I have said many a time that I dislike melodrama — as a genre, as a plot device, as a storytelling crutch. Excessive melodrama is what makes makjang dramas popular, but it drives me batty because I hate when stories are emotionally manipulative just for the sake of being emotionally manipulative.
This, of course, excludes quality melodramas. And Will It Snow for Christmas? has all the makings of a true quality melodrama. It displays the hallmarks of the genre, but rather than throwing a barrage of horrible circumstances at its characters in a mess of tragedy porn, the story is rooted in well-crafted and well-thought-out characters.
I reserve the right to change my mind once the adult storylines get going in earnest, because I have often been enthralled with childhood flashbacks and then lose interest when the adults take over. So this drama isn’t yet a home run. But if the rest of the drama shows these characters in as strongly developed a light as in first two episodes, we’re in for a great ride. What a great return project for Go Soo
CHA KANG-JIN (Go Soo, whose teenage role is played by a fabulously smoldering Kim Soo-hyun) is a new face in town. He arrives with his irresponsible mother and his dullard younger brother, having been forced to drop out of his last school for hitting someone. Kang-jin is a smart kid with a good heart, but his main vice is his temper — he restrains himself admirably, but when he’s pushed beyond his patience, his temper flares frighteningly. His normally stoic nature covers up a lot of pain, which has a few sources. For one, he feels the absence of a father keenly, and even though he’s never met the man, he’s an important person to Kang-jin. His father’s pendant is all that remains, and it’s a keepsake that Kang-jin puts a lot — perhaps too much — store in.
Furthermore, Kang-jin’s mother is an embarrassing flirt, who chose to return to her hometown where it’s clear she has some messy history. Setting up shop as a tea madam, she herself was the daughter of a bar madam, and had a romantic relationship in her youth with HAN JUN-SU, the father to HAN JI-WAN (Han Ye-seul, who is played as a teenager by charmingly plucky Nam Ji-hyun). The man is a doctor of Oriental medicine and is a respected family man.
Ji-wan is in her first year of high school and has a gift for embarrassing herself. She has recently been dumped by a fellow first-year boy and traded for a pretty second-year sunbae, YOON-JU; her ex tells her cruelly that he was only using her to get close to Yoon-ju. Kang-jin is a second-year student who attended four different schools in the past year and a half — but was the #1 student in all of them.
EPISODES 1 & 2
When Cha Kang-jin’s family arrives at the outskirts of town, his mother grimaces at a banner congratulating a local boy for winning a scholarship to Seoul National University. Mama Cha recognizes the name of the parents, hoists herself on her younger son’s shoulders, and cuts the banner in half.
Spotting this desecration is an outraged Ji-wan, who bicycles furiously toward them, only to wind up swerving into the ditch instead. She calls them “robbers” (a lack of imagination can’t produce a more accurate epithet) and threatens to report the vandalism. That’s her brother’s banner they've ruined! What have they got against him?
Kang-jin is a stony, silent type who shows no outward emotion, but we sense that he agrees with Ji-wan. He declines to join his family into town (so they head off without him) and offers to fix the banner. Her temper is still flaring, so she rejects his help and rashly shoves him into the ditch, although she regrets it immediately. However, the next time she comes by, she sees with happy surprise that the banner has been mended and rehung.
Being a tearoom madam isn't quite taboo, but it’s lower-class and embarrassing, especially because of the sickeningly obsequious way Mama Cha acts toward her boss and customers. She flatters the men and accepts their backhanded comments with a tense smile. Kang-jin can’t stand to see her debase herself and hates that she broke her promise to set up a restaurant. But Mom contends that running a tearoom is already a concession — Kang-jin absolutely refused to let her run a bar even though it would bring in more money.
Her boss-landlord is, to put it simply, an asshole. To keep him placated, Madam Cha sweet-talks him, while Kang-jin keeps his temper in check for her sake.