Wind and Cloud and Rain: Episode 1 (Review)
It’s not easy to meet a sageuk that’s serious but not overkill, and fun but not dopey — and I really like the start that Wind and Cloud and Rain has taken. It opens with a rich backstory of love, rivalry, and a heroine with the gift of foretelling that must be kept a secret.
Note: This is an opening week review only.
EPISODES 1 REVIEW
Foretelling, foreshadowing, and capture are how we open our drama. Our heroine, LEE BONG-RYUN (Go Sung-hee) is in a drug-induced hallucination, telling her captor of his fate. The man he fears is coming soon, she warns, and we see him in her mind’s eye.
She wasn’t kidding about the soon part — that very man shows up in the next scene just as Bong-ryun is being secretly transported via palanquin. He’s our hero, CHOI CHUN-JOONG (Park Shi-hoo), but we don’t know that yet, and he seems like more of a foe. He stops the heavily guarded brigade from passing and demands that the woman come out to meet him. She’s shrouded in a veil and says no one is allowed to see her face… but she lifts it up and the two are eye to eye. He’s transfixed, confirms that she is the woman he’s been searching for, and a few ninja fighters later and they’ve absconded with her.
When Bong-ryun wakes up, Chun-joong is nearby. He tells her she’s under the influence of a drug that’s made her forget, and will slowly poison her unless they get it out of her body. She’s strangely receptive to him, and sees flashes of memories relating to him that seem to confirm what she’s feeling. Finally he tells her, “You’re my wife,” and asks that she listen to his story. And then, our drama begins.
I went into a bit of detail there because it’s such a fun and well-framed opening. Thanks to the story within a story setup, suddenly everything already feels more mythical and epic. We know the two share a story, that they’ve been pulled apart, and that there are powerful forces at work in the story. What’s their history exactly? Why do I already feel so committed to finding out? It’s just the right amount of action and intrigue to pull us in.
From here, we head into our couple’s backstory. The year is 1862. Though Bong-ryun and Chun-joong live in the same village, they’re from two different worlds. Chun-joong is the smart, sweet, and pure-hearted son of an official, whereas Bong-ryun is of a lower class, and the feisty (and wonderful) daughter of a shaman. The two are drawn together, and notice each other for a while, but it’s not until our antagonist is introduced that the two meet properly.
That antagonist is CHAE IN-GYU (Sung Hyuk). He’s the polar opposite of Chun-joong’s earnest goodness — he uses his social standing to his benefit and is unscrupulous and mean-spirited. He torments Bong-ryun (since he obviously likes her but isn’t evolved enough to realize it), and winds up using herg as target practice one day. She’s saved by Chun-joong, and it’s the start of a delightful, youthful romance.
Why does this backstory have to be so good?! I really love it when a young cast nails their part of the story, and all three of our main players really do that here. But it’s Chun-joong and Bong-ryun who are the most magical here in their youthful romance, meeting in a secret spot, and dancing together in the sunset. I’m not sure why this scene grabbed my heart quite as much as it did — there’s something so fleeting and innocent about their encounters that’s so well-captured.
Chun-joong and Bong-ryun make a perfect pair, and both seem to find a freedom in the other. For Chun-joong, it’s freedom from his overbearing family, and for Bong-ryun, it’s freedom from the oppressive secret she and her mother are striving to hide: Bong-ryun actually has a massive gift of foretelling (and specifically of foreseeing deaths). Her mother warns her, though, that though this is a gift from the gods, it will be a curse to her if others find out… so Bong-ryun hides it as best as she can.
This sweet romance is quickly shaken, though, when Bong-ryun is forced to reveal her secret in order to save her mother’s life. And it’s all downhill from there. As foreshadowed, the reveal of her abilities means she’s enslaved by others — quite literally, in fact.
We then jump to five years later, with our adult cast. They’re living very much in the shadow of their past. Chun-joong is unable to forget Bong-ryun, and Bong-ryun is basically a shaman slave for the high-ranking official who’s had her in his custody. When our lovers cross paths again, it’s because Chun-joong’s intelligence and Bong-ryun’s visions have led them both to the same place — and what’s going to happen now that they’re reunited?
The love story between our two leads is of course the main focus of the drama, but it looks like evil second lead In-gyu will be as important in the present as he was in the past. He’s still got his penchant for shooting people point-blank with his bow, and he looks like he’s got some serious evil up his sleeve.
I enjoy a good love story just as much as the next girl, but I also have a strange soft spot for the evil third wheel. You know, the guy that didn’t quite make it to the other end of the love triangle. In a different drama he would be SLS material, but in a drama like this, he can’t process or admit (at least yet) his attraction to our heroine. So instead he just stews in hate, torments her when he can, and rips our pair apart at every opportunity. This sort of character can be flatter than flat, orrrr it can be interesting and nuanced, full of the inner conflict of loving someone who hates your guts. I’m hopeful this will be the latter.
After such a (surprisingly) strong start to the drama, I have to admit that the only downside for me is the fact that Park Shi-hoo plays our hero. I wasn’t a huge fan to begin with, but his real-life scandals are so big that they cloud over my ability to see him as grown-up Chun-joong. Young Chun-joong was the epitome of the pure-hearted, adventurous young hero — a character worthy of a fairy tale. So, when we do our five-year jump to the present day, not only is Park Shi-hoo a little too old for a proper replacement, but he doesn’t have the same magic about him, and that’s a shame.
Rather than torture myself by thinking of the string of actors that would have been better suited for this role in terms of their age and their real-life sparkle, we’ll have to take the drama as it is — whether that means grinding our teeth, or trying to ignore an actor’s scandals and focus on his performance instead (since he’s still getting cast).
Wind and Cloud and Rain really nailed its opening episode. We’ve covered a lot of ground and gotten to know our leads, but we’re still in the thick of the story, and finding out what happened between them just as the present-day Bong-ryun is learning the same.
The rescue scene that opens our drama adds a great level of storytelling dimension, but the drama also uses other means to create this rich and almost mythical feeling in its opening episode. We’re in a world where the high-ranking young men go gumiho hunting in the forest for fun, where potions and tinctures can capture a person better than any chains, and where supernatural visions and insight are the greatest asset one can have.
I admit it takes a lot to get me excited about a sageuk, just because I struggle with the odd balance of swashbuckling epic and cheesy theatricality. Wind and Cloud and Rain, though, struck all the right chords for me in that respect, and with some strong world-building under our feet, we’ll see where the story goes from here.