Written by Jung Hyeon-jung & Jung Da-hyun
Directed by Park Shin-woo
There is always something strangely fun about romantic comedies that want to dissect the genre as well as the tropes they’re grasping at, while exploring the notions of what happens when two strangers from completely different worlds meet and fall in love.
Lovestruck in the City arrives on Netflix in a sea of k-dramas that are awash in romance and the possibilities of love and happily ever afters’, but this has bigger themes and ideas that it wants to play with.
One of Hollywood’s best ever romantic comedies, Rob Reiner and Nora Ephron’s When Harry Met Sally, explored the world of relationships with fourth wall breaking moments from couples talking about the film’s central themes, and it’s a trope that Lovestruck in the City utilises to equally witty degree.
Instead of a static camera pointed at two people talking against a wall, the series throws itself into quickly delivered monologues to the camera, filmed in a hand-held documentary style with numerous characters conversing over each other through an off-screen proxy.
The dialogue and observations are witty, sometimes even laugh-out-loud funny, but best of all is that it’s taking the type of meet cute and romantic comedies that are so much part and parcel of Korean scripted television and skewering it under a finely tuned microscope.
This also being a k-drama means that the structure is dense and one that the audience really has to watch to keep up with. It’s one of the joys with Korean television that it takes genres and material that to some eyes might be prone to easy going viewing and turns them into narratives with a structure similar to that of a Christopher Nolan film (who actually gets namechecked in the third episode).
While it initially looks as if the series is going to be an ensemble piece, the majority of the cast are effectively a Greek Chorus commenting on the central love story that is taking place throughout the majority of the series while navigating their own romantic stories.
The two characters are Park Jae-won (Ji Chang-wook) and Lee Eun-oh (Kim Ji-won) who have been through a previous relationship, which is mostly played out in gorgeously photographed flashbacks throughout.
There is a lovely evocation of memory and nostalgia played throughout, coupled with the bitterness and recrimination of the present day as both carry feelings that have obviously stemmed from their break up into the present, not only in their conversations about each other but also about romance in general.
It’s those flashbacks where the series is the purest approximation of a k-drama. The photography has a glossy filter to it that makes every scene feel like a nostalgic memory being replayed through the mind’s eye, while the k-pop soundtrack compliments everything in the manner that one expects from the genre.
Unusually the discussions about sex and romance are frank and even portrayed more so for a k-drama. Kissing and sex are not sanitised and while not overtly explicit, seeing its two central characters in bed together clearly about to engage in sexual activity feels positively raunchy compared to so many other dramas coming from Korean television networks.
Splitting its focus between the present day scenes in Seoul and the flashback setting of Yang Yang with its gorgeous beach and fun environment were surfing and drinking games are the central social language, there is a lovely compare and contrast going on between memory, nostalgia and the eventual realities that set in when such periods of time are looked back at and explored through who we are after a certain amount of time.
It gives the first two half hours of Lovestruck in the City a mature charge, and that doesn’t just go for the content (which is still in the realm of something approaching a PG-13 but it’s also refreshing to see a k-drama actually acknowledge sexual activity).
There’s a youthful ‘life in the city’ feeling to so many of the present day sequences that will recall American sitcoms such as Friends and even the likes of New Girl, but it has themes and ideas all of its own.
It’s a great beginning for sure and one that is light and fun but also observational enough to have you coming back for more.