Undeterred by the rocky journey that JTBC‘s first Wednesday-Thursday drama, Mystic Pop-up Bar, brought them on, Karen and Qing are back to test their luck again with the rom-com that follows in the same time slot.
Was It Love? begins with an over-the-top tone that may not appeal to all, but it’s buoyed by interesting characters that defy archetypes. Belying its outlandish premise is the sense that the plot is guided by a firm direction. Karen and Qing discuss the strengths and flaws in the character setups (spoiler: one gender fares better than the other), and the potential relationships that lie in store.
Karen: I was really pumped up for the show after watching the trailers, noting Was It Love? to be the kind of entertaining comedic watch I needed with the heavy news going about. Noh Ae-jeong (Song Ji-hyo), a single mum raising her daughter, Noh Ha-nee (Um Chae-young), promised a drama that wasn’t just another romantic comedy. The mystery behind Ae-jeong’s eventual love interest draws from both Ae-jeong’s experiences with the four prospective suitors, as well as Ha-nee’s desire to find out who her father is. With just four episodes, it seems the unravelling of the mystery builds momentum from various angles, executing the framing of a single mother family as one that truly takes into account Ae-jeong’s affections for her daughter. Whoever the new dad will be—whether he is Ha-nee’s biological father or someone new who proves himself worthy—I’m fairly excited to find out how mother and daughter will come to arrive at the conclusion.
Speaking of single mothers in K-dramas, When the Camellia Blooms draws attention for being one of the most recent and well-written pieces. You’ve watched it and I was wondering if you saw any ways that Ae-jeong might fare in comparison with a character like Dong-baek (Gong Hyo-jin).
Qing: Ae-jeong’s interview scene at the start of the show set her up as a single mother quite different from Dong-baek. Camellia focused a lot on the prejudices single mothers face, especially one who owns a bar. In contrast to Camellia‘s gritty realism, Was It Love? portrays Ae-jeong as brimming with optimism. While she may seem too idealistic, the show makes her worldview clear: she wants to pursue her dream of becoming a film producer to prove to Ha-nee that they needn’t compromise anything just because she became a mother at a young age.
While I’m all for this different perspective, I’m not sure the character of Ae-jeong is written well enough for me to fully root for her just yet. Her last-ditch attempt to save her debt-riddled company seems to be working on a combination of bull-headedness and sheer luck. Her company just happens to be in possession of the copyright to a script by a renowned writer, who just happens to be her ex-boyfriend, who just happens to still be in touch with their university sunbae, now a famous actor as well.
I don’t mind these coincidences, for the story won’t happen without them. But I do wish we had more moments that show her skill or wit, like the scene in episode 3 where she leveraged the curiosity and professional pride of Oh Dae-oh (played by Son Ho-jun, fully in his element) to get him on board with the project. I don’t dislike her; I just don’t find myself connecting with her the way I did with Dong-baek.
Thankfully, the other main characters are written more strongly. What do you think of our suitors so far?
Karen: I have to agree on Ae-jeong relying mostly on luck rather than proactively searching for paths outside what’s already in front of her. I can’t exactly blame her for it, and it probably is a result of the show’s romance/comedy plot of having happy coincidences. But, as you mentioned, it downplays the appeal of her character. On the contrary, the male suitors catch my attention a lot more, charming in their own ways that Ae-jeong seems to struggle to express.
The ones I’m rooting for at the moment are Oh Dae-oh and Koo Pa-do (Kim Min-jun). Dae-oh, Ae-jeong’s ex-boyfriend and currently a bestselling novelist, was left heartbroken by Ae-jeong during his university years without being offered a reason. Feeling betrayed, he had written a novel about their relationship.
Dae-oh comes off as vindictive and mean in their first encounter, waving his money and fame at Ae-jeong, but we aren’t made to hate him for how he behaves. Son Ho-jun is a perfect fit for the role. Without being the over-the-top good-looking fellow, he expresses the insecurities Dae-oh carries within himself and his struggles to convey his own concern for Ae-jeong. To put it simply, he’s kind of a loser who’s putting on a mask of arrogance.
On the other hand, I’m also rooting for Pa-do, the father of Dong-chan (Yoon Sung-woo), Ha-nee’s new best friend at school. Though Pa-do may come off as a gangster type, what with the ridiculous Western cowboy music accompanying his appearance on screen, we are given sufficient insight into his personality as a much kinder person. He is a single parent like Ae-jeong, though he lacks the bond that Ae-jeong has with Ha-nee. He is shown to desire genuine connection with his son, and is in fact quite a delicate person, with a maturity to look forward to.
As for actor Ryu Jin (Song Jong-ho), Ae-jeong’s university sunbae, and Oh Yeon-woo (Koo Ja-sung), Ha-nee’s teacher who also happens to be someone from Ae-jeong’s past, I’m waiting to see what else the drama has set up for them. At the moment, they are the ones who find their way back into Ae-jeong’s life mainly through her daughter. I find this plot choice quite a refreshing one and it reminds me of how important Ha-nee’s own venture into the mystery of her father is. That being said, both characters lack sufficient screen time of their inner thoughts. This is especially so for Ryu Jin. I hope there’s more on how he might prove to be far more emotionally complicated, caught between his own affections for Ae-jeong and his friendship with Dae-oh.
My only worry for the drama at this point would be that these male characters might end up outshining Ae-jeong. I’m hoping this doesn’t happen. For a drama that is only four episodes in, I must applaud the production team for giving us a truckload of insight into the many characters and potential plot routes to muse over. Looking at how things have proceeded thus far, what do you think of the suitors’ relationships with Ae-jeong and what might be in store for the next couple of episodes?
Qing: I was initially concerned about the show’s excess of male leads. Thankfully, though, the plot is well-paced, and neither overwhelms us with too much happening, nor bores us by holding back too much information. There are two plotlines: Ae-jeong’s pursuit of her dream, with the accompanying confrontation of her history with Dae-oh, and Ha-nee’s search for her birth father. The male characters fit in each plotline in different ways, but they aren’t mere plot devices; they each have a growth arc too.
Dae-oh’s journey most clearly parallels Ae-jeong’s; they each perceived the reason of their breakup differently, and need to see it from the other’s perspective to attain emotional closure. Pa-do is grappling with some guilt about someone from his past (perhaps Dong-chan’s mother), as hinted at in flashbacks triggered by Ae-jeong’s words. He also doesn’t seem to know how to express affection for Dong-chan, and Ae-jeong could be a catalyst for change in this respect.
Maybe one reason we haven’t connected with Ryu Jin and Yeon-woo on the same level is that we don’t really see how their stories will pan out yet, beyond knowing that they had unrequited feelings (or at least a relationship that never came to fruition, in Yeon-woo’s case) for Ae-jeong. But for now, it’s clear that each love interest has their own role to play, and I’m excited to see how these subplots develop.
I’m also hoping to see more depth to other relationships we’ve had a glimpse of: Ae-jeong’s and Ha-nee’s mother-daughter bond, which will undoubtedly change with the reveal of Ha-nee’s father and new love interests in the picture; the awkward father-son interactions of Pa-do and Dong-chan; and the friendships between Ae-jeong and her landlady Sook-hee (Kim Young-ah), and Ryu Jin and Dae-oh.
(YouTube. Images via JTBC)