Rain, watch out for that — *thunk!* — glass ceiling
Forewarning: This is a rant. Some facts, mostly opinions.
So the latest Rain/Bi news is that he is newly repped by Hollywood’s William Morris Agency, lending perhaps some legitimacy to his Plans To Conquer America, aka Rain’s Delusions of Grandeur.
I’ve got nothing against Rain and I call his ambitions delusional with no malice — I actually like his songs, think he’s a great dancer, and wish him the best despite not believing much will come of his champagne wishes and Hollywood dreams. It’s just that the guy is so ambitious, so hard-working, that he cannot and will not believe that there are limits.
Yes, William Morris is a big agency. It’s no CAA, but it is one of the Big Three. Some might argue that the Big Three is now the Big Five, but in any case, it’s one of them. Yes, they do represent big Hollywood names like Russell Crowe, Scarlett Johansson, Alicia Keys, etc. You know who else they rep? Struggling no-name actors who play throwaway roles as That Dead Guy on CSI a week after he plays That Dead Guy on Cold Case on his way to playing That Dead Guy on Law & Order: Special Violent Homicidal Maniac Serial Killer Edition. Which is to say: it’s no guarantee of anything.
Rain’s relationship with William Morris may be a big deal for him, but it’s no big deal for them. If he succeeds, they happily take their ten percent and brag about “discovering” the new Asian star. If he fails, they lose nothing. Nobody in Hollywood knows or really cares about Rain right now (and let me tell you, I’d bet money that his minor Speed Racer role will be quickly forgotten), so if he doesn’t hit big, it’s just a drop in their vast star-wannabe bucket.
It feels a bit unsporting to rag on Rain’s ambitions, because lord knows the guy has earned his fame. And who am I to vomit over his aspirations just because he dreams big? But honestly, the guy cannot speak English. You can point to Asian successes in Hollywood (all two of them?) but let’s see: Ken Watanabe was an acclaimed actor in Japan and he speaks English. Chow Yun Fat had a huge acting career in Hong Kong movies and he speaks English. Michelle Yeoh has mad martial arts skills and speaks English. Lucy Liu speaks English. John Cho speaks English (and is funny!). And they all started in Hollywood as The Marginalized Asian Other.
Rain may have put in hours and hours of tutoring and practice sessions but he speaks, at best, an embarrassing hybrid of gangsta Engrishee. And it may not be fair, and it may not be PC, but he’s unlikely to be able to pull off a level of proficiency that’ll get him anywhere near the heights he’s reaching for. It’s unfortunate, because on paper he seems to be the Korean star perhaps best poised for international crossover success — but he cannot speak English. In interviews, he seems so lost and over his head, and his speaking skills and comprehension are not growing much and they are not growing fast.
Some people are just like that. Language isn’t their thing. To contrast, for instance, Se7en seems to be a much quicker study; he actually understands unscripted conversations. Coupled with his decent Japanese speaking skills, he seems to be one of those people who are blessed with verbal facility. Unfortunately for Se7en, he doesn’t have the same status that Rain does — his acting career flopped and he’s not internationally known (outside Asia). He hasn’t had that extra luck factor that Rain has had, being singled out in Time and by Stephen Colbert and such. It’s not that Rain is so much more deserving of Western attention, but he’s had the right timing and alchemy to bring it about. Se7en does seem less brutally ambitious, however — one gets the sense that if he cannot break into the U.S. pop market, he’ll return to his stardom in Korea and be happy with his success there.
Rain, if he is lucky, may land a few minor roles playing the Asian baddie in some commercial flicks and be relegated to the Exotic Villain status. Unfortunately (or fortunately?), I doubt he’ll be satisfied with that kind of marginalization — but he doesn’t seem to get that for all intents and purposes, entree to Hollywood results in just that. Koreans don’t really comprehend the concept of the glass ceiling, because there’s no such thing in Korea. (Well, not for being Korean, that is. Women and foreigners still get short shrift.) But it sucks, and it’s real. To break out of that demeaning pigeonhole requires an excruciating amount of work, with liberal doses of luck and some exceptional skill. Unless he can win over America with his hip-hop dance moves and catapult himself into superstardom via a Zoolander-esque onscreen dance-off opposite Justin Timberlake, I’m not too hopeful.
Rain also requires strong management — which, if we can judge from his World Tour debacle last year, he does not have. How else can he be expected to maneuver the twirl ‘n’ whirl of the Hollywood press machine? He needs more than some junior agent at a Hollywood agency, perhaps a Korean-American who is expected to have an intimate understanding of Korean pop culture and media despite being born and raised in the States with tastes that are much more white-bread Middle American than Korean.
Rain will give a press conference in Seoul on Wednesday to elaborate on the “partnership” with WMA. And if I am proved wrong in my dire predictions, I will gladly eat all my words. Part of me hopes I will have to. Part of me rolls my eyes at that other part of me and thinks, “Girl, which America do you live in? Because the one I live in is one that likes kalbi and thinks Korean women are exotically hot and asks what kind of Chinese I speak.”
SONG OF THE DAY
Rain – “Still Believe” (jazz version). Remember when Rain did that elaborate BMW ad campaign with its own mini-movie and song? Well, this is the song, in two different styles. There’s actually a rock version out there too, but I think it sucks while I rather like these two — I prefer this one, the jazz, but the lounge version isn’t too bad either (although how is it “lounge-y”? This one’s a lot lounge-ier — loungier?)
[ zShare download ]
Rain – “Still Believe” (lounge version) [ zShare download ]