Big, amourous gestures. A prince charming sweeping the leading lady — or gentleman — off their feet. Overcoming all odds to be together with the love of your life. These are the grand ideas of romance that decades of K-dramas have fed into their audiences. From Boys Over Flowers of the older days to 2022’s A Business Proposal, the path of romance is treated as a grand obstacle: getting together is the goal, and the journey is almost always incredibly tough.
Amidst these majestic, dreamy plots landed Soundtrack #1, a short four-episode drama following the characters of Lee Eun-soo (Han So-hee) and Han Sun-woo (Park Hyung–sik). There is nothing surprising about this drama, to be clear. The narrative is just as you expect: two people recognise that they love each other, and then they get together. It’s a romance ordinary people (like you and I) go through. But the value of Soundtrack #1 is in making one realise that perhaps that is the best type of romance. That despite the lack of grandity in our romantic lives, we’re not really missing out.
A majority of us would hesitate to date a friend we’ve had for ages; their presence is irreplaceable and the potential of finding a romantic partner in them almost never outweighs the risk of losing them as a friend. This dilemma is the crux of Soundtrack #1. How long will you be afraid of being brave? Will you really be content with the love of your life only being your friend forever?
The rest of this review contains spoilers.
In the drama, Eun-soo and Sun-woo have been friends for 19 years, of which eight Sun-woo has spent irrevocably in love with Eun-soo. Their journey from friends to more accelerates due to hiccups in their professional lives. Eun-soo is a lyricist who is aiming to make her big break, and Sun-woo is a photographer who is on the cusp of gaining regional, if not global, popularity.
Eun-soo seeks Sun-woo’s help in a certain project before he flies off for a long-term project in two weeks. Somehow, they end up living together at Eun-soo’s. Of course, this friendship later becomes a long-distance one. Sun-woo chickens out of confessing before he leaves Korea; Eun-soo backs out of confessing when she realises she loves him; and other love interests present themselves as alternatives. It’s a short but spine-tingling journey of missed timings and opportunities.
Surprisingly, these mistimed awakenings are not frustrating. Director Kim Hee-won ventures into their developing relationship with soft, delicate lenses, which is a joy to watch in itself, considering the director’s most recent work was the crime/ noir drama Vincenzo. Instead of making the viewer irritated at either Eun-soo or Sun-woo for their decisions, Kim takes the time to help us understand their actions.
By cutting out any excess narrative on supporting characters, Kim leaves most of the screentime to flesh out the two main characters and their dynamics, creating a relaxed pace despite having just 180 minutes of runtime. Intimate meals with loved ones, tranquil walks of introspection, and comfort with non-verbal communication go a long way in depicting the serendipity of finding love in front of you, despite its obstacles.
It’s more than just the overarching plot that makes Soundtrack #1 a stellar drama. I’d even say that it goes further than a simple drama depicting romance: it makes you want to fall in love with life itself, including all of its downs.
While it depicts the tumultuous way of romance, it balances it with the other ingredients of life that make us human. Sharing jokes with overly-doting parents, dealing with the concerned scrutiny of your closest friends, and finding joy in your job and hobbies are also some of the things that make up the essence of us. Soundtrack #1 doesn’t forget to highlight this. By only developing supporting characters to the extent of their relationship with Eun-soo and Sun-woo, the drama takes the time instead to emphasise the different types of love these various relationships cultivate.
Soundtrack #1 is a short, polished look at an ordinary romance. It may be too subtle or calm for some, but is sure to please those that enjoy realistic, slice-of-life dramas. Soundtrack #1 is familiar and comforting in its premise, and the acting, cinematography, and direction elevate it to better heights. The short length of four episodes is also ideal. Rather than stretch a basic plot out, Kim did what was needed to get the story across without making it an arduous watch. Plus, with four episodes, you never really know what’s going to happen: you can’t expect the romance plot points you do with the standard 12, 16, or 20 episodes.
It also goes without saying that a drama with the title Soundtrack #1 is bound to have an impressive soundtrack album; every track that plays in the drama is perfectly curated and matches its respective scene impeccably. If you’re looking for a quick captivating watch, Soundtrack #1 is a great option to consider.
(YouTube. Images via: Disney+.)