June 10, 2012

Love Rain – Romance vs. Family in Korean Drama

Yoona and Jang Geun Suk huddled together under a yellow umbrella walking across a leafy summer campus in the rain;I stumbled across Love Rain (사랑비) on KBS World, and hopped on over to DramaFever where I watched all 20 episodes in 2 days (or was it 3? it’s a bit of a blur).
SPOILER ALERT – Quit now if you haven’t seen it yet.

To my western eyes, Love Rain is first and foremost an excruciating portrait of alcoholism rippling out in the form of co-dependence to wash over the lives of many people around the alcoholic. From an American viewpoint, the solution to most of the dramatic angst seems simple: Send the alcoholic off to rehab. Give everyone else some therapy on healthy boundaries, after which they can get back to being responsible for their own lives instead of each others’. And they all live happily ever after.

However, an exploration of alcoholism is clearly not the intended point. Love Rain is a romance vs. family obligations story. Anyone who has watched more than two Korean dramas has probably encountered this plotline. Sources on Korean culture and psychology will tell you about the heavy influence of Confucianism, its hierarchies, obligations, and sublimation of individual ambitions and desires to the harmony of the group. The importance of family is reinforced in many ways, from the arrangement of names (family first, given name last), to the use of family relationship terms (brother, sister, aunt, uncle, etc.) to refer to non-relatives in many social contexts.

So you would expect that in a conflict of family vs. anything, family would win, right? Not in Korean drama. The lovers usually try to give each other up, but breaking up is just too, too hard to do. And they triumph by simply staying together in the face of all resistance, until the family redefines what is acceptable and surrenders.
drunk Yoona pinches Jang Geun Suk's cheek
Although the romance generally wins, it’s at the end of a long and winding road, littered with swiftly broken resolutions, multiple breakups and reunions, alternate suitors, volcanic temper tantrums, over-the-top interferences, and medical crises. Love Rain takes you on just such a trip. Then suddenly, after building the conflict for 19 episodes, we jump ahead a year, and everything is working out. Did I miss a bunch of episodes somehow?? I checked. Maybe it was a 24 episode drama, and they shortened it? But no.

To me, it would be just as interesting to see the details leading up to the resolution as it was to see the blow-by-blow development of the conflict. Possibly more so. Apparently this is not the case for Korean audiences. Is that too ordinary for them? Or perhaps too hard to imagine? It makes a person wonder how often romance wins out over family in real Korean life.

Jang Geun Suk as Joon strikes an artistic poseThere are a lot of beautifully filmed moments in Love Rain, and romance fans will probably find it satisfying enough. It doesn’t try to be about anything else, which is a strength. The characters are all pretty familiar. Jang Geun Suk is a particular standout in his various transformations, slyly satirizing his own character at times. He and Im Yoo Na (aka Yoona from Girls’ Generation) both played their alternate characters from two different generations so convincingly that I had to check the credits to confirm it really was the same actor playing both roles.

Jeong Jin Young as Seo In Ha looking very depressedYu Hye Ri gets alcoholism treatment which involves a lot of IVs, and eventually mellows to the point where she is only sucking on the scenery slightly. Jeong Jin Yeong is so relentlessly and passively stricken that I long to slip a handful of antidepressants (or amphetamines, maybe?) into his tea. But he is too depressed to drink it. It’s such a relief to know he and Lee Mi Sook were finally released from 30 years of fatalism by running away to the States to live in sin.

So glad we could help!

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