Rain may be taking a gamble playing a psychiatric patient for his big-screen debut, but the Korean singer-actor, currently on a world tour, is steadily reinventing himself as he prepares to flood the world stage.
"This will be a new image of me," he told Yonhap News Agency at a downtown cafe in Seoul.
"If I had to pick one, the image of me in the movie is closer to who I really am than the Rain you see on the singing stage."
Rain will debut in "I'm a Cyborg, But That's Okay," directed by Park Chan-wook and set for local release on Thursday. In light of Park's success with "Old Boy," which picked up the Grand Prix at Cannes two years ago, the movie is almost certain to get a worldwide release, something Rain hopes will raise his standing in global terms.
"Now I feel that I have taken the first step," he said. "To me, the issue was that the director was Park Chan-wook. He was the director I liked as a fan, and with whom so many actors wanted to work. I thought there would definitely be things he could teach me (as an actor)."
Ranked among Time's 100 most influential figures this year, Rain has been a superstar in Asia with four albums and three hit TV dramas under his belt, but his star quality hasn't translated into global appeal.
His sold-out shows at the Theater at Madison Square Garden in New York City in February received mixed reviews that pinned him down as a star with more local than universal attraction. His storied past as a struggling backup dancer with a poor family has shadowed his career. Now, at 25, he is finally transcending his past and his homeland with the leap to the silver screen.
Playing a psychiatric ward patient in "Cyborg" required him to shed his onstage persona and appear blank and inexpressive in a bulky white gown. His character, incarcerated for his anti-social behavior that developed after his mother deserted him, falls in love with a girl who believes she is a cyborg, played by Lim Soo-jung.
Despite his commended acting in Korean TV dramas, Rain, who uses his real name Jeong Ji-hun for the film, said he had some headaches acting for the big screen.
"The reason it was so difficult was because, you know, you look sad when you're sad, you laugh when something is funny - but the director wasn't happy."
"I asked him how I should act, and he said, 'You are sad, but you shouldn't be sad.' I asked, 'Wouldn't it be better to show some sign of tears?' He said, 'No, maybe not.' But I did well-up in one scene. It was declared an NG at the time, but he used it, maybe because my feelings were genuine."
Rain was referring to a scene where his character looks at the cyborg's scrawny, naked body as she refuses to eat. He finally gets her to swallow a spoonful of rice by inventing a tool that transforms food into energy.
Park said that casting Rain totally changed the dynamic of the film. What was originally intended to be an experimental and low-budget affair ended up needing rewrites and more cash to fit his star persona.
"I initially thought of this film as one of my HD projects, or something in-between," Park said at a recent press screening, "But that idea was thrown out because Jeong Ji-hun was cast."
Rain's caring, supportive role in the film fits with his kind image, but not with his reputation as a self-made man who trains mercilessly to stay on top. When starting out, he famously plastered his bedroom walls with inspirational mottos like "You will fall the moment you relax."
Fortunately, mentor and singer Park Jin-young was there to provide a safety net after his first high-school band collapsed.
Park, a famous singer himself, spotted the young back-up dancer at an audition and decided to mentor him. The result? Rain's debut album "Bad Guy" came out in 2002.
But his past refused to sink quietly into the background. He broke down while accepting the top prize at the KBS annual music awards in 2004 while paying tribute to his mother, who died from complications of diabetes before his album came out. More tears followed at a concert in January 2005. Stories about his impoverished family circulated.
Not that the rumor-mongers hampered his success. Rain was the first Asian to hold a concert at the U.S. prestigious Madison Square Garden, and his fourth album "Rain's World" was released across Asia last month. He now has world tour commitments in Seoul, Las Vegas and Singapore among others.
"Cyborg" co-star Lim says his success is a product of hard graft and intense self-discipline.
"He's really tough on himself," Lim said. "While shooting the film, he had to practice singing and dancing while juggling schedules abroad, but still when it came time to shoot, he became Il-sun (his character) and got totally immersed in it, which wouldn't be possible if he weren't so focused."
With his trademark charm, washboard abs and slender, yet muscular body not on show in the movie, Rain's staking everything on his ability to act -- and Park's ability to direct.
"Like everybody knows, he's really famous in Europe and elsewhere. He's really a world-renowned director, so hopefully our movie will be screened widely overseas."
credits : Tour2Korea