Rain’s Starry, Starry Night

By Sophia Kim
Photograph by Elizabeth Kim

Throngs of giddy fans lined Hollywood Boulevard across from the Grauman’s Chinese Theatre on Nov. 19, hoping to catch a glimpse, and maybe press the flesh, of the South Korean pop idol, Rain. It was a night that many die-hard Clouds (as Rain fans are called) had been anticipating for months—the Los Angeles premiere of Ninja Assassin, a martial arts action film in which “Bi,” as he is called in Korean, plays the lead role.

Paulina Yeung, one of the artist’s many international fans, said she flew in from Hong Kong just for the premiere. “I want to support Rain, to be here for him,” said Yeung, a retired government worker who wouldn’t give her age, but revealed she has a college-aged daughter. “Him being Asian, I am so proud.”

In Ninja Assassin, Rain plays Raizo, an orphan who is trained by the secret-society Ozunu Clan to become a deadly assassin. He later seeks revenge against the clan when his female friend is executed by the group’s leader, played by legendary martial arts performer Sho Kosugi. Produced by the Wachowski brothers of The Matrix triology and directed by James McTeigue, who directed V for Vendetta, Ninja Assassin opened nationwide and around the world on Nov. 25.

Over the holiday weekend, the film—competing against The Twilight Saga: New Moon—ranked in sixth place, earning $13.1 million over three days. Two days later, it‘d brought in a total of $21 million.

The film also features several Korean American actors, including Rick Yune, Sung Kang and Randall Duk Kim.

At Ninja Assassin’s Los Angeles premiere, two long banners congratulating Rain on his first lead role in a Hollywood movie were placed on the sidewalk where fans congregated. One banner from Rain’s South American fans read, “Rain, Your Fans Around the World Are Always With You.”

“Isilbalie,” who asked to be identified by her online screen name because she took a day off of work to attend the premiere, said she brought the banner from Seattle, Washington. “We’d promised the South American fans that we’d carry it to the premiere. We’ll give it to Rain’s company as a gift,” said the white middle-aged woman who became a Rain fan after watching his popular Korean drama, Full House.

At about 6:30 p.m., she and hundreds of other Clouds let out high-pitched screams as Rain stepped out of his car, looking quite debonair in a dark gray pin-striped suit over a black shirt and a solid magenta-colored tie. His short hair stylishly tousled at the top, the superstar took off his shades and broke into a broad smile. Much to the delight of his fans, he walked across the street to shake hands and sign autographs.

Inside the theater, a group of young female fans sitting in the front cried out, “Oppa!” (“big brother”) when he entered. And after the lights went out, female voices let out intermittent “aahs” when Rain bared his chest and performed his acrobatic slice-‘em-dice-‘em stunts with chains, knives, swords, and flying stars.

Jinny Shim, from Los Angeles Koreatown, said Rain’s performance left her “speechless.” Not only were his eyes “very charismatic,” said the 22-year-old, but she loved all the scenes where Rain was shirtless and doing push-ups.

Outside the theater, Kiki Smith, showed off her autographed poster of Rain, calling him “my hero.” The 20-year-old African American woman said she got hooked on Rain’s music and TV dramas, adding, “Rain deserves all the success that this movie will bring him because you could see he worked so hard.”

Rain was granted the lead role in Ninja Assassin after he impressed the Wachowski brothers in his supporting role in their earlier film, Speed Racer. Rain is hoping this latest film could be his Hollywood starmaking vehicle. As of press time, early reviews were mixed. “Implausible on countless levels … thinly plotted,” wrote the Daily Variety’s Rob Nelson. But Kam Williams, a syndicated film critic from New York, wrote that Rain “cuts a very charismatic screen presence” and has “immense crossover appeal.”

Those who worked on the film stand by their man.

“Rain has the potential to become a big star,” said producer Joel Silver, who also worked on Speed Racer, during a media roundtable at Yamashiro Restaurant in Hollywood two days  after the premiere. “Once he gets an audience to know him, Rain can do anything he wants. He has this Clint Eastwood quality about him.”

McTeigue, the movie’s director, noted that Rain’s exceptional dancing ability enabled the martial arts trainers to challenge him to go above and beyond, more so than with other actors. The 27-year-old did 90 percent of his own stunts, learning kung fu, kickboxing, tai chi and fighting with double swords and chains. “I had to make my body fit like Bruce Lee,” Rain said. “I trained for eight months, eight hours a day, five days a week. No sugar or salt. I love kimchi, but I made it—I ate only chicken breasts and vegetables.”

The singer/actor, whose real name is Jeong Ji-Hoon, has seen a meteoric rise to stardom. He struggled for years as a backup dancer before his music career took off in 2000, and then his appearance in Korean dramas transformed him into a bonafide star across Asia. Time magazine called him “the next face of globalism.” The performer has also hit some rough terrain in recent years, such as when a Hawaii federal court ordered him and his manager to pay $8 million to a concert promoter for canceling performances.

But Rain hopes his luck has changed, with the high-profile new film and upcoming Asian concerts, as well as two in Las Vegas on Dec. 24 and 25.

Rain has long said his late mother, who died before witnessing her son’s success, is his motivating force. “I feel as though she is by my side,” he told KoreAm last month. “Because of her, I have bigger dreams and I want to try harder.”

He also said that, as a Hollywood newcomer, he empathizes with Korean immigrants who “must have struggled so hard” to find their place in the United States. When he first came to Hollywood, people just saw him as “another Asian” and downplayed his abilities. If he succeeds in Hollywood, Rain said, not only will “Koreans win,” but more opportunities will open up for Asian actors.