Length: 127 minutes
Director: Jo Jin Mo
Cast: Kang Ha Neul, Kang So Ra, Chun Woo Hee, Lee Seol, Lim Ju Hwan
Language: Korean with English subtitles
3.5 out of 5 stars
If you want to know what life feels like as a student in South Korea, Waiting For Rain will definitely take you there, and then a little more.
The movie takes place in 2011 Seoul and centres around Young Ho, an unmotivated high school student studying to get into university, portrayed by the versatile Kang Ha Neul with his dashing boy-next-door looks and expressive acting.
Young Ho has neither a clear direction in life nor big dreams, and struggles to find meaning as he fails the university entrance exams for three years. He takes comfort in his friend, the vivacious Soo Jin (Kang So Ra), who does loads better than him in school, and we get to see their romance blossom throughout the movie.
Young Ho's father (Lee Yang Hee) works as a leather working artisan in a small shop on the outskirts of Seoul and lives frugally with Young Ho as his young apprentice. The details of the shop are apparent, and you can almost smell the leather as it is crafted, the singing of the needle as folds of leather are skilfully and meticulously sewn together through blood and sweat.
The main storyline follows the letters that Young Ho exchanges with Gong So Yeon (Chun Woo Hee), a bed-ridden girl unable to speak because of a debilitating throat cancer. Her family owns a bookstore and they eke out a simple living from buying and selling books.
There are multiple flashbacks to the time when Young Ho attended a sports relay race and trips. A girl, presumably So Yeon, hands him a handkerchief and he is completely smitten with her from that day onwards.
The movie is all about the love triangle between Young Ho, So Yeon and Soo Jin, which is beautifully executed through the fleeting innocence of their youth. The film keeps things light and shows the authentic feelings of each of the characters, which are subtly delivered through vividly detailed settings and the simple yet elegant and yearning prose of Young Ho's letters.
The letters exchanged between So Yeon and Young Ho continue for many years, but he never realises that So Yeon's sister So Hee (Lee Seol) has been writing to him in her stead, long after she has died from her illness.
He continues to send her gifts – little knick knacks made from leather crafting, which go unnoticed by Soo Jin who continues to pursue Young Ho. It's interesting to note that both plot lines never intersect, and neither girl is aware of his affections for each other.
Young Ho eventually makes a promise to So Yeon that he will wait every year on the 31 December until it rains, before he meets her. Rain generally symbolises cleansing and sadness, but for Young Ho it hearkens to a sort of love that he has longed for since childhood – to reconnect with someone who showed him kindness and empathy that he, who grew up without a mother, never experienced.
Waiting For Rain really takes you on a journey and makes you wait till the very end. It also speaks of the road to discover the love of one's livelihood as a practical one, as Young Ho's successful older brother (Lim Ju Hwan) persistently tries (and fails) to get their father to sell his shop and retire. It also shows the struggles of students in South Korea; those who don't have dreams are looked down upon by others, especially if you can't get into university.
My only complaint is that the flashbacks can be a little confusing, weaving in and out of the film without so much as a date change to be flashed on screen. Nevertheless, Waiting For Rain is worth a watch.
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