I swore off the I Need Romance franchise after finishing I Need Romance 2012. I’d disliked the ending of the 2011 original, hated the ending of the 2012 follow-up, decided a fundamental difference of opinion existed between myself and the drama-creators on what constituted a healthy relationship, and washed my hands of the whole affair. Then they went and cast Kim So-yun and Sung Joon.
So. Here I am, live-watching and… I might hate myself in the morning, but… oh my gosh, I’m loving it! [Spoilers for episodes 1&2 below…]
They’re taking a different story-approach for this third outing and I’m clinging to those differences with a passionate hope that the romance trajectory will have changed as well. What hasn’t changed is the lovely, lovely cinematography and clever editing techniques. It’s a beautiful drama to watch.
[I loved this red-motif in the first episode]
I have consistently been amazed at Kim So-yun’s ability to sink into vastly different characters and play them note-perfect. I think part of my amazement is that she’s such a classic and dramatic beauty (meaning strong, symmetrical features) that it seems like it’d be hard for her to be something other than strong and noble. But she manages to be adorable, vulnerable, goofy, and nerdy as need be. Which was shown off beautifully in the opening episode.
I loved how her character, Shin Joo-yeon, went from a disciplined and exacting boss, to an adorable and emotional protégé, to a kittenish and warm girlfriend. (A lot of it came from tone of voice — Kim So-yun’s got a really nice speaking range.) Seeing all those sides of her, so quickly and naturally, got me right onboard the character.
I could tell how deeply I was on her side when Wang Ji-won appeared on-screen and I hated her before she’d even said a word. For no reason other than pure bias. I knew from the teasers that this was Oh Se-ryung and she’d be playing Joo-yeon’s rival and you don’t go against my girl! So… apparently Joo-yeon is now my girl.
Which meant, when her boyfriend took her out to dump her (you seriously couldn’t give her that news in the privacy of that stairwell?), I was totally pumping my fist at her cool reaction. I knew the moment was coming (again, from teasers) and I was just aching for her because she was so excited and eager for the proposal she was expecting. And then the axe fell and she went ice-cold and I was just… *standing ovation* …I was so pleased with how well she protected herself.
Which also means, I’ve been really enjoying the peeling back of the layers of Joo-yeon these two episodes have given us. Because I think it is telling that she is so completely guarded, and I feel that’s probably what pushed her boyfriend away and that maybe, if she’d fallen apart and clung to him, he might have stayed. (Not that I think she should’ve done that. And not that I think he was testing her. Just… it was like the final nail in the coffin; she really didn’t let you in.) Not that Joo-yeon needs to become open and vulnerable to everyone — but she needs someone she can trust.
And! I love, love, love that her rivalry with Oh Se-ryung comes from a broken epic-friendship and that it was partly Joo-yeon’s cold mask that’s perpetuated the break and that (hopefully, hopefully hopefully!) a big thrust of the show will be the healing of that break. It makes me so happy to see a female friendship get an interesting, complex trajectory. (What’s the female equivalent of “bromance”?) I’m sure the drama will end with Joo-yeon open and honest with her true-love. But if it also ends with her open and honest with a restored bestie? I… I’m afraid I’m asking for too much. (But you are teasing me with epic possibilities, show! Especially after that hilarious cat-fight. That kind of thing leads to relationship repair. It’s like a law. *nods sagely*)
This is one of the differences from the other two I Need Romance dramas. In those the main female character had her besties and that’s how they stayed. It was a nice flavoring (I like seeing female friendships) but not a central storyline. Plus, in this story Joo-yeon really doesn’t have any best friends. When she says she’s alone, she really, really means it. She has her work colleagues and they’re awesome and incredibly tight — but she’s their boss so she can’t go full out vulnerable with them. A certain amount of masking is required.
It’s really, really telling that, post-breakup, her one available shoulder was her boss, Kang Tae-yoon (Nam Goong-min). And while they’re obviously close and comfortable, I’m assuming he, at least, has to mask himself a bit because he can’t go full out vulnerable with her. (I’m assuming he’s going to be the romantic rival? Which, thus far I’m fine with though, I’m expecting a feet-of-clay reveal at some point.)
And then there’s Sung Joon’s character, Joo Wan. I adore Sung Joon and the way he seems all quiet and disengaged on the surface but his eyes are so, so watchful. (All of his characters have had that aspect to them — though with different flavorings.) And Wan is definitely a watcher. The way he hangs back and observes Joo-yeon, very laid-back and unassuming but not missing a thing.
And! And! That we get to see their past interactions as Wan grew from adorable babyhood to completely and totally smitten gradeschooler… I loved seeing how long he’s been caring this torch. And I loved seeing that deeply warm and sensitive and caring side of Joo-yeon (teenager-her was so perfect with little Wan — it’s no wonder he worshiped the ground she walked on). It sets him up as the perfect answer to the question Joo-yeon’s carefully guarded fortress of a heart asks: Is there anyone trustworthy enough to let in?
Starting off with those (gorgeously filmed) flashbacks means we’re taking a different story-telling trajectory from the first two I Need Romance dramas. Rather than getting dropped into the middle of an established (and souring to varying degrees) romantic and sexual relationship, we’re shown the building of a warm and stable mentoring relationship which ended but didn’t fail. (Ooh! Interesting realization… Tae-yoon and Joo-yeon also have a mentoring relationship. Hmm…)
It’s not a huge difference, but since Wan was simply gone — rather than, there but emotionally absent — the show doesn’t have to try and explain the emotional distance. Which means they don’t have to give Wan personality traits that I loathe and then expect me to forgive him anyway. (Here’s hoping they don’t decide Wan needs some sort of Achilles heel…)
So… I’m really excited for this drama! I’m positive Wan is going to help Joo-yeon get her groove back (a franchise consistency). Only this time I’m hopeful he’s the end-game and gets to enjoy groovy Joo-yeon. (This early in, though, Tae-yoon is intriguing enough that I can take a wait-and-see approach.)
In other predictions: Se-ryung did not steal the boyfriend this time. The necklace is either a coincidence or a something-other-than-romantic gift. What’s not a coincidence is Joo-yeon’s team needing a stylist… Se-ryung is totally taking that above-you-all office. Cue delicious drama. And finally, Hee-jae’s exam-studying boyfriend is going to turn out to be an ass and dump her. (She just seemed too sure of their future. A drama no-no if ever there was one.)