SPEED RACER: Interview with Rain
The Korean Superstar Discusses His Role in the New SPEED RACER Film
Author: Keith Aiken
Source: Warner Bros.
Official Site: Speed Racer The Movie
Special Thanks to Gemma Cacho, Warner Bros.
As Warner Bros’ SPEED RACER movie opens in theaters today, audiences will be reintroduced to the wonderful cast of characters from the classic anime series. The film brings back a slew of familiar faces, from Speed, Trixie, Racer X and Chim-Chim to supporting players such as Inspector Detector and recurring villains like Snake Oiler.
SPEED RACER’s writing/directing team of Andy and Larry Wachowski have also introduced several new characters created specifically for the movie. One of the most important of these new creations is Taejo Togokahn, the lead driver and heir apparent of Togokahn Motors. In an attempt to prevent a hostile takeover of his family’s business, Teijo brings together Speed Racer and Racer X for the Casa Cristo 5000, a race so dangerous that it has been nicknamed “The Crucible”. The three racers form a team against some of the most violent and deadly drivers the World Racing League has ever seen.
Playing the part of Taejo Togokahn is the Korean R&B/pop singer Rain (aka Jung Ji-hoon), who has been a sensation across Asia and is now breaking into the American spotlight. Born June 25, 1982, Rain made his solo debut in 2002 with “Bad Guy”. The album reached #9 on the Korean charts and earned Rain several “Best New Artist” awards. That same year, Rain appeared in the television drama ORANGE, and in 2003 he starred in the show SANG DOO! LET’S GO TO SCHOOL (Sangdooya hakgyo kaja!), again receiving numerous awards and accolades for his performances. 2003 also saw the release of his second album “How to Avoid the Sun” which featured the #1 single “Ways to Avoid the Sun”.
In 2004 Rain starred in the series FULL HOUSE (Poolha wooseu) with the popular actress Song Hye-kyo. FULL HOUSE was a tremendous hit in Korea, with nearly a third of all households tuning in to see each episode. The show was also broadcast in Japan, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and Taiwan, as well as Korean language television in the United States. The success of FULL HOUSE made Rain a star across Asia.
Rain’s third album, “It’s Raining”, sold more than 1 million copies in Asia, and his first concert sold out the day tickets went on sale. He won the MTV ASIA GRAND SLAM and the “Best Buzz Asia Award” at the 2005 MTV VIDEO AWARDS JAPAN. Rain followed up with his “Rainy Day 2005 Tour” which had sold out performances in Korea, Japan, China, and Madison Square Garden in New York. Rain also starred in his third television series, A LOVE TO KILL (I jukilnomui sarang).
In 2006, TIME Magazine named Rain one of the “100 Most Influential People Who Shape Our World”. Rain also starred in his first movie, the Korean romantic comedy I’M A CYBORG, BUT THAT’S OK (Saibogujiman kwenchana), released his first Japanese album, “Eternal Rain”, his fourth Korean album “Rain’s World”, and held two sold out shows in Las Vegas.
In 2007, PEOPLE Magazine included him in their annual “Most Beautiful People” issue. Rain also topped an annual online poll by TIME Magazine, beating Stephen Colbert. This led to an ongoing joke rivalry between the two which culminated in a “dance off” on the May 5, 2008 episode of THE COLBERT REPORT (Video available on the show’s official site).
SPEED RACER marks Rain’s debut in an American feature film. He is currently working with the Wachowski brothers and producer Joel Silver on NINJA ASSASSIN, set for release in 2009. NINJA ASSASSIN co-stars Naomie Harris (PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) and Rick Yune (the villain from James Bond’s DIE ANOTHER DAY) and will be directed by longtime Wachowski collaborator James McTeigue (V FOR VENDETTA).
As part of the publicity tour for SPEED RACER, Rain took part in a round table interview in Los Angeles on April 25. Rain answered questions in both English and Korean, with translation assistance from Lena Shin.
Rain: Thank you for coming.
I’m very honored and thankful to be here. It was great working with the Wachowski brothers, and it’s an honor to be here promoting this movie.
Question: For American audiences who are just getting to know you, what would you like them to know about you… something that maybe defines who you are?
Rain: First of all, I don’t try to wrap myself up in a pretty bow, and I hate being pretentious. I think being honest is the best policy here, and when I don’t know something, I’ll admit it. I try to be pretty open, and just be myself.
If there’s anybody that admires me as a role model, I think that’s the best way to represent myself: being honest and being who I am.
Q: In America, Asian males are often stereotyped; typecast as not highly sexualized figures… something that you might be trying to change. I was wondering if you could talk about that.
Rain: Well, what I’m trying first is to carry out both my singing career and acting career together. SPEED RACER being the first American film that I’m in, it is a very lucky thing for me since it’s helping me tremendously to break into the American entertainment industry. I’m preparing an album in English as well, so I think that might help introduce me to America. I think the result is more important than the process, so as long as I put my effort into the process the results will show eventually.
Q: Regarding SPEED RACER, was the original Japanese MACH GO GO GO anime series popular in Korea?
Rain: Yes. It is very popular.
Q: Were you a fan of the cartoon before you got offered the part in the movie?
Rain: Actually, I didn’t watch it, but I knew it was very famous.
Q: Tell us about your character, Taejo Togokahn.
Rain: In the original cartoon there was no Taejo character; he was invented by the Wachowski brothers for this movie. It’s actually a very important role. On one side he’s kind of dark, and on the other, he’s supportive of Speed, because he helps Speed get an entry ticket for the final race.
Over all, I think the character is a good guy because he genuinely enjoys the moment when Speed wins. I asked the Wachowski brothers “Why am I so happy for Speed?”, and they told me maybe they’d show why in the next movie. [laughs]
Q: Did you sign a contract for another SPEED RACER?
Rain: I signed a contract for 3 years but that doesn’t guarantee there will be another movie. Also, most of the things in the contract are confidential so I can’t say much about it. [laughs] I suspect that if there is another SPEED RACER, I’ll have a bigger role.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in coming to Hollywood?
Rain: Working with the Wachowski brothers made it pretty easy, because they don’t differentiate between the starring roles and the supporting roles. They give all the actors concrete ideas for their characters and treat everyone as equals.
Q: Wasn’t it a risky choice to do this movie because your performance may be overshadowed by the fame of the Wachowski brothers?
Rain: I don’t believe they would’ve chosen me if they didn’t think I could deliver a strong performance. They looked at me closely when I auditioned for the role, and during filming I did my best to live up to their expectations.
No matter what kind of a movie and role I get, if I like the film I’ll do my best even if it’s only for a single scene. I chose to be part of SPEED RACER, even though it’s a supporting role, because I would rather be a small player in the major leagues than a star player in the minors.
It still feels surreal working with them. I’m currently doing another project with them, NINJA ASSASSIN, and I think I’ll be in the next SPEED RACER as well.
Q: How did you train for an English speaking role?
Rain: I believe, since I’m Korean, it’s pretty obvious that I wasn’t able to speak English in the first place. For an American citizen, it’s taken for granted that you have to speak English, but I’m not an American so I was kind of intimidated to speak English. I was thinking “What would other people think?”, and “Maybe I’m not pronouncing things right”, or “Maybe my grammar’s not right”.
But then I started to think that my position was pretty good, since this was a perfect opportunity for a Korean to learn English. So, when I auditioned with the Wachowski brothers, I said to them, “Right now, my English might not be perfect, but if you guys wait and see, I’ll do my best on my acting. My English will improve and you’ll see me doing very well.” The Wachowski brothers didn’t cast me strategically, thinking that I’d market well. They really cast me because they believed in me and had trust in me.
When I first saw Susan Sarandon [Mom Racer] on the set— I was her biggest fan when I was young— so I went up to her and said, “Hi, Susan. I’m learning English, so I might just make a mistake in grammar or pronunciation. Would you please correct me, because I’m going to try speaking in English?” And she helped me out.
My English is improving day by day, and by the time NINJA ASSASSIN is released next year, I’ll be much better than I am now.
Sorry about that… it’s a long answer. [laughs]
Q: What actors do you draw inspiration from when you do your acting? Do you have any favorite actors that you try to emulate?
Rain: Do you know Scarface? Yeah, Al Pacino, he’s my favorite. I grew up watching Hollywood action films and I always thought maybe one day I’d be in one, and my dream came true. I’m very happy.
Q: You’ve had some great success as an actor/ singer at a fairly young age. You’re one of the big stars in Asia, and now you’ve got your foot in Hollywood movies. What is your final goal?
Rain: Right now, for me, my primary goal is to see SPEED RACER at #1 on the US box office. I’m not the star, but I am one of the important supporting roles, and being in a great movie that becomes number one would be a dream come true.
I’m not allowed to drink right now because I’m in training for NINJA ASSASSIN, but I really feel like I should go out and have a drink. [laughs]
Q: Do you fear for your longevity, ten years, twenty years from now? And what are your thoughts and plans to maintain your success?
Rain: With SPEED RACER now, and everything I’ve done in the past, I’ve given my all. There’s going to be NINJA ASSASSIN and my English album next year, and I’m gonna do my best to put NINJA ASSASSIN at the top of the box office, and the album at the #1 position in the charts. Whatever I do, I’m very lucky to be in this position, but I believe nothing is impossible when I put my mind to it.
Maybe, this isn’t related to the question, but in 20 or 30 years when my popularity has faded, I’ll be able to look back and be glad. It’ll be mission accomplished.
Q: What’s the first thing you want to do, if you return to a normal life after being a celebrity?
Rain: I’m gonna hit on every girl, as many girls as I can.
Thanks, have a great day.
For more information on SPEED RACER please see the movie’s official website and the earlier coverage here on SciFi Japan:
- Here He Comes! Here Comes SPEED RACER!
- Part 1: Go Speed Go! A Series Overview
- Part 2: Racers Start Your Engines! How it All Began
- Part 3: Speed Racer is Born! MACH GO GO GO Comes to the U.S.
- SPEED RACER Production Notes
And stay turned for more coverage of both the original SPEED RACER and the new Warner Brothers’ motion picture!