someone. His casting was not accidental. He didn’t have to audition for his part, either. The movie was written with him in mind. The star first got Joel Silver’s attention seven years ago in Japan when the actor caused a commotion when hordes of screaming fans stormed a hotel lobby just as the Hollywood mega producer was doing a round of movie promotion.

When Silver and the Wachowski brothers were looking for an Asian actor for a part in the Speed Racer movie, the head of Warner Bros. in Japan recommended the Korean sensation, who immediately grabbed the chance despite having a tight schedule touring Asia.

It was during the production of Speed Racer that Silver discovered Rain’s potential to crossover to Hollywood. “We were trying to find a new martial arts star and we saw Rain and saw his abilities. We designed the movie around Rain. It was designed as a movie to highlight his ability and I think that it worked and the audience will agree that he’ll have a big career.”

This huge Hollywood break for Rain is the pop star’s biggest in an otherwise already mega-successful career as a music superstar in Asia.

“I’d like to do everything: Romance, comedy, action, horror, yeah, I would definitely like to continue my career in Hollywood. Keep watching for me,” he said. And although he plans to move to L.A. eventually, he doesn’t plan on giving up his career in Asia. Rain, who still considers Seoul home, plans to divide his time between Asia and Hollywood. “I will concentrate on both because I love my fans. And Asia is a big market, and Hollywood is, too… I am going to be a superstar!” he teased.

Told that he already is a superstar, he feigned surprise and said, “Really!? Thank you! I’ll do my best in getting better.”

Rain is easily the biggest Asian sensation today. His face has graced various advertising campaigns all over the region. He is followed by screaming girls wherever he goes which has gotten so extreme that at one point a girl showed up in an airport in China proclaiming that she was carrying his son.

“This one fan claimed that she had my baby,” he recalled. “It was crazy. We were at an airport in China and it was so scary. She looked like…,” he paused and acted how the woman looked. His bodyguards had to drive the woman away. He, however, made it clear that he likes the adulation he gets from the girls. “It’s my dream!” he said in jest.

His rise to the top is something that he has always been proud of. “When I was young, my mother passed away and we were so poor but it’s because of her that I am here.” The Internet is filled with unconfirmed stories including that of a young Rain drinking from a glass of water that was later discovered to have a dead cockroach in it. “My mother is my hero. She’s my angel and she’s always here,” he said pointing to his heart.

He now considers his life comfortable. “Now, I am… just a little bit rich,” he said. “Life is comfortable.”

He credits his mentor Park Jin Young in helping him chart his impressive rise to stardom across Asia, yet he is still aiming to go higher — as high as he could possibly get.

A known workaholic, Rain sees no problem working on another martial arts movie. “I want to work with Joel again,” he said. “And I love Bruce Lee, I love Jackie (Chan), I love Jet Lee. They are my heroes. But I am so powerful, I am so fast, I am younger and I am so handsome than them,” he said then paused and smiled. “I am kidding! Please don’t tell Jackie, he’s my brother.” He said that Jackie has always been nice to him and has even given him tips on how to make it big in Hollywood. “Just do your best always,” Rain recalled Jackie telling him.

The night before our interview, Rain graced a Hollywood nightclub to promote his movie and was expectedly mobbed by a throng of young girls. “I love L.A., I love the girls,” he said.

Life after shooting the movie has been a lot of fun to the star. “No more workouts, no more chicken breasts,” he said. He has been eating lots of his favorite chocolates since filming ended but sees no problem going back to the hard workout regime he followed if he is asked again.

We ended the interview on a high note with the five other journalists from Europe all in awe of the Asian superstar!

Ninja Assassin is now showing in theaters.

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