When the script led its lead actor Kang Ha-neul to tears during his reading, you know a it makes for a bonafide tearjerker. However, Waiting for Rain isn’t your regular ballad of a saga, milking languorous musical slow-mos and fall-in-your-arms tropes for romance. In fact, the female protagonist even insists they never meet – but more on that later.
The story for Waiting for Rain sets us up for a decade’s worth of story, beginning in 2003 to allow some light nostalgia to win the millennials over. But even for that period, Young-ho (Kang Ha-neul) is a little of a reclusive oddball – even purchasing his first mobile phone ever at the start of the film. The poor lad struggles academically as well as interpersonally, but at least he finds comfort in his father’s leatherworking shack. That is, until his money-minded older sibling comes by frequently, wanting to sell off the business for potential profit from its prime location.
But handsome as he is, Young-ho inevitably attracts the attention of fellow studymate Soo-jin (Kang So-ra), and the energetic girl manages to warm Young-ho to her advances with her free-spirited charm. However, the young lady astutely senses an insurmountable distance between them, and finds out that our lead has a childhood crush from elementary school.
Wanting to rekindle this relationship, he tracks down her address and sends So-yeon (Lee Seol) a letter, and becomes ecstatic with a reply. After a few exchanges, the opposite party makes an odd condition – that they can never meet in person. The reason? Because So-yean is actually critically ill and it’s actually her sister So-hee (Chun Woo-hee) who’s replying him.
The charm in Waiting for Rain is how it adopts a very analogue approach to its development. Communication here is slow. Visuals here are awash with nostalgia. The characters use letters, with one running a bookshop and another making umbrellas. It’s the best of old-school romance – simple, unadulterated, and slow.
The pace here is not plugged up with ushering, leading us to a defined goal in the story. It unfolds in a hazy, organic way much as life would, with banter and chatter that only makes more sense on hindsight. And that’s why Waiting for Rain takes a while to warm up to, but rewards with surprising depth. There’s verbal philosophising here, but much of it also comes from the story arcs, and that is what prevents the show from getting overly wistful.
Much of the success also comes from Kang. He not only renders a convincing introvert who straddles naivete and wisdom with aplomb, but goes as far as to perform (seemingly) without make-up to make this character that much more relatable. There’s also a nice chemistry between young-ho and Soo-jin that lights up the screen, providing a perfect counterweight to the other penpal romance. It makes it all the more heartbreaking when she later asks him the difference between the two relationships.
The bittersweet film displays a tenderness from director Cho Jin-mo that’s heartfelt and brimming with potential. Maybe for me, part of this connection comes from the fact that like his character Young-ho, this reviewer waited years at the same spot on the same day for someone to appear. It’s a humble quiet story that pays rare tribute to patience – and that the reward lies not in the result of its ending, but rather the love expressed through the wait.
One tip: Stay all the way to the credits. There’s quite a kicker of a scene that just snaps everything in place.
Tender and authentic, this is a rare entry that speaks to the less showy display of love that is no less powerful.
First published: www.movieXclusive.com