‘Pathetic fallacy’ is a term used to denote the attribution of human emotions to inanimate objects. In poetry and literature, as well as in film, it typically references the metaphorical use of nature. Rain is one of the most frequently used devices for pathetic fallacy used in art or media and in cinema it works particularly well due to its heavy physical presence and its potential to heighten the mise-en-scene through visual and aural means. But in Korean films it has been brought to a new level as just about every important Korean work of the last 15 years has featured an important scene whose staging and emotional impact have been amplified by rainfall.
Based on one of the most famous stories in Korean fiction, Ko Young-nam’s The Shower isn’t one of the definitive masterpieces of classic Korean cinema but it may very well be the most beautiful. It is a charming coming of age romance whose beauty and semblance of innocence however, is redolent of a far more mature and erotic love. Suk-ie is a young boy living in the countryside who meets Yeon-ie, a city girl who has recently transferred to his school. He feels something for her but unable to properly express himself he picks on her instead. During Yeon-ie’s absence from school, Suk-ie waits for her every day by the stream she normally plays at. Following her return, an event draws them close and then a short, strong burst of rain, the shower (or ‘sonagi’ in Korean) of the title, brings them even closer.
The whole narrative can appear slight at first but it is filled with metaphors such as these. It starts off with another example of pathetic fallacy as Suk-ie is crouching down among red flowers, before clandestinely snatching a red berry from a tree. Both actions are visual metaphors that signal the impending corruption of his youthful innocence. A further motif that is frequently utilized by director Ko Young-nam is the small bridge that arcs over the stream. Suk-ie and Yeon-ie are often framed on opposite sides of it and it serves to highlight their opposing positions on various scales such as gender, social class and ultimately, life and death. But it also symbolizes their bond, which occurs across a chasm that separates their respective backgrounds and identities.
While the film does almost succumbs to some fits of nationalism, traditionalism and cultural pride, it is a little unclear what side its allegiances lie on. In the end it seems to intimate that in the Korea of its day, a person’s path was more or less set in stone but, so as not to spoil anything, I’ll leave it at that. If primarily for the strength of its photography, The Shower is more than worth your while.
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