K-drama ● Review: Love Alarm
English Title: Love Alarm
Korean Title: 좋아하면 울리는 [lit. ring if you like]
Director(s): Lee Na-jung (season 1); Kim Jin-woo (season 2)
Screenwriter(s): Lee Ah-yeon & Seo Bo-ra (season 1); Cha Yeon-su, Kim Seo-yi & Kwon Ji-young (season 2)
Studio: Studio Dragon Released: 2019–2021
Season 1 Runtime: 8 episodes, 41m–55m each.
Season 2 Runtime: 6 episodes, 43m–71m each.
Starring: Kim So-hyun, Jung Ga-ram, Song Kang, Go Min-si, Song Sun-mi, Yoon Na-moo, Kim Si-eun
My Verdict: Interesting premise with potential. It’s a show that I want to like, but some of the characters are difficult to sympathize with and their actions make the plot implausible at times.
● Based on the webtoon of the same name by Chon Kye-young, the story is set in a world where a mobile app called Love Alarm will ring if someone who likes the user steps within a 10m radius. How the tech works is not explained so the audience is simply expected to go with it. Please note that I have not read the webtoon so my comments are based purely on the series.
● The story is basically a love triangle involving high school students Kim Jo-jo (Kim So-hyun), Lee Hye-young (Jung Ga-ram) and Hwang Sun-oh (Song Kang).
● Sun-oh and Hye-young are childhood friends and both guys like Jo-jo. The two agree to let Love Alarm decide except Sun-oh goes ahead with pursuing Jo-jo anyway. Granted, people don’t always make decisions that make sense, but that kind of behavior right at the start makes Sun-oh unlikable and makes the audience question the writers.
● Hye-young is a kind and tolerant young man. He doesn’t let the matter ruin his friendship with Sun-oh. It is good that the story avoids the predictable clash between best friends.
● Like many romance stories, the couple breaks up. Since the narrative takes a mildly non-linear structure in season 1, alternating between high school and four years later, the reason for Sun-oh and Jo-jo’s breakup is not initially revealed. [Potential Spoiler] This is fine in itself except there’s not much of a reason. Jo-jo breaks up with Sun-oh and doesn’t explain herself nor is it sufficiently clear to the audience. It is difficult to relate to someone who makes unilateral decisions in a relationship and doesn’t explain herself.
● Season 2 is set four years later. Bumping into Jo-jo by chance, Hye-young decides to pursue her. It is in season 2 that there is a more overt conflict between Sun-oh and Hye-young.
● For some reason, the photography in at least the first two episodes of season 2 uses an excessive film glow effect. I am not sure why as it doesn’t necessarily fit the plot or the themes.
● Although Jo-jo regrets her decision of breaking up with Sun-oh four years earlier and wishes to not repeat the mistake with Hye-young, she adopts the same approach. Whilst I don’t want to belittle people’s feelings, particularly regarding their past, as a character, she sometimes simply comes across as an idiot. As mentioned earlier, people don’t always act in a way that makes sense but storytelling requires some sense.
● Sun-oh is not brushed aside as a character. He has supposedly moved on with a new girlfriend Lee Yuk-jo (Kim Si-eun) but obviously has issues regarding Jo-jo. Although this is understandable, he acts like a brat about it.
● Given the premise, certain events are obvious social commentaries on the impact of such a mobile app. These are more prominent in season 2 with season 1 avoiding it or taking a subtler approach. In a relatively short series, social commentary is bound to come across as crude since there is arguably insufficient screen time to take a subtler but deeper approach. In any case, since the series is short, things happen and are over quickly whether the execution is good or bad. Thankfully, the series does not come across as a bad episode of Black Mirror.
● The soundtrack lacks variety, resorting to repeating the same song over and over again. It wouldn’t be as annoying if it weren’t for the plot issues. When a score is used, it’s not bad, using stock-standard contemporary balladic themes.
● Overall, it’s a show to watch if one is curious about the premise. The series is not too long and each episode is under one hour, except for the final episode of season 2. However, the plot does come across as implausible at times and at least two of the main characters are not likable. Although likable characters need not be likable people, it is difficult to like characters when they are too difficult to relate to. The show is not offensively bad, but don’t expect anything either.
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