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[YEAR-END REVIEW] Superstars make 2005 their own year

2005/12/27 Source

This is the sixth part of a series of articles reviewing Korea's culture scene this year. - Ed.

By culture staff

No Korean wave star seems to have achieved more than multi-talented Rain in 2005. All across Asia, Rain gained unprecedented popularity through his live performances and TV drama appearances just three years after he debuted as a singer in 2002.

Rain's popularity is distinguished from that of other Korean wave stars such as singer BoA and actor Bae Yong-joon. BoA specializes in singing and Bae just acts, but Rain does both very well.

Rain's reigning power

During his "Rainy Day" Asian tour, which began in January last year, Rain poured out his charismatic singing and dancing to audiences that have packed concert venues in Japan, Hong Kong and China. Finishing in Taipei on Dec. 30, the concert tour is expected to draw more than 150,000 fans.

Dubbed the "Korean Justin Timberlake", Rain's breathtaking talents were first recognized by the Asian pop scene. The MTV Asian awards in 2005 gave him a grand slam; "Korea's Favorite Artist" in the MTV Asia Aid in Thailand, "Best Buzz in Asia from Korea" at the MTV Video Music Awards in Japan and the "Korean Artist of the Year" award at the MTV-CCTV Mandarin Music Honors.

Rain, 23, became popular as an actor when he played a cool and adorable guy in "Full House", one of the most popular TV series of 2004. He is currently starring in the KBS drama "A Love to Kill".

Rain is now ready to take on another challenge which will prove whether he can become a global pop artist outside Asia.

He is to hold his "Rainy Day - New York" concert at Madison Square Garden in New York on Feb. 2, becoming the first Korean singer to enter the American pop market. His producer and mentor Park Jin-young is certain that Rain's U.S. concert will turn out to be a success.

If so, it may send the Korean Wave further across the Pacific Ocean to touch another continent.

Choi Jin-sil makes successful comeback

After a painful one-year lull related to her highly publicized divorce with baseball player Cho Sung-min, actress Choi Jin-sil made a successful comeback to TV land through the KBS primetime drama "My Rosy Life" in August.

The 36-year-old actress, who had once been dubbed the nation's "everlasting sweetheart", played the heroine of the drama perfectly, arousing empathy from TV audiences.

Choi, now a divorcee and a mother of two children, moved viewers deeply with lifelike acting, which evidently came from her own pain and suffering from the noisy divorce which was exposed to the public to every detail.

Although many TV critics predicted that her status as an actress was beyond recovery, Choi, who had never been considered a good actress despite her 15-year-long acting career, was recognized as a "real" actress through the drama.

Now regarded as one of the best actresses of Korea, who has managed to overcome personal difficulties and broaden the scope of acting, the New Year prospect remains bright for Choi.

Daniel Henney

as new heartthrob

As a Korean actor carrying an exotic aura of the West, Daniel Henney, 26, has emerged as Korea's new heartthrob, grabbing hearts of female viewers of the MBC TV series "My Lovely Sam-soon" - "My Name is Kim Sam-soon" which ended in success last July.

Despite the heavy stammers when speaking Korean, Henney managed to pin down his name as one of the main promising actors, playing the role of a handsome Korean-American doctor in the popular drama.

The Korean-American Adonis was selected as the best actor of the year in a recent poll taken by internet website on 38,314 teenagers.

Born of an American father and a Korean mother, Henney expressed great affection for his mother's homeland, which resulted in a warmer welcome from Korean TV audiences.

But because the public's interest in Henney so far is not due to his qualities as a good actor, but rather to his appealing mask, he has a task ahead for 2006: to overcome the language barrier and broaden his acting territory.

Top movie director, actor

As far as the movie industry is concerned, 2005 has proven the rising power of director Park Chan-wook among not only critics but also mainstream moviegoers. It was the brooding and violent revenge flick "Old Boy" that first propelled Park to international fame in 2004. The movie grabbed the runner-up Grand Prize of the Jury at the Cannes Film Festival last year.

"Old Boy" represents Park's potential as a distinctive stylist. The film, based on a Japanese comic book, is a bizarre tale about a man who seeks revenge after being detained and tortured for 15 years by an unknown abductor.

The wickedly inventive mystery thriller received rave reviews both at home and abroad for its bold cinematic style peppered with visual and emotional excesses. So when Park embarked on the third and final installment of his "Vengeance Trilogy" (the first was "Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance" and the second was "Old Boy"), people expected similar grisly and gruesome violence.

But Park turned out to be relatively "kind" this time. His 2005 flick "Sympathy for Lady Vengeance" (which translates into "Kind Lady Geum-ja") traded his trademark outsized pouring of violence with subtle smiles and jokes.

Thanks to his efforts to transform his own style, the art-house movie became one of the biggest hit films this year, even though its serious theme and hidden symbolism are not for mainstream moviegoers.

Park, who graduated from Sogang University with a degree in philosophy, began his career as a movie critic before becoming an assistant director in 1988 on "Kkamdong" and built his name with the mystery thriller "JSA - Joint Security Area", tackling the relations between North and South Korea.

While Park outpaced other directors in terms of commercial success and critical acclaim, actor Hwang Jung-min has enjoyed the best time of acting career this year. Hwang starred in five movies this year including romances "You are my Sunshine" and "All for Love" - "My Lovely Week".

Hwang won the Best Actor award at the Blue Dragon Awards for his passionate role in "You are my Sunshine". He was also nominated for supporting actor categories in other awards for his role in "A Bittersweet Life".

Even though his fame skyrocketed this year, proving his talent as a versatile actor, Hwang argued that he's just a "simple actor", leaving a greater impression on his fans and critics.

Hwang debuted in 2001 with a role for "Waikiki Brothers", and has starred in a total of 10 movies playing various roles. He was a kind man in "YMCA Baseball Team", and then turned into a homeless man in "Road Movie" before changing his image into a not-that-kind lawyer in "A Good Lawyer's Wife". He also postured as a gangster in "A Bittersweet Life".

Hwang had sharpened his acting skills on the drama stage for several years before jumping into the silver screen. So his acting is said to be more solid and refined compared with other movie stars.

For "You are my Sunshine" which is based on a true story of a man who fell in love with a woman who later discovered she was infected with HIV, Hwang gained 15 kilograms and then lost 7 kilograms in 10 days in order to portray the character's grief and sorrow realistically.

Cho Seung-woo rules musical stage

Cho Seung-woo, who has received numerous accolades for his lead performance in the musical "Jekyll and Hyde" last year, did another excellent job with the role of a transsexual rock singer in "Hedwig", which was performed at Rolling Hall, western Seoul, from April to June. All of the 6,336 tickets for his 22 performances of the musical were sold out within 24 hours after the cast was announced, and Cho never disappointed his fans, stealing the show with his acting and singing prowess as well as his trademark charisma.

Recently, the 25-year-old Jo has become the country's top-earning musical actor as he signed a contract to play the title role of "Jekyll and Hyde" about 30 times both in Korea and Japan from Jan. 25 to March 19 for 400 million won. It is an impressive amount considering that other top musical stars including Nam Kyung-joo usually earn no more than 100 million won per production.

After the musical's domestic performance from Jan. 25 through Feb. 4 at the Seoul Arts Center Opera House, the actor will embark on a tour around Japan. He will appear in "Jekyll & Hyde" in Tokyo from March 13 to 19 and in Osaka from March 22 to 24.

As of last Friday, 18,000 out of 20,000 tickets for the Korean performances featuring Cho were already sold, bringing in more than 1.44 billion won.

Korean brothers at Chopin contest

In October, Korean brothers Lim Dong-min, 25, and Dong-hyek, 21, shared the third prize in the 15th International Frederick Chopin Piano Competition, one of the world's most prestigious piano contests. Twelve young virtuoso pianists competed in the final of the competition, and the Korean brothers were named next to Polish Rafal Blechacz, the first place-winner (second-place winner was not selected).

Held every five years in Warsaw, the competition has brought some of the greatest pianists including Maurizio Pollini, Stanislav Bunin and Martha Argerich to world attention. It was the first time a Korean musician has won a prize in the competition.

The Lim brothers have each received a bronze medal and a $15,000 cash prize. In 1996, the two came first and second in the Moscow International Youth Chopin Competition and have, from an early age, been the great hope of Korea's piano world.

On Jan. 5, the brothers will have a duo recital at the main theater of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts, in which they will present Chopin's piano concertos No. 1 (Dong-hyek) and 2 (Dong-min).

Designers in spotlight

In the fickle world of fashion, designers with a staying power are far and few between. Son Jung-wan, 46, the recipient of Designer of the Year Award given by the Korea Fashion Association, is one of that rare breed of fashion designers who have been able to successfully combine the art of fashion and business savvy. Now a veteran designer with some 20 years of experience, Son started out as a designer in the mid-80s working at a brand targeted at middle-aged women. Two years later, in 1986, she struck out on her own with a tiny shop in Apgujeong-dong with money borrowed from her mother.

Son, whose pieces are noted for their luxuriousness and soft femininity, is one of the few Korean designers who are able to compete with international brands in the high-end fashion market.

Today, her Son Jung-wan Boutique is in 24 department stores nationwide, a remarkable achievement for a local designer brand.

A new designer who burst into the local fashion scene this year is Choi U-ju, a recent graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Choi made her Seoul debut in a grand fashion with a solo show at November's Spring/Summer 2006 Seoul Collection. The winner of this year's New Designer Competition organized by the Seoul Fashion Artist Association, Choi presented her collection on the last day of Seoul Collection on Nov. 25.

A fine arts graduate, Choi demonstrated her ability to play with colors in the show themed around bojagi, or wrapping cloth. The designs reflected the way wrapping cloth, or clothes, hold the body and reflect the silhouette of the body. Using matt beige, grey, black, navy blue and dark purple as base colors, the young designer employed a number of bright colors such as ivory, red and light green as accents.

Established designers, including SFAA Chairman Park Youn-soo, noted Choi's deft use of colors and individuality. Choi's designs will be available at C:Concept, a shop specializing in up and coming designers at Hyundai Department Store in Sinchon, western Seoul, starting from February.

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