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From Asian pop star to 'Ninja Assassin'

  • Korean singer Rain is a huge hit in Asia, but has struggled to find large success in the U.S.
  • He starred in last year's "Speed Racer," and has the lead role in "Ninja Assassin"
  • Rain said he isn't afraid of the hard work it'll take to make him a star in the U.S.
  • He says he had to go through intense training for "Assassin"

(CNN) -- South Korean pop star Rain, who stars in "Ninja Assassin," releasing nationwide on Wednesday, has all the trimmings of an international superstar in the making.

His talent, good looks and charming swagger have captured the devotion of the Asian continent, where tickets to his concerts evaporate in minutes. He was hailed as one of People magazine's most beautiful two years ago, and, despite being relatively unknown to most Americans, beat Stephen Colbert in a Time magazine online poll of most influential people in 2007.

Yet Rain's climb from unknown backup dancer to a member of Asia's A-list wasn't easy: His lack of Western features caused many music labels to look right past him and getting his footing in the United States has been particularly difficult.

Despite having six albums under his belt and selling out a two-day Madison Square Garden tour in 2006, Rain's "Justin Timberlake meets Usher" brand of bubble-gum pop never saturated pop charts here as it did in the East.

But Rain isn't one to accept defeat. "The more criticism I get, the more it gives me a stronger urge to win. So I try harder," he told CNN's Talk Asia.

Video: 'Very unique in this genre'
Video: Who is Rain?
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"The more times I was turned down, the more I believed I was getting closer to making it. A lot of people in Korea say that failure is the mother of success, so I believed that more times I failed, the more likely I was to succeed," he said.

The 27-year-old tested Hollywood waters with last year's "Speed Racer," but the action film, which he now calls a "warming up period," failed to give him cross-over recognition.

Now, Rain has a second shot at swimming in the American mainstream with another Wachowski produced film, the cut 'em and gut 'em "Ninja Assassin," where the pop star does most of his own stunts.

"I put my heart and soul into this movie," he said. Rain trained hard for months to get ready for the movie's slick violence.

"For about a year, I couldn't eat properly, I was working out from 7 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon," he said. "I went through a lot of pain in my efforts to get 100 percent close to the character that I was playing."

To get the opportunity to finally become an American household name, though, it's worth it. After all, Rain isn't the type of guy who shies away from a challenge.

"What I want to do now is start from the bottom again and build up a name in the U.S.," Rain said.

"I experienced firsthand what it means to be poor, what it means to go hungry, and that I think may be the reason, the root cause of why I'm able to work so hard even these days," he said.

"I'm hoping people expect a lot from this movie, because I think they will not be disappointed."