Second wave of Korean top stars crossing over to Japan

Monday, May 15, 2006

Even before the heat of Yomiuri Giants slugger Lee Seung-yeop’s bat cooled off, Tokyo Dome hummed with over 40,000 fans waiting for Korean actor Lee Byung-hun, fondly known as "Byonsama" in Japan.

Sporting a gent look in white suit, punctuated by his killer smile, Lee graced the stage for three hours, often joined by guest stars including actress Choi Ji-woo, singers Shin Seung-hoon and Ivy.

Choi co-starred with Lee in television drama "Beautiful Days" (2001) and movie "Everybody Has Secrets" (2004) and is one of the most popular Korean actresses in Japan, earning the nickname "Jiwoohime (Princess Jiwoo)."

Lee is labeled as one of the "Big Four," along with Bae Yong-joon, Jang Dong-gun and Won Bin (or Gwon Sang-woo, it depends), who have been leading the Korean Wave, or hallyu, an Asian-wide obsession with Korean pop culture. Now there is a second wave of Korean stars riding on dramas and movies in Japan and other Asian countries: Chung Woo-sung and Son Ye-jin in "A Moment to Remember," which marked the highest box office record, raking in about 3 billion yen in October; Kang Dong-won and Ha Ji-won in "Duelist," due this summer but already much anticipated thanks to their news conference held last month; and most recently director Bong Joon-ho’s monster drama "The Host" that will feature Song Gang-ho and Bae Du-na.

The "Host" was purchased at $4.7 million last year even before the movie was filmed, reflecting the Japanese industry’s interest in the director of "Memories of Murder" (2003), as well as actors and the subject: monster (think Godzilla). The blockbuster will be unveiled at the Cannes Film Festival before its premiere in June in Korea.

Off screen, more Korean stars are crossing the Korea Strait. On Saturday, R&B group SG Wannabe held their first concert in Japan, confirming that ballad singers can also appeal to Japanese fans. Leading the crop of singers is BoA, who topped the Oricon Chart eight times. Boy band Tong Vfang Xien Qi put five consecutive singles in the same chart’s top 10 and is currently touring Japan, with their sixth single "Begin" to be released June 21.

Shinhwa announced that they will enter Japan with their first single in Japanese "Bokurano Gokoroni Taiyouga Aru (There is a sun in our heart)," which will be released next month. The six-member group started a five-month promotion tour across Asia, including mainland China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Japan while Seven will visit seven cities in Japan.

Seven performed before 24,000 fans gathered at his first solo concert in Japan earlier this month and was awarded best Korean singer at the 2006 MTV Asia Awards in Bangkok. He is expected to grab another two at MTV Japan’s Video Music Awards Japan and MTV China-CCTV Mandarin Music Honors, making him a "triple crown" winner, following last year’s Rain.

Singer/actor Rain was included as one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME, adding more steam to the buzzing career of the 23-year-old, who took the stage of Madison Square Garden in New York in February.

His second single for Japan "Free Way" is to be released next month. Also scheduled in June is a meeting with his Japanese fans in Budokan in Tokyo.

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By Hwang You-mee