By Joy Fang
KOREAN superstar Jung Ji Hoon, or Rain, was a picture of humility and sincerity - contrary to reports that he is, well, kind of a diva.
Speaking at a press conference yesterday in Lotte Hotel Seoul to promote his first Hollywood lead role in action thriller Ninja Assassin, the 27-year-old looked like an earnest school boy.
Dressed in a grey pin-striped suit with a striped tie and close cropped hair, he was congenial as he fielded questions posed by over 400 members of the Asian media.
His faultless behaviour at the hour-long press conference was a contrast to the frosty demeanour he reportedly displayed in Singapore two years ago during his concert tour.
Then, he was apparently expressionless. Donning a pair of shades throughout, he even rejected requests to take them off during a photo call.
As Rain explained humbly, through a translator: "Sometimes I get not-so-positive comments from the press... People would criticise me.
"Instead of being discouraged, I told myself I am going to work very hard and make them change their minds. I'd let them see my good side and win them over."
In Ninja Assassin, a US$50-million gongfu flick reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino's 2003 hit, Kill Bill, Rain plays Raizo, a man who has been trained as a brutal killing machine by a ninja clan since he was a child.
But after his love was cruelly killed for attempting to escape from the clan, he turns on them.
The movie is produced by brothers Larry and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix trilogy) and directed by James McTeigue (V For Vendetta). Rain enjoys headlining status in the film, unlike his unmemorable supporting role in last year's Hollywood dud, Speed Racer, which was directed by the Wachowskis.
The star is taking that previous failure in his stride. "Yes Speed Racer was not a blockbuster hit, but it was my first exposure to Hollywood and it opened up a lot of doors for me, so I'm satisfied with that," he said.
Still, his experience the second time around has not been easy.
The Korean icon, who boasts enviable abs of steel, underwent a gruelling exercise regime to prepare for the film - six hours every day for six months.
It got so tough, he considered quitting as he felt that he had reached his mental and physical limit. On several occasions, he wanted to just return to Asia and work on his music and acting there, he said.
But a promise he made to himself four years ago - that he would do something truly big - and his strong sense of pride kept him going, he said.
He has come very far indeed.
Since making his showbiz debut in 2002 as a singer, he became popular after acting in hit 2004 drama series Full House.
The series won him the Best Actor Award at the KBS Acting Awards the same year and swiftly catapulted him to popularity all over Asia. In 2006, Time magazine named him one of the 100 Most Influential People in the world.
Asked if there was any similarity between him and Raizo, Rain laughed before saying: "I hope there isn't any similarity between me and him. Raizo is an introvert and likes to keep to himself.
"I'm not like that. I'm an extrovert and I like to meet people."
That's good news for us, Rain.
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