Written by Jung Hyeon-jung & Jung Da-hyun
Directed by Park Shin-woo
Early in the third episode of Lovestruck in the City, Park Jae-won (Ji Chang-wook) and Lee Eun-oh (Kim Ji-won), going by the alter-ego Yoon Soon-ah, are having a conversation about the films of Christopher Nolan and going to see one of them at the cinema. It’s at this point where I positively screamed at the television to Park Jae-won that Lee Eun-oh is a keeper and not to that let that girl get away from him, but it also hints at the intricacies at the heart of Lovestruck in the City’s explorations of memory and time.
Not that I want to go on too much about the cinematic output of Christopher Nolan while reviewing a K-drama, but given that his films predominantly deal with time and memory, it stands to reason that a series that is exploring memory and perception of it would reference a filmmaker whose films explore those themes, albeit in a more science fiction way.
How we perceive our own memories about moments from the past, especially those regarding other people, are put front and centre throughout the third and fourth episodes. It once again revels in the romantic comedy tropes of many films and K-dramas of a similar ilk, but now those scenes carry with them a hefty charge since we know that the relationship that is at the heart of its explorations of love is not to last, and even more potently one half of the couple is not really who she says she is.
If the first two episodes put one in mind of When Harry Met Sally, it’s in the third and fourth episodes that the viewer is reminded of 500 Days of Summer. We might look to the past with yearning and appreciation, but like that film’s lead character, Park Jae-won is only presenting himself with the memories of moments that made him happy and is perhaps not seeing beyond his own feelings, even while those very memories are filled with silly make believe weddings, cosy bedroom scenes and last minute dashes to proclaim ever-lasting love.
Memory as a romantic comedy is very much the theme here and it’s one that the series is running with all the while the show’s supporting cast continue to function as a Greek chorus pointing out the reality of the situation all the while dealing with their own complex love lives which are presented in a much more matter-of-fact and realistic manner than the more dreamy leanings of the relationship that is forming the backbone of the story.
For a thirty-minute comedy drama, this is packing a lot in a short space of time, but it does so in a satisfying way. It’s a terrifically observational rom-com about the peril of finding oneself in the opposite end of what should be a happily ever after, but also quietly critiquing a mentality where one party is upset over the other without asking why it was the relationship ended in the way that it did.
There is even a gentle hint that what Lovestruck in the City is really getting at is perhaps an exploration of gender differences. This being a K-drama means that the relationships fall into the realm of heteronormative, but it’s the explorations of the male psyche, particularly when it comes to how they view relationships with women that are the most potent points that the series is making.
Jae-won wants someone approximating what could be described as the ‘dream girl’ without ever asking what it is she wants in life. Eun-oh enjoys being taught about surfing, playing bar games, and going to Christopher Nolan films, but she also has career aspirations that she is striving for, ones beyond being merely the ‘perfect girl’ for the male lead of a romantic comedy drama.
Sure, she is the one that makes the last minute dash to the guy as we’ve seen in so many movies over the years (the only thing missing here is an airport setting), but where that would be the end of the story for any other movie or television series, it’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Sometimes it’s only after the end credits that one asks themselves what it is that is next for the characters, at least in terms of realism and that’s what Lovestruck in the City is truly excelling at in this early stage in its run.
What’s even more remarkable is how it gets the audience to swoon at the more overtly romantic comedic moments even when though we know it’s not going to end well. That ‘wedding’ on top of the caravan trailer is the most purely romantic moment of the series so far, both funny and sad in its knowledge that this is nearly the end of the relationship rather than the beginning of it.
Obviously at this point one gets the sense that it will most likely deliver a ‘happy ever after’ as the full stop when it gets to the final episode, but what is really driving the series isn’t that eventual destination, but more just what it has to say about the characters in their journey there.