I must have a thing for punishment. In the last few days, egged on by a harebrained idea that refuses to die, I’ve been pulling out one drama after another (old and also recent ones) and revisiting selected scenes that make me bawl my eyes out. As I tweeted yesterday, I will go blind at this rate.
But oh, never has crying felt so good!
Because it is not sorrow that is triggering the characters’ flood of tears (and mine), it is joy, relief, and immense gratitude. It is “pinch me, I can’t believe this is happening” euphoria.
Years of separation. Years of searching and waiting. Oh, the waiting. (And the hair-pulling, as yet another episode ends and still the wait continues!) The one who was lost. Given up for dead even.
Now found. At last. AT LAST!! *cue confetti and cartwheels*
Winter Sonata (2002) was where I was introduced, with nary a protest on my part because I was too innocent and starry-eyed then, to the ubiquitous kdrama theme of separation and reunion.
Two high school sweethearts, who look too old to be in high school, arrange to meet on a wintry night in town. Their meeting never takes place because he is felled by a truck and then carted off to America by his pianist mom. Ten years pass. In that interim, she has lopped off her hair so that now she looks younger than she was as a student, dated (but never kissed because they be old school) another student who is now her fiancé, and generally behaved chirpy even though deep down, very deep down, she is still nursing the hurt and bewilderment of being stood up one wintry night in town ten years ago. One day, without the courtesy of a warning, a bespectacled guy with hair that’s either the color of fire or pumpkin (you decide) shows up and renders the girl numb with shock because he is the spitting image of the guy who stood her up, never mind that in all objectivity he looks nothing like Specimen A on account of many things, such as the hair, mufflers, glasses, and name. Ah, the guy has a different name! And amnesia, too!
I should have smelled a rat then but I didn’t because I was a kdrama virgin and didn’t understand the meaning of sucker. But now, dozens of dramas later and still gullible as ever, I will admit it to you.
The moment of epiphany, of realization that a cherished hope has become reality. The very first instant where eyes lock and the tears begin to threaten. The reunion scene.
It gets to me every single time.
When my patience is wearing thin because of insane plot twists, when I’m this close to bailing because that still small voice in my head is now shouting “You’re a sucker!” every time I plop myself down wearily to watch yet another brain-numbingly boring episode, I remember the tingle down my spine and the lump in the throat. I remember how cathartic the crying feels, perhaps because they are happy and not sad tears. I remember it all. And I can’t get enough.
Give me more reunions, kdramas!
Even when I’m (sheepishly) aware that the reunion scene (and all the scenes leading up to this pivotal moment) is milking my tears and I feel so manipulated, I still watch like one who has been hypnotized. Take New Gisaeng Story (2011) as a recent example. It is non-stop bawling from the moment the head gisaeng at Buyonggak learns that Sa-ran is actually the long-lost daughter of Buyonggak’s former cook. The news spread and soon everyone is privy to the bombshell; even deceased grandpa is not spared the momentous tidings. Without fail the reaction is the same: “Really? Sa-ran’s the one? Waaah!!”
By the time the episode ends and mother and daughter are happily (and weepily) reunited, I’m a mess. A soggy but satiated mess.
After so many reunion scenes, I can now predict the ones that are the most heartrending, in a so-good-it-hurts way. Without a doubt family reunions will deplete your stockpile of tissues in one fell swoop. I dare you to watch them dry-eyed.
Yesterday I took out Glass Slippers (2002). Despite watching it seven years ago, I still remember vividly the one scene that made this cliché-ridden story bearable and even addictive. Episode after episode (of wanting to poke my eyes out because of the evil stepmother-stepfather-stepsister trio and their outrageous schemes) I waited for this one scene. It seemed to take forever to arrive but when it finally did, oh oh oh.
Lee Sun-woo (who is really Yun-hee) says softly to Tae-hee who is standing in front of her: “Unni.” The two sisters then run into each other’s arms. Sixteen years they have been separated, after the death of their father.
“Unni, I have missed you so much.”
Even now, just describing the scene is enough to bring on the sniffles.
Why are family reunion scenes so moving?
Besides the obvious reasons, I think they bring out some of the best acting in the entire drama. In the hands of an experienced actor, the emotions on display are so palpable and powerful they suck us into the scene and make us feel as though the reunion is happening to us. For so many episodes we have felt the pain and anxiety of the separation. Now we are exulting in a joy so overflowing it lifts us off our feet. We are ready to float out of our skins.
But the reunion isn’t always pain-free. In fact, some of the best family reunion scenes I have watched are the bittersweet ones. More often than not the separation is the result of some tragedy, such as the death of one or more parents. When this also leads to more than two siblings being torn asunder, like in Giant (2010), then the circumstances thwarting the reunion of all the siblings become that much more daunting. We curse every new obstacle; we chew our nails to the bone.
In the end, though, it will all be worth it. Because we get scenes that are magical and unforgettable, forever seared into the recesses of our mind and giving us hope that the next drama will be just as amazing.
In the case of Giant, once the reunions start, they don’t seem to end. Each reunion is better than five crap dramas rolled together. Make a note of where these scenes are, so that you can watch them over and over (like I did a night ago). With boxes of tissues nearby, of course.
Not all family reunions make me sob like a cat getting skinned. Or maybe watching one right after revisiting the awesomeness that is Giant lessened the impact somehow?
Because I didn’t shed a single tear re-watching the father-daughter reunion in Brilliant Legacy last night. Han Hyo-joo’s acting is a possible reason (her crying feels forced and unnatural in this scene). Bae Soo-bin’s presence (heart be still!) cannot be discounted as well. It’s a tad challenging to cry and squee at the same time.
Also, not all family reunions are toasty-warm scenes of hugging and general clinging together because the persons concerned can’t bear the thought of being apart again. Sometimes the joy is tempered by a commingling of circumstances so that the overriding feeling is not joy but awkwardness and confusion. We see this happening in two of my favorite dramas.
In Jejoongwon (2010), Hwang Jung’s father thinks Hwang Jung is dead. Years later, the old man is ailing because of gangrene in one of his limbs. In one of the drama’s most heartbreaking scenes, he hobbles into the hospital one day and comes face to face with Hwang Jung as the latter is leading a group of visitors around the Jejoongwon premises. The father can’t believe his eyes; his son is alive and well! However, after learning from the nurse that his butcher son is training to be a doctor, the father tries to slip away. His only thought is to protect Hwang Jung so that his true identity will not be exposed.
Similarly, in Can You Hear My Heart (2011), a father suddenly sees his son who vanished without a word sixteen years ago. Every day since the son’s disappearance, the father has waited by the door for his return, so that he can serve the son a bowl of warm rice. Season after season, the father has never stopped hoping and waiting. Then one day he sees him, standing some feet away.
The father’s reaction is not to run out and embrace the son that he has missed so dearly. No, he instinctively cries out for someone to take the son away. Because he knows the son will be embarrassed by all the commotion. He knows the son is embarrassed that his father is a slow-witted man. His love for the son is so overpowering, his first and only thought at that moment of reunion – a reunion so longed for – is to protect his child.
In The Princess’s Man (2011), there is no father-son reunion but one between a teacher and his student. It is no less moving. The teacher thinks the student is dead, killed in a nefarious plot hatched by a power-crazed prince. But one day the student turns up.
Ah, the tears in the three scenes that I’ve just described. The stupendous acting, too.
Okay, time to move away from family reunions. Let’s look at lovers separated and then reunited years later. Examples abound, but I’ll just talk about the few that I can remember with some clarity. These ones do not make me cry like the family reunions are wont to do, but they are the scenes that come to mind when I think about these dramas.
In Only You (2005), the two leads meet as strangers in Italy, spend a night together, and then go their separate ways. About six years later, the woman is working as a cleaner in a nightclub. She also happens to have a son – the result of that one-night stand. Thinking to retrieve a tray of food, she enters one of the rooms and sees the guy sitting there. In her shock and haste to get away, she drops the tray. He turns around, sees her and gives chase. She doesn’t know it, but he has been thinking of her constantly in the six years. He doesn’t know it, but she’s the mother of his child.
I’ve watched this scene five times (the most recent just this week, ha!) and every time it feels like I’m getting zapped by an electric current. I just love the tension in the scene. Both of them are overwhelmed by the unexpected sight of the other. She is embarrassed because the last time he saw her she was vibrant and beautiful; now she’s wearing a dirty apron and doing manual work. On his part, he is remembering how physically close they were and how he has continued to miss her. Does she feel the same? Maybe not, seeing how she is trying to run away from him now.
Hmm, let’s see… What are some other memorable reunions of former lovers? A woman thinks her boyfriend is dead, but one day he walks in on a meeting (Green Rose, 2005). The shock on her face when she sees him is one of the drama’s most spine-tingling moments. How about All In (2003) when the two main characters meet again after having experienced much hardship? The last time they saw each other, they were only teenagers. Now he sees her, working in a casino.
A final example. The reunion in Comrades (2010) is brief and wordless but searing in its impact. Two sweethearts are separated by political ideology; two years later they face each other in a cave… as enemies. She is pointing a gun at his head.
All right! Time for you to talk about YOUR favorite “lost and found” moments in kdrama.
The ones you revisit and your reasons. Is it because they resonate with you in some way? Or because the acting makes you want to prostrate yourself? How about the reunions which never delivered the emotional bang that you were anticipating as you waited episode after episode?