This is a very unstructured, quick post in which I completely spoil the ending to the City Hall and Good Luck as well as The Classic; I also spoil the plot of May Queen somewhat. Finally, I mention some recommended romantic watches. City Hall can definitely claim to have one of the most textbook romantic endings ever made.
But before I come to the ending, there is a scene in a much much earlier episode which features another interestingly romantic, or Romantic, trope. I mean, of course..
The scene in the City Hall I have in mind comes early on, maybe episode 10 or so. The leads are discussing the vision Kim Sun Ah’s character has for her little town as a candidate for a mayor. And then they come, a gathering of fireflies. It builds the anticipation and romantic tension and also a sense of longing.
Fireflies seem to crop up as a romantic motif but the meaning behind them is more spiritual. It’s one of those things that seems to be very culture-specific and they seem to hold a special meaning in some Asian cultures. The explanation that we can find commonly cited in very quick search is that they stand for the souls of the departed. Certainly, they are featured in this sense of the word in films such as “Grave of the Fireflies”. It’s a very powerful imagery.
I think we can also accept such an explanation for a film such as “The Classic”, where we could say that a firefly stands for the love that was lost giving hope to the young and budding love. In the Classic they seem to convey that sense of hope, of a new beginning which emerges from the losses suffered by the previous generation. Besides, there is a scene of firefly catching. It seems to suggest that catching the firefly may give that new, budding love breath of life, the flame of love, preserving the continuity of the past love. but then again, this may be reading too much into it.
Well, we probably need to make a distinction between two types of romanticism. Romanticism as in largely 19th century movement and romanticism in the popular sense of the word. It seems to me that the spiritual meaning of fireflies fits with Romantic notions of reaching for the past. Certainly ghosts or spirits of forefathers are impotant for Romantics in other parts of the world, if only because they bring back that sense of the past that needs to be respected or otherwise confronted and changed.
Thinking about romanticism and ghosts overall, perhaps fireflies could be, then, seen as creatures which give humans access to heaven. And heaven, too, ever so often signals romantic fulfillment in the arms of one’s lover.
Except those who never knew suffering cannot go to heaven. Soap opera heroines will go through betrayals, love triangles, accidents and what nots whilst keeping up their idealistic noble spirit; acting out the noble idiot is the domain of the second male lead. Some male leads are those cold, rebellious jerks who believe they are doing others service by acting out the machivallean fox and lion-an undercover tactic known to Romantic rebels. This applies to May Queen, for instance. The character who goes through thos “machiavellan” phase is not a jerk, per se, but he is definitewly somewhat aloof from the very start…and then plot complications follow, this and that happens and he finds himself on the other side of the game. You will find a similar character in King of Baking and in A Clear Midsummer Night with Hawick Lau and Yang Mi.
Romantic individuals will rebel against the injustice they find in the world (and heaven) in the name of their ideals. Even though the modern sentimental romanticism largely dillutes those meanings, they are still there. The gravity of actions and circumstances is different, of course but at the core the emotions remain. And they make the characters glow. We are dealing with fireflies all the time, in a sense.
I think another, albeit perhaps less poetic, reason to take into account when considering why fireflies are so prevalent, is the firefly’s ability to attract mates (or prey) due to their light. When translated into a screen/literary motif, it seems valid to speculate that what is attractive and romantic about them is that light. And then we have, by analogy, “glowing” or noble heroines and heroes which attract our leads with their internal light.
Drama heroines/heroes in romantic soaps are perhaps like fireflies in this sense. Certainly it seems more attractive to get attracted to a firely than to fly a like a moth to a flame. Being like a moth to a flame suggests that attraction is more like temptation that will lead to a downfall and this is the meaning referred to in Shakespeare. Light can be very deceptive and we should definitely know our insects and our “bugs”, be it love bugs or other kinds.
But speaking of light, either sunlight or moonlight are quite often used for that romantic build-up. I am thinking here of the ending to “Good Luck” drama. There is, first, the sunrise on the plane after all the fear and second in the end the characters end up on the beach, swathed in rays of sun and kiss as another plane passes above them. Light helps to build up the mood. But light itself is ever so deceptive too. Light can hide things and expose things. It’s fickle; that fickleness is what conveys the poetry of the light.
And well here is ALWAYS gazing at the shooting stars, too… Image is from Kim Soo Ro.
I have observed the firefly theme in some other movies and dramas.
In Innocent Steps the theme is used like in City Hall, except fireflies are used in a climatic scene where all the pent-up emotions are about to be released. There is a lot of regret but there is also the relief of reaching fulfillment. If I recall the movie, the female character finds some consolation in the firefly throughout the story, too. It is a straight-forward romantic flick with a focus on dancing that just may make for a nice viewing on Valentine’s Day. It’s very sentimental.
Japanese drama Hotaru no Hikari is almost entirely based on this idea of the glowing firefly. It evokes the spirit of warmth, of summer. Hotaru’s behaviour could be described as innocent. But why and when does she glow? A part of her charm lies in the way she struggles to overcome her own limitations. Plus, Hotaru is certainly a little deceptive. She’s professional outside but a completely different person inside. But she is also innocent. And shines through her innocence. Her idea of love of loyalty, in particular, is very innocent. We could complain that she is the typical clingy woman who doesn’t know how to be independent as she puts Buchou as her number 1. Not love per se, Buchou and only buchou. And she doesn’t do it because she’s characterless. She does it because this is her conception of love and loyalty. Otherwise she is a perfectly dedicated and capable working woman. The kind of dedication she shows makes her glow.
There are problably many other examples where fireflies are used as a romantic device to heighten the mood, especially when accompanied by adequately sentimental music, but things do not seem to be ever simply romantic as the meaning behind the themes and tropes always has some deeper layer.
Related: Light of Firelfy
2. Flowers and Building Up the Mood
The ending of City Hall comes across as one of the most romantic endings ever. The Heroine comes back to her home walking along a dark road, when suddnely all lamposts light up and she sees the messages she receives. And then, then she finds a handbag full of flowers at her doorstep. It looks very effective but has its other meanings in the context of the story; especially the handbag. I think Flowers per se require no further comment for the time being. The final scene shows the trees in her garden all lit up, there is going to be Moon River playing as the characters set to dance. Honestly, it is qute the Romantic ending after all the drama. It’s also what and how the characters say in that scene that makes it satisfying for the romantically inclined ladies.
All in all, it’s the thought that counts. That being said, I will agree with anyone that being romantic is not or should not be limited to a special day…and in dramas such limitations certainly don’t apply either.
But if you want a Romantic Drama That is Thoughtful and Meaningful, then I definitely recommend Densha Otoko.
It;s a story about this shy person who plucks up all his courage to confess to a woman that he likes. We all search for authenthic relationships and to find one is really difficult, and requires courage. This is what Densha’s story shows. I think Densha is possibly one of the most meaningfully romantic dramas I have seen. It’s a good watch for Valentine’s Weekend. The TV series at least. It also has a movie version.
For a movie, it’s a tough choice. Il Mare, Love Letter, Failan are all good watches and they aren’t your everyday type of love stories.
In the meantime whilst love blossoms all around me, I am preparing to catch up on the Ring trilogy this evening. Nothing quite as anti-climatic as a Horror on Valentine’s Day, but it better live up to its fame! I mean the Japanese version. If I can get it at my local library. Otherwise, I’ll settle for the novel instead…and there is always another post I have in mind that I want to write during the Love Weekend, aside from these very random thoughts on romantic as well as Romantic mood and characters in dramas.
Have a Lovely Valentine’s Day!