Seoul man gets ahead by making a song and dance about it
Who's the coolest pop star riding the Korean waves right now? Rain, of course, if the hordes of screaming girls who rush to every one of his public appearance are anything to go by. It's hard to believe that he was rejected at auditions because he was 'not handsome enough, although his dance was great'.
Rain - born Jung Ji-hoon and nicknamed the 'Asian Usher' - is having the last laugh. Not only has he conquered the concert halls and television audiences from Thailand to Taiwan, the 24-year-old has now turned his attention to the big screen, making his debut in Park Chan-wook's I'm a Cyborg, but That's OK.
Rain's role - a quirky character in a lunatic asylum who falls in love with another inmate (Lim Soo-jung) who thinks she's a cyborg - is a big departure from his suave image on stage. Although the film hasn't been the big hit he had hoped for in South Korea, the chance of pursuing something different drew him to the project. 'I haven't thought too much about the box office and whether it will make big money. I just wanted to have a good experience on my debut [in] movie-making,' says Rain, who has been scouted by Hollywood, although he refuses to reveal any details. 'I picked this movie because Park is a famous director and I thought I could learn a lot from him.'
Having conquered Asia, Rain set his sights on the US and became the first Asian to perform at New York's Madison Square Garden, in February last year. His two sell-out shows put him on the map. He was also named one of the most influential artists of 2006 by Time magazine.
With the strong connections his Korean producer Park Jin-young enjoys in the US, Rain recorded an English duet with former American boy band B2K singer, Omarion, last year. Titled Man Up, the hip hop number was released as a bonus track on Omarion's second solo album, 21.
But Rain understands that to crack the US market he also needs to master the language. 'Every language is difficult. It's hard to pick up a language in such a short period. I hope I can better my English as soon as possible. But it takes time.'
Born in Seoul, Rain joined music producer Park's entertainment company JYP Entertainment as a dancer when he was 17, and was also given singing lessons by him. 'I really appreciate Park offering me the chance,' he says. 'He always says he wants me to keep doing better and not to look back.'
In 2002, Rain released his debut album, Bad Man. The R&B record, produced by Park, showed that the teen could sing as well as dance. Rain then took a break from music to make his first TV drama series, Sang Du, Let's Go to School, playing a single father who works as a gigolo to earn money for his sick daughter and who pines for his high-school girlfriend. The role widened his fan base and won him the KBS new actor award.
Going back to music and recording his second album, Rain was repackaged with a more mature image, putting on shades and a leather jacket to sing the songs on Ways to Avoid the Sun.
But Rain's biggest break came in the top-rating TV drama series, Full House, in 2004. The show, in which he stars opposite Song Hye-gyo, was broadcast in Hong Kong, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Japan and on the mainland.
His third album, It's Raining, sold more than one million copies in Asia, and his first tour of the region took him to cities such as Seoul, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Taiwan. In Hong Kong, tickets were snapped up by fans in hours; in Japan the shows sold out in 30 seconds. Rain began his first world tour last December in Korea and will visit the mainland, Thailand, Taiwan, Australia and the US later this year.
Whatever comes next, he's grateful for his success so far.
'I always think about how to thank and please my fans. I don't want to present them with an old idea. I hope I can come up with something new and interesting as a way to thank them.'