Good OK-Drama is a very occasional series looking at various examples of Korean drama (the almost-popular, not-quite-underground wave of television excitement oozing out of your favourite digital video outlets).

Watching two couples awkwardly sacrifice for each other over and over again can be beautiful and ennobling. It can also be aggravating. This is part of the dilemma of the selflessness to which we’re all called. And it’s part of the delicious, excruciating charm of a recent, twenty-episode drama from Korea.

Love Rain
“Bus stop / bus go / she stays love grows / under my umbrella.”

Love Rain begins in the 1970s in a beautiful, gradually-paced segment of episodes that introduces shy painter In-ha and the girl he falls in love with in three seconds, Yoon-hee. Their burgeoning relationship is complicated and frustrated both by circumstance and by a sort of love hexagon in which most of the participants must be the losers. Life, as it will (especially in a television show) conspires against the couple and events soon tear them apart—and just as it seems they’ve overcome their trials.

Skip forward thirty years and established fashion photographer Joon bumps into agricultural landscaper Ha-na as she exits a train in Japan. Joon is played by the same actor as In-ha and Ha-na’s actress is the same as Yoon-hee’s. They are, of course, the grown children of In-ha and Yoon-hee, and this is just the beginning of their accidentally contrived series of meet-cutes and eventual destiny of falling heels over head for each other.

Because that’s clearly not enough conflict, In-ha discovers that Yoon-hee is alive and in Korea. He had believed her dead, which is why he married elsewhere, but had never forgotten her, his true and first love. Yoon-hee, for her part, married after she heard that In-ha had married—so it seemed that destiny had cut them off in a desperate bid to just make everyone unhappy. But now, with In-ha ten years divorced and Yoon-hee long widowed, the couple believe a second chance has come.

Love Rain
“Time time time / see what’s become of me.”

Of course, when it’s revealed that their children have fallen for each other, everything may fall apart again. There is a lot of mopiness and a lot of sadness, as things complicate and everyone tries to outdo each other’s levels of selflessness.

Michelle and I both found this aspect of the series fascinating. Both parents are completely willing to forgo their own personal happiness and fulfillment so that their children can have what they themselves were robbed of. Both children, having lived with parents whose lives were decimated by loss, are willing to destroy themselves for the sake of their parents’ second chance—though, being young and rash, they also entertain other options, including running away and leaving things to fall where they may.

Love Rain
“You make me feel so young / you make me feel like spring has sprung.”

Love Rain‘s glorification of selflessness is rather refreshing for an American audience. In our film and television stories, romantic love always always always trumps filial love. Ariel forsakes her home under the sea for a prince whom she’s got little better than a teenage crush on—and we celebrate. Rose casually throws away a fiance she was previously satisfied with because Jack shows her how much fun the people in steerage can have&##8212;and we celebrate. While self-sacrifice exists in the American romantic story-scape, so far as I’m aware it’s either relegated to great films of the past (like Casablanca) or today’s less popular fare (like the excellent Snow Falling on Cedars). So when we encounter a romance where the principle figures are willing to forego romance (despite being desperately in love), that strikes as true and interesting and pretty darned wonderful. It’s even telling that intractable self-interest is portrayed as the identifying characteristic of the worst characters in the show, the villains who because of their self-importance are not even aware of their villainy.

Not being Korean or having ready access to a Korean cultural commentator, I can’t know whether this kind of selflessness (the willingness to sacrifice one’s own Life Happiness for another’s) is highly valued and normative to the Korean cultural identity, so my interest is primarily from my own cultural pericope—from the vantage of an American who grew up in the heart of Left-coast excess and identity. And from here, the whole thing is just dead fascinating.

Love Rain, of course, sells itself pretty well on its own terms, even apart from my idiosyncratic interest in values statements. The series uses its music extensively. The actor who plays young In-ha and Joon contributes a principle song to the show, a song which crops up pleasingly throughout the series. The rest of the soundtrack is laudable as well and melds with sure-footed cinematography to sometimes perfect combination.

Love Rain
“We didn’t get wet / we didn’t dare / our aspirations are wrapped up in books.”

Some viewers will complain at Love Rain‘s gradual pace (it would not be surprising to hear the term glacial used in this regard). The first several episodes occur entirely in the ’70s and the show’s aesthetic there is oversaturated and soft-focused. There are gorgeous, lingering shots of characters walking through the rain. Long looks and quiet moments mark the era and set it distinctly apart from the later 2012 story. The contemporary segment employs a crisp freneticism and a greater sense of humour and will feel less torpid to viewers who might struggle through the ’70s section (we personally found the ’70s section lovely).

Michelle and I both very much enjoyed Love Rain. Along with the fun immaturity and exploration of first love, it dwells satisfyingly on broken love and second chances. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of Before Sunset (one of my personal favourite films, both poignant and meaningful). As we watch In-ha undergo the turmoil of a new opportunity that will have negative outcomes no matter which path he chooses, we are given the opportunity to consider our own choices and whether we will invest our hearts into promoting our own good or that of others.

Love Rain is 20 episodes long and is currently available for viewing at:

Other dramas Good OK-Drama has looked at: