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Of Sky Waltzes and Rain Dancers

Kim Shin-hyuk (Choi Siwon) in 2015 Korean romance drama She Was Pretty E4, performing Gene Kelly's "I'm Singing in the rain"

Amidst a sprinkling of American pop classics, She Was Pretty‘s characters live, laugh and love, alternately pulling off hilarious shenanigans and waxing sentimental about work, romance and friendship. Second male lead Kim Shin-hyuk merrily glides through rain puddles and twirls his umbrella to the tune of Gene Kelly’s “Singin’ in the Rain” all by himself on a slightly busy pavement under the city lights. Main couple Ji Sung-joon and Kim Hye-jin bond over the Carpenters’ “Close to You” during a downpour that triggers a panic attack in him and annoyingly curls up her hair. But it is without lyrics when second female lead, Min Ha-ri, daintily holds out her hand to raindrops from a drizzle, smiling brightly at the rain itself. In their asymmetrical love quadrilateral, which tests the ladies’ non-romantic love for each other, the first leads take to blue skies, in quiet unison, whereas the second leads ultimately tune in alone to the music of rain.

A clear, azure sky has become a fairy tale in a growing number of white-collar societies, given the modern obsession with towering skyscrapers and constant connectivity, workaholism, pollution and disdain for leisure activities with neither the hip factor of Candy Crush nor the ghastly thrills of haunted manors. There is thus all the more an endearing quality in someone who stops to care for the loveliness of a sparsely clouded sky—a love for the beauty of nature which Immanuel Kant regarded as “the mark of a good soul.” It is no surprise that Shin-hyuk first remarks of Hye-jin’s beauty, in spite of her freckles and wild, curly hair, while she is marveling at the little glimpse of a blue sky from their office corridor.

Sparsely clouded blue sky that captivates Kim Hye-jin in 2015 Korean romance drama She Was Pretty

Sky and rain appear to be atmospheric companions, yet whereas the sky never fails to stay together, rain always departs from the sky. There is a majestic serenity and constancy to the sky. Even a young child, with some observational skills, know that, no matter how cluttered celestial views are, it forever lies above the urban aerial mess, with its perennial daytime blueness. True to their favorite meteorological element, Hye-jin and Sung-joon seem to put up a brave front in everyday life but do not really take much to divulge and resolve their troubles. Rain, on the contrary, is in eternal flux, flowing to unpredictable destinations and taking on no color other than colors of its surroundings. While Shin-hyuk and Ha-ri have sunnier dispositions than the couple, viewers see the full extent of their pains almost only when no one else shares the scene. Ha-ri does display hers when overwhelmed with guilt in front of Hye-jin, but even then, that is only in relation to her dilemma about loving her best friend’s first love and not other tragic sides of her complicated, estranged chaebol heiress life.

Min Ha-ri (Go Joon-hee) crying at the bottom of a swimming pool in 2015 Korean romance drama She Was Pretty

Nevertheless, by traveling from place to place, rain disrupts order and traverses boundaries to generate multi-sensory experiences. A mixture of sound, movement, visuals, wetness and smell, it brings earth dwellers pieces of the sky while echoing their ecstasy or emotional turbulence. In the process, it cleanses the air and, some would say, the soul. These phenomena may be why rain has not gone out of vogue in various screen cultures, from the rain-soaked dreamscape in Hollywood’s Inception to the epic rain fight in Hong Kong-Chinese martial arts film The Grandmaster and the couple who swaps bodies every time it rains in South Korea’s Secret Garden. Rain machine makers will not be dying out anytime soon. The blue sky, in contrast, shows its emotional solidarity through relatively silent companionship, the way Hye-jin and Sung-joon do for each other as colleagues. Rain’s effusiveness, though, has a downside in that, like Shin-hyuk’s persistent eccentric humor, it can feel more intrusive to those who do not welcome it.

Upon falling to the ground, rain becomes pools of water that mirror the sky, engaging it in a beautiful conversation. That is arguably Ha-ri’s character. While she has been weak-willed and sloppy in her dating life, she is generally a sincere person who works hard for guests at her hotelier jobs, candidly points out Hye-jin’s flaws and genuinely feels happy for her whenever things go well. After disappointing Hye-jin by covertly dating Sung-joon, who mistook her for the girl, Ha-ri bravely stays on to make up for her mistake, to the point of cutting off herself from her father’s riches and connections and rebuilding her career from scratch to rid herself of any sense of entitlement that may have contributed to her mistake. So it is that rain water evaporates and returns to the sky, until it is forced to leave again.

Kim Shin-hyuk (Choi Siwon) in 2015 Korean romance drama She Was Pretty E4, performing Gene Kelly's "I'm Singing in the rain"

What of the meta-relationship between weather and dramas? Meteorological elements serve as narrative devices in three major ways: (i) as a frame for or accessory to the story, (ii) as projections of characters’ moods and personalities and (iii) as triggers for heroic actions. All three are present in She Was Pretty. Yet weather phenomena are also dramas in themselves, as the above comparisons demonstrate. Cloud-loving German writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, no less, viewed the sky as a stage where spectacular narratives unfold. While harried smartphone and tablet users hunch over soap operas from faraway continents for comfort, these thespians drift and skip gleefully in their own plays alongside, never mind the size of their audience.

Under the threat of climate change, however, weather aesthetics and weather appreciation have taken on added ethical significance. Nonetheless, television and films have the potential emotional power to promote environmental awareness and counter the excesses of 21st-century preoccupation with digital worlds. Currently, this is mainly attempted through eco-documentaries and screen fiction with overt environmental themes like Avatar. Yet even in non-environmental dramas and films in urban settings, the camera and directing can give life to meteorological and other natural phenomena, gradually cultivating in the public an aesthetic sensibility for the finer aspects of Nature. In fact, these latter productions may have the advantages of being more relatable to the daily lives of city inhabitants and not coming across as strongly moralistic. They do not seem as efficient in conveying the urgency of global warming, but in their auxiliary roles, the environmental interest they may nurture can increase attention to climate-related discussions.

You sense the immense possibilities when a drama inspires you to look at a neon-lit, semi-wet pavement with fresh new eyes, feet twitching in merriment whether there is company or not.

Ji Sung-joon (Park Seo-joon) and Kim Hye-jin (Hwang Jung-eum) during his panic attack in the middle of a rain-soaked road in 2015 Korean drama She Was Pretty

Blue Is the Distance of Longing                             The Drama

Philosophy Resources                                             Drama Resources

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