With the pandemic I have watched nearly everything on Netflix. So, I thought I would broaden my horizons and try something new, that is when I stumbled upon K-drama (Korean drama). K-dramas are usually centred around the city of Seoul and I found them to be intriguing and educational to watch as I witnessed a new societal norm. Since watching a lot of Western tv, I found that the plot, architypes and even the settings felt innovative and different, which made them exciting. Then there is the fact that the stars all dress the way we wish we could.
One that stood out was the first season of Love Alarm, which was uploaded onto Netflix in 2019, and directed by Lee Na-jung. Originally a comic on Webtoon, the episodes will explore an emotional journey as there is always something happening. There is never a moment to breath with how intense the love story is. What also helps is how amazing the acting is, from both the Korean performers and the English dub performers. However, it is very fairy-tale-esque because it romanticises nearly every aspect of the characters lives, this aspect may be difficult for some viewers to watch. It is also shorter than most k-dramas and there are some moments that do not make sense but these elements can be seen as defining points for the genre.
The season begins with an international model called Sun-oh (Song Kang) who moves back to South Korea to graduate. There he meets a girl called Jojo (Kim So-hyun), the quiet and kind girl at school and and is quick to fall in love for her. However, Sun-oh’s best friend, Hye-yeong (Jung Ga-ram), also has feelings for Jojo. These two characters juxtapose each other in the way they express their feelings; Sun-oh makes his feelings apparent, while Hye-yeong is rather shy. Although, the love lives of all characters is not as simple as real life, there is an app called ‘Love Alarm’ which alerts someone when a person who loves them is within a 10 metre radius. Throughout the first season, viewers are taken through the turbulent lives of Jojo, Sun-oh and Hye-yeong and how they handle their chaotic navigation of love. To add fuel to the fire, there is also people looking to ruin what they have.
First of all, the episodes are so entertaining to watch, this is not something that can just play in the background, viewers really have to pay attention to what’s happening. It is amusing to be able to watch something and not experience dull moments; to be able to become fully invested and actually enjoy what is on TV. Viewers do not just see these characters as high school students as the show really goes into depth about their dark pasts. For example, Jojo lives with her Aunt and cousin as her parents were involved in something very tragic when she was only a little girl. Viewers are not shown straight away what this incident is but there are little flashbacks in nearly every episode. This is why viewers should pay close attention when watching as there is the possibility that a vital part of information, that is crucial to the plot may be missed.
Secondly, the acting from every single one of them is amazing as the whole story is believable. Some reading this may think, “How can she praise the acting if she watched it with the dub?” But acting is not just about the voice. The English dub matches their facial expressions, eyes and body language perfectly. To see the chemistry sizzle through the eye contact and the small, lingering hand touches is charming. Song Kang visually turns Sun-oh from a guy with his walls built high, to a smiley and happy boy. Then we have Hye-yeong, who Jung Ga-ram flawlessly portrays as the dark horse throughout their high school years.
While romance may be the main theme, however, there is a life lesson about how much social media affects our lives. In the show, people put all their faith into a love matching app, which reflects how much we all depend on the validation of social media. There is a significant emphasis on the harm that it can do to people, such as suicide, bullying and physical attacks. I think it is important that this aspect of the app was included in the show as watching these types of scenes unfold in front of your eyes really puts into perspective the harmful effect that technology and social media has on our own thoughts, feelings and actions.
Then we have the scripting, which people may have different reactions to. As expected for a romantic drama, the scripting is quite cheesy in some places, so for those who do not like intense romance, it might make them cringe. However, personally, I think that the script writers, actors and those who voiced the dub carried it out with taste. If this was a Western production, I would have probably cringed through the whole thing, not making it through the full season. It is a show about people using a love app and falling in love, what did you expect? There are many moments that will make your chest warm and heart flutter, like when Sun-oh says: “I won’t let go”, when he is ice skating with Jojo. There are many little scripted moment like that which give you butterflies and bring the romance to the show.
However, one thing to pick up on is the fact that it is very fairy tale-esque. This is because all the events that happen to the characters are slightly unrealistic. For example, for Jojo’s first kiss, she had only known the guy for a couple of days. Nowadays, that may be considered as a social norm, but for me it seemed a little out of place and random. Perhaps if there was a little more relationship development between the two and more context on the male characters behalf (I don’t want to spoil which one), then the scene would have been more appreciated.
Also, the season is only half the length of a normal k-drama series, Love Alarm has eight episodes when others have 16. As gripping as the cliff-hanger at the end of season one is, it does feel like it has been cut short compared to the other k-dramas I have watched. Yes, it can be argued that a shorter season length makes it easier to binge watch and there are people who enjoy smaller series but due to personal preference, a longer series is better. This allows for more plot development and perhaps if the first season was longer, the sudden romance would not feel as random.
This contributes to the lack of concept in the show as there is no explanation as to how or why things happen. For example, there is no real explanation as to how the Love Alarm app actually knows when people like each other as there is no visual set-up. Does the app connect to your heart? Does it monitor your breathing? Therefore, as much as you need to pay attention in terms of enjoying the storyline and the characters, it is not a drama that you cannot put too much thought in otherwise there are too many plot holes.
Nevertheless, I loved watching this show and season two is just around the corner, soon the answer that all viewers have been wanting to know may be revealed. Personally, I am routing for the underdog and I hope Jojo will end up with Hye-yeong. This is because he liked her when they both did not have the app and is willing to date her the old fashioned way when the chance came up. I would advice to break past some viewers complaints about subtitles, as I found the Korean language to be beautiful, and give Love Alarm a watch.