If it weren’t for the wayward kitten that turns up halfway through “Come Rain, Come Shine,” director Lee Yoon-ki’s minimalist depiction of the world’s most civil breakup would defy interest entirely, so sullen and inscrutable are its human subjects. Although a young Korean couple has decided to end their five-year marriage, neither seems particularly anxious to call it quits, with both parties moping about their apartment on the final, rain-drenched day of their relationship. Enter the kitten, showing more determination and personality than both apathetic leads combined. Still, with fest support, low-key drama could snare modest exposure in select territories.
Using Areno Inoue’s Japanese short story “The Cat That Can Never Come Back” as his point of inspiration, Lee probably should have considered adapting the slender idea in short form himself. Feature length is simply too much time to spend watching a pair of inexpressive characters wallow in their melancholy. How many cups of coffee and cigarettes must two non-confrontational people consume onscreen before a poetically inclined helmer feels content that he’s sufficiently captured their inner turmoil?
Unfortunately for more economically minded auds, the film has simultaneously stripped away most of the clues we need to properly construct their states of mind — not just artificial devices like music, but also facial expressions, body language and all but the briefest of dialogue — until the only thing that remains is a sense of apathy from both parties. In a single-shot opening scene, Hwang Ji-seok (played by TV star Hyun Bin and curiously referred to only as “He” in the press notes) drives wife Young-shin (Lim Soo-jung as “She”) to the airport, where the two make small talk for the better part of 10 minutes, until she suddenly breaks the news that she plans to leave him and move in with her lover instead.
Ji-seok receives her decision with minimal impact, asking no questions and making no argument. His disposition is such that you could set him on fire and instead of crying out, he would simply sit down and let the flames consume him. Surely this level of dispassion has something to do with the predicament the couple finds themselves in now.
The following scene finds the couple back at the apartment, smoking and sulking. A heavy rain pours outside, delaying her departure even as it reveals the cracks in the household they’ve built together. While Ji-seok half-watches a sports game, Young-shin packs her things upstairs (and by packing, that means lifting an object that reminds her in some unspoken way of their relationship, putting it into a box or suitcase, and then picking it back up again to reconsider the item). Clearly, Young-shin is having second thoughts, even if her lack of emotional display masks what exactly she might be feeling.
And then there’s the kitten, whose appearance also brings the neighbors, who arrive oblivious to how terribly inconvenient their timing happens to be — although from the audience’s point of view, any fresh injection of energy is more than welcome.
The film is lugubriously slow, hanging on each wan moment as if Lee expects auds to fully understand the character history that makes this separation so difficult. But it’s nearly impossible to extrapolate from the scant information provided whether the tragedy is how much they’re giving up or how little they have to show for their time together. It’s all part of “Come Rain, Come Shine’s” general grayness, which extends from the weather-dampened look to the overall ambiguity of emotion; when the film does intercut scenes of Jiseok alone in the sun, they serve merely to confuse rather than enlighten.