Thursday, October 10, 2013

Drama Review: Love Rain (2012)

Grade: B

Category
Romantic melodramas

What it’s about
In the 1970s, a young couple is torn apart by fate. Forty years later, their children meet and fall in love, only to find their relationship complicated by their parents’ shared history. (Not to mention a scheming model, a nasty mother in law, and a ridiculous amount of miscommunication and laughably misguided self-sacrifice.)

First impression
I’ve saved this drama for a rainy day (har har), and in the wake of Cruel City I’m in the mood for a melodramatic romance that’s dripping cheese. Love Rain is sure to deliver on this front: it reunites the creative team behind the Endless Love series of dramas, which includes the hugely successful Winter Sonata, Autumn in My Heart, Summer Scent, and my beloved Spring Waltz. Love Rain’s pedigree is obvious from the very first scene—it’s slow and gentle and full of gorgeous scenery. I don’t find either of the leads very appealing, though, and I have a love-hate relationship with the works of the show’s creators: they can be swoonily romantic and frustratingly stupid, often at the very same time. Looks like I’m in for more of the same here.

Final verdict
Usually I like reviewing dramas right after I finish watching them, when things are fresh in my mind. In this case, though, I’m not so sure that’s the right approach—it’s hard to remember how much I enjoyed the early episodes when the show’s last quarter was such a mess. A solid, well-thought out finale that brought together the drama’s many characters and narrative threads would have left me in the mood to talk about the lead couple’s great chemistry, the cast of compelling supporting players, and the charm of this drama’s multigenerational love story. But now all I can think about is how all those good things were wasted by a rushed, unsatisfactory finale.

(Spoilers ahoy!)

If Love Rain hadn’t been so clumsily constructed, it could have been glorious. Its first few episodes are a throwback to dramas past, focusing on an impossibly innocent, idealized romance set in the sepia-toned 1970s. Like any self-respecting Korean melo of yore, this love story ends with tragic separation. Its lovers go their own ways (for silly reasons, of course), but they never really move on. Instead, they spend the rest of their lives dreaming of the past, broken and incomplete without each other.

So far, so good. The story then skips forward forty years to the present day, finding new protagonists in the children of its original lovers. With the time jump, the whole tone of the show changes—it’s suddenly snarky and bickery and a whole lot like every other current Korean romance. It’s cute, though, and has an extra dash of earnestness that makes it feel fresh.

Of course, the parents eventually rediscover each other and resume their own love story.

And here’s where my real problem with this show comes into play. The first half of Love Rain is devoted to both of these romances, but the second half narrows its focus to the youthful couple. Maybe the writers were afraid to alienate younger viewers with too many shots of people over thirty, or maybe the star power of the younger actors (pop idols Jang Geun Suk and YoonA) trumped the genuine appeal of their older counterparts. For whatever reason, the kids took center stage and their parents’ relationship—at the heart of the drama’s first five episodes—becomes nothing more than an impediment to them. It feels like a major letdown and a narrative misstep, given the pairing’s earlier prominence. Their relationship is hardly even resolved; they may get their own finale, but it happens unfathomably off-screen and we only hear about through postcards.

But thanks to the show’s unfortunate central conflict, the grownup ship really had to sink: In the universe of Love Rain, the two relationships can’t co-exist. This gives everyone ample opportunity to do idiotic, self-sacrificing things and deny their own happiness for the sake of their parent/child. To a Westerner, this is hard to swallow. Under these circumstances marrying your stepbrother wouldn’t really be taboo; they’re not related and they didn’t grow up together. (It would be weird, yes. Taboo, no.) But in dramaland, it’s a dealbreaker that’s apparently so obvious to its target audience that it’s utterly unexplored in the narrative. Nobody ever says, “Hey, why can’t we do what would make us all happy, instead of just two of us?”

Hidden in the background behind the two central romances are lots of other characters that feel half-baked at best, adding to the show’s general vibe of narrative clumsiness. From a meddling mother to an assortment random friends and romantic rivals, they exist only to screw with the lead characters for a few scenes or to provide unfunny ”comic relief.” I kept waiting for these players to develop their own plots or have a meaningful impact on the central story, but no dice. (This was especially true for Seo In Guk’s character—he’s since become a pretty big star, but this show took no advantage of him whatsoever.)

In spite of being made from gorgeous raw materials, Love Rain is the drama equivalent of a big, cozy sweater that’s missing a few stitches and eventually unravels under its own weight. Sloppy, logic defiant, and sometimes downright silly, it’s a middling melo made watchable only by a likeable cast and its unflinching belief in the sacredness and nobility and of love.

Random thoughts
Episode 1. Leave it to Kdrama to make sharing a broken umbrella into an erotic experience.

Episode 1. Watching modern Kdramas, it’s easy to forget how different Korea was—and is—from the American customs I’m used to. In the 1970s portion of this show, they’ve had scenes where adults were forced to stop whatever they were doing and face a flag for the pledge of allegiance, and now we’re seeing the length of girls’ miniskirts being measured by police officers. And not in “You’re hot” kind of way. In a “I’m going to fine you and possibly take you to prison” kind of way. I guess the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Episode 1. I don’t know why this filmmaker is so obsessed with Love Story—I’ve read the book and seen the movie, and didn’t think either was particularly special. Its signature line is downright ridiculous—“Love means never having to say you’re sorry” is the kind of thing a five-year-old might say after breaking his mom’s favorite coffee mug. Real grownups know that love requires just as many sorries as kisses.

Episode 2. The whole point of these early episodes is that the male lead is too loyal to speak up, so he lets the girl he fell in love with at first sight wind up with his best friend. I’m sorry, but the only person on this planet who might deserve that level of self-sacrifice is your terminally ill identical twin who has spent his entire life in an iron lung. Otherwise, it should be every man for himself.

Episode 2. You know those shows were people speak so quickly that it’s hard to keep up with the subtitles? Love Rain is not one of them. Everything about it is slow and gentle and quiet. Its visuals are stunning, its costumes semi-believable, and its acting semi-lifelike. The slower pace is actually kind of nice—or has been, for approximately two episodes. If it carries on once the show jumps forward to the modern day, I don’t know if I’ll be able to carry on watching.

Episode 3. It’s weird to watch a contemporary drama from before the advent of cell phones. I keep waiting for somebody to whip out their Galaxy S4 and start texting...but it’s still 40 years too early for that.

Episode 3. This long chunk of backstory feels like a regression after Spring Waltz’s more sophisticated narrative structure. I wish they’d found a way to interweave the past and present story lines instead of making a 4-episode drama about a romance that took place in the 1970s and a 16-episode drama about one during the modern day. It’s fun that the actors stayed the same for both stories, though. That’s some pretty serious chromosomal dominance those two have.

Episode 4. With the way Jang Geun Suk took a tennis ball to the family jewels earlier on in this series, I’m a little surprised he went on to father a son. As the movie Clueless taught us, there are some things balls just shouldn’t be flying at.

Episode 5. This is like the chicken soup of dramas—cozy and comfortable and completely undemanding. It’s so predictable that it’s practically ritualized—yet I’m still really enjoying it.

Episode 5. This isn’t a good time of year for this show. The lovely, snow-covered hillsides are a horrible reminder of what my town is going to look like in a few months. Also, I can’t help cold-weather heckling: if you’re going to mock the rich boy for not dressing for the weather, maybe you should try zipping your damn coat and putting on a hat. And the hot springs might be a great idea for a while, but when you get out you’re literally going to freeze to death on the way back to the car wearing a soaking sweater. Also, who shoveled that hillside? If the snow is deep enough to practically swallow a person in one spot, the spot three feet away will probably be pretty snowy, too.

Episode 8. This male lead has a mating song quite different than most examples of his species: “I’ll be nice to you”? Joon Pyo, you should be taking notes here, buddy.

Episode 8. All the flashbacks seem to have been treated using Instagram’s Early Bird filter. Classy.

Episode 8. Half the fun of this show is getting to revisit the locations from earlier Yoon Suk Ho dramas. The male lead’s office was the site of a record label in Spring Waltz, and the mom’s workplace was the resort in...well...possibly all of the endless love dramas. Definitely Winter Sonata and Autumn in My Heart, though.

Episode 8. Jang Geun Suk’s hair is so nonsensical in this drama it’s like he’s a Dr. Seuss creation. Cindy Lou Who, is that you?

Episode 9. I think the dad is mistaking stupidity for depth here. All the female lead’s mom ever does is stare beatifically at things and look hollow. Was she really worth all that waiting and heartache? I think not.

Episode 10. It’s been ages since I last watched a Jang Geun Suk drama—I forgot how easily he manufactures buzzy chemistry with his leading ladies. Like Joo Won, he’s not that good looking in still photos, but he just exudes cute charisma on video.

Episode 10. For a while I was thinking that this relationship was fairly progressive—the guy said he’d be nice to the girl and emphasized that if she didn’t want him to kiss her, he’d stay away. But then in a fit of jealousy he pulls her away from a male friend and tries to force a kiss on her? That’s uncool. Even uncooler is that she immediately confessed her love to him. That’s no way to train a boyfriend! Save positive reinforcement for positive behavior.

Episode 10. You’ve got to love how Korean dramas always save the big kiss until the very end of the hour, so they’ll be obligated to start off the next episode with it. Nicely played, Korea.

Episode 12. I’m happy to go along with pretty much any illogical plot development Kdrama writers can cook up for me. Except this one. How stupid is he to think that she won’t find out why he broke up with her? The first time their parents invite them both to Chuseok dinner, the cat’s out of the bag. And it’s a thousand times crueler to let someone think you broke up with them because you don’t like them than it is to just say, “Hey, I think my dad’s going to start boning your mom, and that’s kind of weird. Let’s break up.”

Episode 12. Here’s another common drama location—the cottage Ha Na’s mom lives in was also used in A Love to Kill. The person who scouts locations for these shows is both very lucky and very lazy.

Episode 13. I always assumed that the clothes in the other Endless Love dramas seemed wacky because they were so dated by the time I got around to watching them. Well, I was clearly wrong—this show is all of a year old, but half of its characters seem to have dressed themselves while blindfolded and locked in a room full of castoffs abandoned by colorblind kindergarteners.

Episode 14. I keep forgetting that Seo In Guk is in this drama. The weird thing is that this seems to be the case for its writers, too—he pops up for a scene every few episodes, acts goofy, and then disappears once more into the ether. He’s remarkably less cute in this show than he was in Answer Me 1997 and Master’s Sun—did the writers decide to abandon his plot in favor of the other yummy guys in the cast?

Episode 16. Episode 16 is like kryptonite for all these Yoon Suk Ho dramas. This is always the point when the things keeping the lead couple apart start to feel both ridiculous and redundant. Stop being stupid and just do something decisive, people! You can all be happy—it’s just a silly, meaningless social convention that’s keeping you apart. Just like Spring Waltz, Autumn in My Heart, and Winter Sonata, the writer clearly saved makjangy worst for last.

Episode 16. I’ve spent this whole show quietly bemoaning what a terrible actress the female lead’s mom is. But I just realized what else I’ve see her in: Can We Get Married, in which she was completely spectacular as the ornery, eye-shadowed mom who wanted her daughters to marry up. So I guess that means that we have the writer and director to blame for this wet dishrag of a performance. Somebody take the woman’s pulse—I think she might be dead.

Episode 17. Although the show is painting her as an evil witch, I actually have a lot of sympathy for the divorced mom. She and her husband never worked together, but she’s completely fooled herself into believing it was someone else’s fault—his long-lost first love that she could never compare to. Now, she’s seeing her son pulled away by her ex-husband’s new family on two pretty intense levels, and she’s the one left all alone at the end. I hate that they had to throw in that infidelity thing to make her seem extra bad, though. It’s just like the end of In Time with You—these writers won’t let characters decide to leave a relationship because it’s broken; they have to find a way to unequivocally lay blame the other party.

Episode 17. Out of all the male eye candy in this drama, Kim Si Hoo, the one who plays the doctor, is just my type—I can never tear my eyes away from his boyish good looks and darling dimples. On the other hand, I’m not sure how I’d feel about someone who looked like that poking around my lady bits on a professional basis. There should be some sort of maximum attractiveness threshold for doctors.

Episode 17. Do you ever wish these Kdrama girls would just stand up in the middle of a mother-in-law tirade, say “Shut up, bitch,” and flip some tables? Because I do.

Episode 20. This show treats the two romances as if they really do belong exclusively to their own eras: The 1970s lovers have no physical heat at all—they share the same sort of courtly, spiritual love you’d expect from a drama filmed in the early 2000s. The modern lovers, on the other hand, do lots of adorable hugging and are as skinshippy as any couple this side of Korea’s cable networks. Their endings are era-appropriate, too: the 1970s lovers wind up with poignant tragedy, and the 2011 lovers end up at their wedding.

Episode 20. Korean dramas are known for their hit-or-miss endings, and I think it’s safe to say this one was a miss. The older couple had a completely unsatisfactory ending that was crammed into episode 19, leaving this hour with essentially no conflict to resolve. It’s just a collection of disjointed, fanfic-level scenes, rather than an invaluable part of the overarching narrative. In some ways it reminded me of Coffee Prince’s finale, but this show and its characters weren’t good enough to merit the self-indulgence.

You might also like
The flawed, grownup romance at the center of A Wife’s Credentials

—The glorious, star-kissed corn-ball-ish-ness of Spring Waltz, my favorite of the Endless Love dramas

9 comments:

  1. I love your site. You combine intelligence and talented writing with a remorseless obsession with Korean dramas and culture. Love it.

    Your mention of Joo Won here prompts me to ask something I've wanted to for a while: can you please, please review Bridal Mask (Gaksital)? It is one of my equal favourite dramas. It has probably the best character development of the two male leads that I have ever seen and it tells an incredible, heart-wrenching story.

    I hope you can review it soon!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think that's the best description I've ever seen of my relationship with Kdrama: "remorseless obsession." That's me, all right ;)

      I will definitely get around to watching Gaksital someday. I keep wanting to try it and then realizing how long it is. Even though I love Joo Won and have heard great things about the show, I don't know if I can take 28 episodes of freedom fighting...

      Delete
  2. I watched this drama last year and I too thought the secondary characters were a bit flat... they didn't even finish out their stories! However, even though I found it a bit dragging towards the end I enjoyed it overall. There's a charm to the story and a sweetness in the relationships between the main characters. I loved the episodes that took place in the past. If you liked this show, you might like the popular Korean movie, "The Classic", which has a controversially-simualar yellow umbrella scene, but a story all it's own. ^^

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll keep that in mind...I love swoony, umbrella-based romances ;)

      Delete
  3. I would rate Love Raib 5/10 in terms of the plot and acting of the lead stars. I can't take the pacing of the story and this show proves a lot that Yoona can't really act. JGS was a good actor and I want to his energy in terms of acting like how he was when he was starting.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I stopped watching after episode 16. The beginning had a strong visual appeal for me, but I think I'm more suited to dramas with 16 episodes or less. The last few always drag and I lose interest. Either get together or don't, for cryin' out loud!

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