A back-to-back treat for rom-com lovers out there.
Romantic-comedies, or rom-coms as we fondly call them, is the go-to genre if you want a light-hearted love story with a tinge of touching moments on the side. It picked up the best from both romance and comedy genres. Rom-coms have been dominating the K-ent world for years and recently two more have been added to its catalog: To All The Guys Who Love Me and Was It Love.
Both dramas’ storylines center on a strong and independent female character whose smooth-sailing life suddenly got interrupted by an unexpected plot twist.
To All The Guys Who Loved Me (TATGWLM) introduced us to Seo Hyun-ju (Hwang Jung-eum), a webtoon producer who ultimately wanted to publish her own webtoon. Her life’s plot twist: she remembered her past lives. She’s the usual passionate female rom-com lead but unlike other hopeless romantic characters, Hyun-ju was jaded about marriage; a ceremony we always associate with happily-ever-afters. At first glance, her reason for not believing in marriage might felt silly. Why would you let your past lives affect your current life, right? But I appreciate Hyun-ju the most during her unguarded conversations with her friends and Hwang Ji-woo (Yoon Hyun-min). She was challenging most people’s view that the only way to have your “happy ending” with the one you love is through marriage. I like how consistent she is from the start of the drama until the last episode. She values herself more than anything else and that’s how she could care and love another person so deeply she doesn’t need a piece of paper to prove it.
Speaking of a piece of paper, the life of No Ae-jung (Song Ji-hyo), the main character of Was It Love, changed because of a piece of paper. The CEO of Thumb Film, where she works, left a debt and created humongous problems for Ae-jung. The overzealous aspiring PD-nim had to move mountains to produce a film and got entangled with her past love; something that wasn’t really on top of her priorities. Her life, though, revolves around her adorable daughter, No Ha-nee (Um Chae-young). More than the loveline, I actually enjoyed Ae-jung and Ha-nee’s story (or more specifically: Ha-nee’s ‘find my dad’ adventures with Dong-chan). Ae-jung as a mother, who raised her daughter well on her own, was this character’s most endearing trait. Her dreams got delayed but there was no hint of resentment or regret for Ae-jung.
Another major ingredient for rom-com is the female lead’s swoony love interest.
In TATGWLM (I’ll use the acronym because I still stand by my stance that this is a mouthful title), we met mysterious CEO Hwang Ji-woo (Yoon Hyun-min). I must admit that I didn’t like his stalker-ish vibes at first but I guess his moves were decently justified in the end. That part could have been off-putting if not for the past lives trope they used. But what I liked the most about this character is how he listened and compromised to Hyun-ju. At first, he was all about waiting for Hyun-ju to change her mind about marriage but then he realized that they could just find a way to meet in the middle; to stay true to their individual beliefs without losing themselves.
And losing oneself while loving another was what happened between Ae-jung and Oh Dae-oh (Son Ho-jun). They fell in love with each other at the time of their lives when they were both still trying to know themselves. To be honest, Ae-jung got the short end of the stick when they broke up, so it was hard for me to empathize with Dae-oh. I enjoyed watching him better when the scene involves Ha-nee. Their supposed innate-bloodline-instinct failed to notify them about their connection. So instead of having a father-daughter relationship from the start, they instead had an annoying-ahjussi-grumpy-tween dynamic. And in those moments, I kind of resented K-dramaland’s fate for unfairly stealing Dae-oh a chance to watch his daughter grow up.
TATGWLM and Was It Love fall in the same genre but they are different in some way. The glaring difference between the two comes in the form of the love interests’ rivals
In TATGWLM, Ji-woo only had to fend off one rival – Park Do-gyeom (Seo Ji-hoon). Do-gyeom was that frustratingly nice K-drama second lead. He was Hyun-ju’s sibling-like childhood friend. In short, he supposedly has the advantage over Ji-woo but he did nothing. He just started making an effort when his “safe position” was threatened by Ji-woo. Don’t get me wrong, he was a loveable character. That’s why it was frustrating to see his hopeless case for Hyun-ju dragged up until the last leg of the story. They could have developed his relationship with Han Seo-yoon (Jo Woo-ri) instead.
Learning to surrender was what I appreciate about Was It Love’s second leads. Oh Yeon-woo (Koo Ja-sung) was the last one to give up his one-sided love to Ae-jung. Like Do-gyeom, he was young and persistent. But he backed down when he saw his advances was just making things more complicated for Ae-jung. I think, his background (with his mom still hovering his life) is more complicated than of Dae-oh’s.
I actually placed my bet that Ryu Jin (Song Jong-ho) would be Dae-oh’s strongest competition compared to Yeon-woo. I was wrong though. Ryu Jin might have loved Ae-jung first but I felt like he wasn’t that interested in Ae-jung when they met again. Their connection was more about the misunderstanding created by Ha-nee’s attempts to find his father. And then I’ve become invested with his relationship with Joo A-rin (Kim Da-som). They shared the same what-ifs and so they found comfort with each other’s presence when they both decided to give up. Plus they’re meet-cute is super funny. It could have been a nice romantic subplot if it was developed better.
Koo Pa-do (Kim Min-jun), on the other hand, never felt like a competitor for me. Just like Ae-jung, his priority is to protect his son Koo Dong-chan (Yoon Sung-woo). So instead of a contender, he felt more like a catalyst that reconnected Ae-jung to Dae-oh. His character arc was really dramatic (and unrealistically action-packed) compared to other characters in Was It Love. But I still appreciate Pa-do especially because of his relationship with Dong-chan. Actually, one of my favorite characters in this series is Ha-nee’s adorable best friend. Dong-chan and Ha-nee’s (mis)adventures were entertaining to watch. There were times even that I liked their scenes better than the main plot.
The story of Hyun-ju and Ji-woo in TATGWLM was strong enough to make me stay until the last episode. Hwang Jung-eum can make any overly ridiculous scenarios bearable to watch. Yoon Hyun-min and Seo Ji-hoon also did their part well. Jung-eum and Hyun-min shined the most during heavier scenes, which was mostly flashbacks of their past lives. Seo Ji-hoon, on the other hand, showed he could play colorful characters and he shouldn’t be typecast on brooding second lead roles. TATGWLM’s side-stories could have been improved though. The supporting characters felt 2D for the most part of the story.
Meanwhile, Was It Love’s reverse harem main plot felt loose. Ae-jung and Dae-oh’s story was mostly predictable and the reason for their break-up somehow felt glib. But there were still some moments that tugged my heart. One of those was when Ae-jung said this line: “However I started to love him more than he loved me. And in the end, because of that imbalance, our relationship ended.” I appreciate the simplicity of those scenes compared to other dramatic and ludicrous scenes in this series. Their strongest point though is their side stories. As I’ve said, Ha-nee and Dong-chan were my favorites in this series. Was It Love’s characters were all endearing that it could have been a good ensemble TV series instead of a series about a second chance at love.
Both could have been a standard-issue rom-com series but I have to give points to their attempt on giving a unique twist on their stories. The effort might felt short in some aspect but it still entertained me nonetheless.
-Kwon Jin-ah’s Something’s Wrong could be an OST for these two series.
-Please give me a Seo Ji-hoon x Jo Woo-ri drama