I was 19 years old when I first heard The Beatles. I was rounding the bend on a rural highway, on my way home from Iowa State University to visit my girlfriend in Green Mountain, Iowa. The song was "I Want to Hold Your Hand." I was (and am) no expert on music, but I immediately liked what I heard: the vocal harmonies, the guitars, and the drums. The lyrics, about holding hands, didn't grab me.
However, the magic of two people holding hands for the first time did grab me when, as a 73-year-old man, I watched the Netflix K-Drama, "Something in the Rain." The hand-holding scene in the series grew out of the chemistry between a man and a woman, an excellent script, and superb direction.
The central character of "Something in the Rain" is Yoon Jin-ah (portrayed by Son Ye-jin), a single, 30-something university graduate who lives at home and works at Coffee Bay, a chain of coffee shops-think Starbucks, but smaller. Jin-ah is at the center of two storylines: as a woman falling in love with a younger man and as a target of workplace sexual harassment.
Sparks fly when Jin-ah's childhood friend unexpectedly steps back into her life. Seo Joon-hee (Jung Hae-in), a 20-something graduate of art school and a video game designer, has just returned from a three-year assignment in the United States. On his first day back in South Korea, he runs into Jin-ah on the plaza in front of the office building where they both work. Though they clearly are attracted to each other, more than just a years-wide age difference makes a romance problematic. Not long after Joon-hee and his sister, See Kyung-Seon (Jang So-yeon), lost their mother to cancer when they were children, their father abandoned them, effectively turning them into orphans. Jin-ah's parents took the children under their wing, so Jin-ah and her and Joon-hee and his sister grew up together and became best friends-or as some would say, like family.
Although both Jin-ah and Joon-hee are no strangers to romance, neither of them has experienced true love and endured the highs and lows that go with it. As their romance begins, their longstanding friendship provides both comfort and an excuse to attribute what's happening between them to be nothing more than feelings of nostalgia. Soon, though, they find it hard to ignore their mutual attraction to each other. Underneath it all, they really are good friends, care about each other, and look out for each other.
They soon realize, however, that their families, friends, and co-workers can't accept the age difference between them. In addition, Jin-ah begins to fear that her mother Kim Mi-yeon (Gil Hae-yeon) will see their relationship as borderline incestuous and oppose it vehemently. Joon-hee, naively, is less concerned about these issues. After all, he and Jin-ah are adults and are not doing anything illegal.
Nevertheless, the couple hide their budding romance. This secrecy creates all sorts of uncomfortable situations. Jin-ah and Joon-hee sit through uncomfortable scenes in which their friends and family members recount their previous romances in extensive detail. They sit through discussions of what their families think would be suitable marriage partners for each of them. A rival for Joon-hee's attention begins to make a move on him. Before long, Jin-ah and Joon-hee find themselves at the center of a web of deception, even with respect to one another, out of their concern for each other.
Despite their attempts to keep their relationship secret, friends and family members slowly discover the truth about it. Most of their friends and coworkers are delighted, though one is disappointed and jealous, but Jin-ah's mother is enraged. She insults Joon-hee and his sister; swats her husband and son for keeping her in the dark about the relationship-she is the last one in the family to learn about it-and warns Jin-ah in no uncertain terms that she will prevail in this dispute.
At the same time that Jin-ah's relationship with Joon-hee develops, she begins to speak and act out against oppressive sexual harassment at work. She works in an open office at Coffee Bay's headquarters, where she and her co-workers oversee the operation of a chain of stores, train store managers, and do in-store inspections. Their supervisors and the owner are men, with one exception: a woman placed high in the organization who sides with the women in her charge.
Joon-hee supports and encourages Jin-ah as she stands up for herself and the other women in the office. He also supports and defends her when her most recent suitor, a distasteful, spoiled man, tries to force his way back into her life. His support help Jin-ah deal with this obsessive man.
I discovered "Something in the Rain" after watching "Live," a single-season K-Drama that follows police recruits through the end of their training into their first jobs at a precinct station. "Live" was my introduction to South Korea and K-Drama. I fell in love with the sound of the Korean language, the characters, the story line, and the soundtrack. After "Live," I searched for other K-Dramas and discovered "Something in the Rain." I have watched all 16 episodes at least five times and have learned something each time. Why did I do that?
First, "Something in the Rain" is one of the best series I have watched on Netflix. And for good reason. The two lead actors, a supporting actor (Jang So-yeon), the director (Ahn Pan-seok), and the series itself won prestigious awards in South Korea and elsewhere in East Asia. The director's slowly developing, extended scenes are lovely. In one such scene, Jin-ah and Joon-hee hold hands for the first time. In another, Jin-ah fills and wraps gift boxes, carefully packing each box, folding the wrapping paper, cutting the tape, and taping the paper.
Second, because I began watching the show as a novice with regard to South Korean culture, what I learned in my first viewing informed my second viewing, etc. Also, because I do not understand the Korean language, I had to shift my focus back and forth between the subtitles and action and thus missed some of the latter. I realize there remains much for me to learn about Korean culture, but "Something in the Rain" was a good introduction.
Third, the sound track in the series differs from the soundtracks of most other series I've watched. At first, I found it intrusive, but it grew on me, especially after 2NE1's "I Am the Best" near the end of Episode 1 blew me away. Other songs repeatedly announce the tone of upcoming scenes. They include Carla Bruni's cover of "Stand by Your Man," Bruce Willis's cover of "Save the Last Dance for Me," and "Flea Waltz" (Lee Namyeon).
The relationship between Jin-ah and Joon-hee becomes very difficult after Jin-ah's mother finds out about it, and for a while they separate and Joon-hee returns to the United States to work. However, although both of them seem to have moved on in their lives, they continue to harbor strong feelings for one another. They may be separated, but these soul mates and lovers are very much on each other's mind.
The series ends ambiguously: Will Jin-ah and Joon-hee get together and stay together, or will they separate again? In the last few episodes of the series, it seemed that the writers were struggling to find a way to wrap it. I thought the writers were leaving the door open for a second season, but, alas, that doesn't seem to be the case.