It’s been a while since I’ve last written a comparative review with two seemingly similar yet different K-drama. In this edition, I’ve decided to talk about the recent high-school set short series, Live On and A Love So Beautiful.
The first obvious similarity between these two series is their setting. The stories both happen in high school and deals with coming-of-age conflicts. Both dramas are also shorter in format compared to the usual 16-episode mini K-series. Live On only has eight episodes while A Love So Beautiful has twenty-four episodes with 20-minute-per-episode running time. So in terms of length, one can easily finish them in one sitting or one weekend. Both dramas also employed a more experienced actress and paired her up with an idol-actor.
Live On stars Jung Da-bin and Nu’est’s Hwang Min-hyun. Da-bin plays the role of Baek Ho-rang, a social media influencer who joined their school’s broadcasting club to find a mysterious blackmailer. There, she met Min-hyun’s character Go Eun-taek, the club’s strict and perfectionist president. Ho-rang isn’t the bubbly type of character and some may be put-off by her frankness and cold persona. But somehow, Da-bin’s portrayal allowed her to look mysterious rather than obnoxious. She managed to hint to us that the cold persona is just a façade she’s been putting on to protect herself. Min-hyun, on the other hand, had lesser acting experience than Da-bin who started as a child actress. But his performance as Eun-taek seems pretty decent for a debut role. The character itself doesn’t need a lot of depth to portray since Eun-taek felt more like a device to help or stir Ho-rang’s character development. He just needs to charm us off with his scenes with Ho-rang and well, he did that well.
Meanwhile, the Korean remake of the Chinese hit webdrama A Love So Beautiful picked So Ju-yeon for the role of Chen Xiaoxi or Shin Sol-i while Wei’s Kim Yo-han took on the role of Hu Yitian or Cha Heon. I, personally, enjoyed the story Yitian and Xiaoxi and I know, I could easily be disappointed if the Korean remake didn’t meet my expectations. And true to this, it took me at least three to four episodes before I adjusted with the new faces playing familiar characters. Ju-yeon is quite older than Shen Yue when she played Xiaoxi in 2017 so it was understandable that she might look awkward and unnatural playing a high schooler who experiences love for the first time. I had issues with the way she tried to talk cutely at first but she eventually won me over (or I just probably gotten used to it). And she still delivered during scenes where she could utilize her past acting experience. Yo-han, for his part, needed to act a cold and tsundere male lead. During the first few episodes, I realize that he can’t act like a cold guy partly because his facial features alone make him look like a nice guy. Similar to Ju-yeon, I eventually accepted that his version of Yi-tian would be different – a nicer and more transparent version. They had their high (and very sweet and adorable, if I may add) moments that made me stay until the end. I just think that the comparison between this version and the original material is inevitable and will always be the downside of any remakes.
What I like about high school dramas are the accompanying stories of the main leads’ friends. Both Live On and A Love So Beautiful have side stories that are #frienshipgoals. Live On has two other couples: Do Woo-jae (Ro Jong-hyun) and Kang Jae-yi (Yeon Woo) and Kim Yoo-shin (Choi Byung-chan) and Ji So-hyun (Yang Hye-ji). Woo-jae and Jae-yi’s story is that of a young couple who are learning about themselves as they date. Jae-yi is @tipsyahjumma’s favorite character in Live On and I couldn’t blame her for falling for her candid character. She’s the opposite of Woo-jae but they eventually worked out this difference to make their relationship survive. I, on the other hand, enjoyed Yoo-shin’s adorable wooing to So-hyun. I actually like Ji So-hyun’s character the most. She was suspected as the “blackmailer” during the start of the series but like Ho-rang, I felt like there’s more to her than a vengeful former friend. That’s why I enjoyed her character and relationship development with Yoo-shin.
A Love So Beautiful also has supporting characters who are equally loveable (OST pun intended) to that of their Chinese counterparts. Woo Dae-sung (Yeo Hoi-hyeon) is the designated second lead of the series but it was his friendship with Sol-i that I appreciate more than anything else. I also think that Yeo Hoi-hyeon has the potential to be a sought-after actor if he can improve a bit more and get better roles in the future. ALSB’s Jeong Jin-hwan (Jeong Jin-hwan) and Kang Ha-young (Cho Hye-joo) were as delightful watch as Lin Jingxiao and Lu Yang. Although I do think they should have gotten more air time than they did.
Live On and A Love So Beautiful might look similar but they differ in terms of underlying story theme and narration style.
Live On’s story deals with unpleasant things one might experience/d during their student days – bullying. Ho-rang became cold and aloof because she wanted to forget her traumatic experience in middle school. And her past haunted her in the present. Alongside this plot point, Live On has also shown this generation’s social media dependency. Their confidence – as seen with Jung Hee-soo’s (Lee Se-hee) creepy obsession with Ho-rang – depends on the approval of others. The more likes and attention they get from their post, the more confident they become. But Ho-ran eventually learned that a digital connection can’t replace that of real friendship to people.
Opposite to Live On’s theme, A Love So Beautiful’s main theme is first love. And since it was set in the early 2000s, their characters use 2G phones and mp3 players instead of a smartphone and send their confessions via love notes instead of a social media post. It carried an air of nostalgia and we’ve watched its story unfold through the rose-colored glass.
Live On and A Love So Beautiful both dealt with stories that resonated with young audiences. Both aren’t the award-winning nor groundbreaking series but they manage to convey their messages and stir some thoughts in me.
Live On – especially with Ho-rang’s arc – showed that one can overcome such traumatic experience but they are forever scarred by it. Most of the time, like Ho-rang, victims are more ashamed to tell their stories more than the perpetrator themselves. It’s disappointing as it is the perpetrator/bullies that should be ashamed of their awful wrongdoings. I believe that being an airhead immature youth is not an excuse to bully others. I hope that those who experience something similar to Ho-rang would find their own Eun-taek, So-hyun, Jae-yi, Yoo-shin, and Woo-jae who would give them strength to go on and encourage them to still make the most of their radiant youth.
Meanwhile, A Love So Beautiful was reminiscent of that sweet and innocent first love. As I’ve said, its story was viewed through a rose-colored glass but it doesn’t make its story a far-fetched version of what we experienced. We could fall in love so many times in this lifetime but we could only fall in love in a naïve and pure way once. Just like its title, ALSB has shown us how beautiful and memorable first love is.
– I am in love with ALSB’s OST!
– I just realized Min-hyun and Yo-han are both Produce alumni while I was writing this SR.
– @tipsyahjumma is proud of her picks Min-hyun and Byung-chan.
– My favorite scene in ALSB is this scene shot in a noraebang!
Image credit: JTBC for Live On and Kakao TV for A love So Beautiful