From turning into a top Korean singer who puts on one of the best performances in the country to becoming a star across all of Asia, then from taking on a supporting role in a film by a popular Hollywood director to landing the leading role. The rising curve representing his career resembles more of a conqueror’s than that of an entertainer’s. But that man, Rain, spoke most frankly about the difficulties in pursuing a career in the United States and the agony and anguish he felt while undergoing training for his new film. It is not weird to expect the superstar to live in a world of his own but our interview revealed he is a 27-year-old standing on the same ground as us and putting in his best effort to overcome one challenge after the other.
10: I was actually looking forward to seeing you with long black hair, like in the movie. (laugh)
Rain: Really? I wanted to lose it. It’s really hard to maintain that hair.
10: It may also be because of your hairstyle but your Asian appearance was greatly emphasized in the movie.
Rain: I hadn’t intended on it. I also had almost no make-up on my face. Thankfully, I have nice skin (laugh) so I came out okay. And my hair had been closer to a brown, like the color it is right now, but the director wanted it black. This style looks better on me though, right? I prefer short hair.
10: Without question, your body was as impressive as your looks. It must’ve not been easy to control what you eat to all the training you had to undergo.
Rain: Everyday, I ate only chicken breast, vegetables and black pepper. Once in a while I’d get to eat beef cooked in plain boiling water which wouldn’t take out the smell of the blood in it, but eating it made me feel like I won the lottery. I underwent a lot of training too. I’d start with weight routines such as bench presses or dead lifts and take a one-minute break after. After that I’d complete a total of 10 sets with eight rounds of bench presses, push-ups, sit-ups, pull-ups and dead lifts without any breaks at all. This way, you lose fat without doing aerobic exercises and your muscles even out rather than just blow up in volume.
10: In other words, you got to learn the advanced method. You’d probably be able to use it in the future.
Rain: I learned a lot and I’ve been teaching my kids, MBLAQ, the same workout routine. Member Lee Jun of the group, who played the younger version of me in “Ninja Assassin”, underwent the same workout process as me so he’s been teaching the rest of the group. When they’re in training, they’ll do the exact same routine I just mentioned and if one of them can’t complete a certain exercise, they’ll keep going until they do while the rest of the group will have to keep doing their own exercises too. Only then they’re allowed to go onto the next part of the routine and they just keep repeating the sets. It’s definitely hardcore. I’m planning on using the same training routine for everyone at my agency.
10: So like your workout routine which will continue on in a systematic way, your Hollywood experience with “Ninja” will help in your future connections and businesses.
Rain: I always try to maintain any connections I have. And it’s definitely extremely important in Hollywood. It’s been four years since I announced I would expand my career into the United States after making it on Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential Person list. And the way I spent those four years? Me and my agency called up every studio in the U.S., explained how much recognition I have in Asia, tell them I want to make an album with them and then meet them to hang out with them. And then when I called them afterwards, they would say they’d sign for an album in Asia, and maybe work on expanding my career to the States after that. It means that all they’re interested in is making money. In the meantime, I got rejected at audition after audition, when I finally got the part for “Ninja”. From then of, I’ve continuously been receiving proposals for films and albums. Joel Silver went around saying my name, and although he’s not sure what I’m about, the Wachowski Brothers like me. “Speed Racer” didn’t do well but Hollywood producers got to know who I am.
10: Now that they know of you, you must have plans for other movies after “Ninja”.
Rain: There’s a film which will cost over 170 million dollars to make but we’re sort of at a red light with it right now. Things are just like that in Hollywood. Nothing will happen unless you’ve signed on. Even if the other side says they want to make it happen with me, things could turn over anytime. That’s why I can’t mention the name of the film. But it’s an action fantasy, sort of like “Lord of the Rings”, where several soldiers protect the King who is on his way to his destination. If all goes well, I’ll be playing one of the seven main characters. I’ll be able to reveal the details when I sign on.
10: Getting the part for “Ninja Assassin” and appearing in “Speed Racer” have sort of become the surprising twist to your career in the United States. What did the Wachowski Brothers see in you to have asked you to audition for them?
Rain: I endured through everything. When I was shooting “Speed Racer”, I held back from expressing my pain when I got sick, I went to set although I was having a hard time and I stepped up to go first with whichever task. My spine hurt as if it would snap while shooting the car racing scene. And the temperature inside cars in Europe during July goes up to 40 and 50 degrees. Wear a leather jacket on top of that, everything becomes painstakingly unbearable. So other actors would go into shoot for about 20 minutes and take one-hour breaks in between but I kept going until I finished the whole scene. And they really seemed to like that energy about me. I think I also adjusted pretty quickly to everything. I learned the action moves quickly too. And Asian action movie stars are usually smaller but I was tall so they were telling me that I had the body of a Westerner but the face of an Asian. The stunt team mentioned it first, the Wachowski Brothers heard them talk about me and they told Joel Silver. I won over their recognition in that order.
10: Your presence there has changed greatly over the past four years. Have you met with any other famous producers or actors other than the Wachoski Brothers during that time?
Rain: I think people may say something when I say this… (laugh) I’m with the William Morris Agency right now but before, I had gone to a firm called CA because they said they would be my agent. I was talking with the people there when they told me Tom Cruise was in the room next door and that he wanted to talk to me. I was thinking ‘Why me? Does he know me?’ when the president of CA stepped in with Tom Cruise. We said hi and talked for a bit. It was a really shocking experience… actually getting to actually meet someone I had always seen on screen since I was young.
10: So what is the significance of expanding your ground in Hollywood? You had said before that glory is important so I’m guessing Hollywood must have a special meaning to you in that sense.
Rain: It’s about conquering. Every country denies it but everyone really does like American culture. It’s due to the competitiveness of the country itself but I think winning the battle between cultures and minds is worth much more than winning a physical battle involving guns and knives. It’s game over when you win over minds. So if I go to the heart of the U.S. and make my name known to the world through Hollywood, it’ll mean that I have conquered the world. That’s why “Ninja” is important. It’s not just about the producers in Hollywood recognizing me but about the worldwide public recognizing me one day if I happen to pass on the streets. There are 1.3 billion people in China, 900 million in India and even over 120 million in Japan. If one Korean out of the 40 million on our country can make their name known to the world, it would be something much more meaningful than gaining glory. That’s why I truly respect Kim Yuna and Park Chan-ho.
10: You’re carrying out your activities on a global level now yet your self-consciousness of being a Korean has seemed to have grown stronger.
Rain: It’s become much stronger. I really didn’t like it when it seemed like someone was ignoring me because it would feel like they were making fun of not just me, but also my family and my country. They would say “Rain? What’s that?”, they wouldn’t know where Korea is and would ask questions such as whether we have nuclear weapons and whether we’re in war. Everytime, I would answer by saying that I’m from the country below it, South Korea, who made it to the semi-finals at the 2002 World Cup and is the home country of figure skater Kim Yuna. I guess it’s sort of a national spirit I have in me — I can’t help being drawn to my own blood. And I’m so happy whenever I see Koreans overseas.
10: You must’ve been lonely. Did advice or support from people around you help?
Rain: Screenwriter Lee Kyung-hee of drama “Sang Doo! Let’s Go To School” is always supportive. It’s just that I don’t tell her the details of the difficulties I’m going through or my concerns. I don’t want to show her the weak side of me. And in director Park Chan-wook’s case, I hadn’t known it before but he really likes action pics like the “Matrix”. So when I told him I would be working with the Wachowski Brothers, he told me he would be looking forward to the film. All their words of support helped.
10: On the other hand, you had also mentioned that seeing false reports of you in Korea was also a boost at times. What sort of articles stimulated you? (laugh)
Rain: Honestly, I wish people would only mention the facts. I can’t help receiving harsh criticism when the movie itself is bad but I really don’t like seeing distorted articles. There is one person in particular who I really don’t get. He keeps telling distorted stories rather than the truth. For example, it’s like this. He would write, “He says he’s going to Hollywood but when on earth will he appear in a movie?” And when I appeared in a movie, he would then write that I am back after failing in Hollywood. I just beared with it although I thought of taking legal action at one point. And he came to me at the time and apologized but I saw later on that he was at the same thing again. So I’m just trying to concentrate on working really hard. That’s why in a way, such articles actually give me a boost. (laugh)
10: Let’s talk about a lighter subject. How do you feel when you see articles about actor Jang Dong-gun and actress Ko So-young dating? What are your thoughts on dating a celebrity?
Rain: There’s no reason not to, as long as we share the same feelings for each other. It’s not important whether she is a celebrity or not. I don’t care about the nationality either.
10: What is your ultimate goal? Is there a certain point you are aiming for or will you simply keep putting yourself up for new challenges?
Rain: I want to see how far I can go. I want to test out how high my luck runs. And I keep pushing forward without a plan which is why I go through trial and error. But strangely enough, I’ve achieved everything so far. Who would’ve known I would meet [Park] Jin-young. I didn’t know how I got to start acting in dramas and I don’t know how I ended up working with director Park Chan-wook. Nor do I know how my name got on Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential Person list. I’ve just ended up here somehow. And if “Ninja” does well, it’ll make everything just perfect.