With cold weather stubbornly setting in here in western Massachusetts, most of my daily outdoor activity has been grudgingly moved indoors. For the most part, I consider this a negative (the seat on my exercise bike is seriously unforgiving), but on the plus side, it’s given me a great excuse to indulge myself in an exclusively indoor addiction: Korean television dramas.
I haven’t watched any dramas for a while, and it was our recent discussion of the Korean manhwa series Chocolat for Off the Shelf in which Michelle inadvertently got me in the mood by bringing up Jang Keun Suk’s character in You’re Beautiful. With that on my mind, I decided to try out another drama featuring him as the romantic lead, Love Rain.
Love Rain opens at a university in Seoul in the 1970s, where art student In Ha falls in love at first sight (in exactly three seconds) with Yoon Hee, a quiet family health major who is known as the “madonna” of her class. In Ha is painfully shy, but after accidentally coming into possession of Yoon Hee’s diary, he learns enough about her to realize that they are very much alike, which gives him the nerve to pursue her.
Unfortunately, his best friend, Dong Wook, has also fallen for Yoon Hee, and being a much more confident guy, is way ahead of In Ha. Though it’s obvious throughout that it’s In Ha whom Yoon Hee really likes, In Ha’s deference to his friend’s needs causes him to push Yoon Hee away, until things are finally so far out of whack that there’s no way to rectify the situation without alienating all their friends, including Hye Jung (who loves In Ha) and Chang Mo (who loves Hye Jung). It’s a big mess, and through a series of unexpected events, Yoon Hee leaves for America and In Ha for the army, unlikely to see each other ever again.
In Ha and Yoon Hee’s story spans the first four of the series’ twenty episodes, and it’s actually rather stunningly well done. The time period is captured beautifully, down to the soundtrack and color palette, and social/political issues of the time are used to great advantage. My first thought about these episodes is that they were feature film quality in pretty much every way. And it doesn’t hurt that we get to see Jang Keun Suk looking natural and radiant in a way that could never have been granted to his character in You’re Beautiful.
Episode five opens with a time-jump to the present, in which we meet Joon, a young Korean photographer traveling in Japan for a shoot. As Joon gets off the train in Sapporo, he collides with a Korean college student, Ha Na, whose phone falls into his pocket. Joon is a cynical, arrogant guy, with a reputation of being able to pick up any girl in three seconds, and he makes Ha Na’s life hell as she desperately tries to retrieve her phone. She’s self-possessed and feisty, and not about to take any of Joon’s crap, but she needs the phone in order to make contact with her mother’s long-lost first love, who is visiting the school in Sapporo where she studies gardening. Jerkiness and misunderstandings ensue, ultimately leading Joon and Ha Na to a location famous for “Diamond Snow,” which supposedly has the power to make two people fall in love. Oh, and in case you haven’t figured it out, Joon and Ha Na are the children of In Ha and Yoon Hee, respectively, set up to relive (or not?) their parents’ doomed love story.
This setup sounds hokey, but it actually really works extremely well… for about five episodes. To begin with, Joon and Ha Na are played by the same actors who played their parents earlier on, and honestly, their range is vastly more impressive than I expected. There’s not a moment where they actually seem like the same actors, and though obviously their characters are written very differently, much credit must be given to the actors themselves.
This change in character is also an interesting relief. Though In Ha and Yoon Hee’s story is beautifully melancholy, it’s a genuine relief to be able to throw off the restrained tone of the first four episodes and see this new couple rage openly at each other. Of course, what really works so well for the story here, is that it’s made obvious that while the older, more restrictive social norms that helped keep In Ha and Yoon Hee from expressing themselves freely are no longer in place, people are just as capable as ever of getting in their own way.
The look of the series changes drastically as well—not only in the necessary ways, such as clothing styles and so on, but the entire tone is suddenly modern, visually and otherwise. Colors are cooler and less muted—as though we’ve gone from matte to glossy in moving video. This extends, of course, to the soundtrack as well.
Oh, and if Jang Keun Suk was radiant in the first section of the series, that role now falls to Yoona (of K-pop group Girls’ Generation), whose portrayal of Ha Na is glorious to behold.
Other highlights include Kim Shi Hoo who, in dual roles as Dong Wook and his son Sun Ho, is like a breath of fresh air every time he hits the screen, and Kim Young-kwang, whose portrayal of Ha Na’s unfortunate college almost-boyfriend is surprisingly nuanced throughout.
After the first seven or eight episodes of this series, I was ready to cry out to the world about its sweet, quirky loveliness! Unfortunately, somewhere around episode ten or so, things just begin to drag, in just about every way possible. Complications arise, as they must, of course, but the re-emergence of In Ha and Yoon Hee’s original romance, which sounds romantic on the face of it, ends up just dragging the plot into an endless, soap-opera spiral of doom, from which there ultimately is no escape. Not only does it feel like the writers of the series had to deliberately drag things out in order to reach twenty episodes (seriously, there are several episodes which almost feel like repeats of each other, so little changes as they go), but all the life is sucked out of the main characters, despite the actors’ best efforts.
That said, I watched feverishly until the end (okay, I skipped episode 12 and went straight for the recaps at K-POP! rage, because I just couldn’t take it), desperately seeking a happy ending, and honestly, I’d recommend it despite its weak second half, just for the beauty and craft of its beginning. In fact, I may just go and re-watch the first ten episodes right away. They’re that good.
Watch it now at DramaFever.
Now that I’ve finished Love Rain, I need new fodder for my hours on the exercise bike. Any recommendations?