Reporting on the series I watch
There are few television series that cause me to truly reflect on my own life. These are the kind of works that inspire me to be a writer and work in the business of making entertainment, because to me, they are more than entertainment--they are inspiration. I think only one television series before that has had this kind of affect on me, that was His and Her Circumstances. I remember being humored into fits of laughter as well as being moved to those ever elusive tears, by the story of people coming to grips with themselves and with each other in that Japanese animated series. I think I can safely place a second television series into this category now with Alone in Love.
A Korean drama series, it tells the story of a man, I Dongjin (Gam Useong), and a woman, Yu Eunho (Son Yejin), who, even after divorcing each other a year ago, who find themselves running into each other, unable to fully close their relationship. While the nature of their divorce isn't clear at first, the knowing barbs that they throw at each other immediately shows the kind of familiarity that one gains from intimacy. These provocations eventually end up in a gambit, where Eunho suggests to Dongjin that he set her up on a date--and the stupid fool plays her game and does it! Over the course of the series, we watch as these two people, embittered by things that they aren't willing to talk about, trade barbs and try to find a happiness apart from each other, with some meddling from Dongjin's naive best-friend Dr. Gong Junpyo (Gong Hyeongjin) and Eunho's bizarre younger sister, Jiho (I Hana).
While it doesn't have any high concept plot, where Alone in Love shines is the expert characterization and development, reaching nuance after nuance, digging deep into the souls of the characters, but needing to say none of it. Whether it's the way that you see Dongjin look for Eunho's bicycle every day at her workplace while taking the bus to work, the diligence that Eunho displays in teaching youngsters how to swim at the gym, or the occasional get-together for drinks at the same bar that the four have been patrons of, over the course of sixteen episodes, the characters become as familiar to the viewer as they are to each other, with their quirks, weaknesses and outstanding moments all intact and believable.
Granted, the two comic foils, Dr. Gong and Jiho, start out precisely as comic foils to their more serious counterparts Beatrice and Benedict, but even they develop very much as characters over the course of the series. The same nuance applied to the main characters even falls to the supporting ones, whether they are rival love interests or friends. And when a show can get me caring for the antagonists in the show as much as I care for the "one true pairing", even the one seemingly wicked character, you know that it's touched on some magic.
I'm not going to spoil the story, but I will say that it stays firmly planted in a believable reality and we don't really enter the world of "love across X", with X being class, or race, or distance. The overall series has a sort of two act grand structure and it's clear that the first act closes halfway through the series, but at the same time, although I might've felt that the story was over, I'd become so invested in the characters by then that I had to see what would happen from then on. While the series starts out more in the comedic side of storytelling, as it goes along, the comedy, while never dissipating completely, gives way for the underlying drama to manifest and give closure to these characters. And the few times the characters explode with emotion, you really feel that the show has earned it.
Gam is an accomplished thesp and is able to keep subtle where a more broad actor would've turned the bitter Dongjin into a cartoon. Dr. Gong, who is nearly a cartoon as a character, is benefited by the comedic timing of Gong (the actor) as well as the comic actor's ability to play drama when needed. Surprising me, were the two female leads. Son, who I would've originally dismissed as just a pretty face, manages to also turn in a strong nuanced performance and throw herself utterly into the character. As for I Hana, she somehow makes the rather bizarre Jiho into both a believable and likable character and is a fortunate debut as an actress. Added to by an outstanding cast of supporting actors, the world of Alone in Love felt as real as my own breathing.
Finally, production credits should be lauded. Not only does the series manage to temper the "shiney-glossy" look of many Korean dramas in exchange for a more reserved filmic look, it also holds back from too many cheesy uses of editing or effects, lending to the realistic portrayals in the series. Direction appears sure and understated--letting the excellent story sit front and center. Oh, and the soundtrack is fantastic. While it's not exactly a thing of major discovery, like some soundtracks can be, every musical interlude and every song playing over credits or previews fits just perfectly with the tone of the series. It's a soundtrack I will no doubt be purchasing in the future.
All that said, this is not a more typical Korean dramatic series. Anyone who's looking for the outlandish (amnesia, hidden identities, etc.) or the trendy (high concept hooks like pretending to be a lover to throw off the family or cross-dressing to get a job) won't find it here and will be terribly disappointed by Alone in Love. What it does present is an impressive look at characters that will be familiar to us--the reasons they love, the reasons they lose and the reasons they are unable to move on or to reconcile. Maybe it's just the fact I'm in the same age group as these characters, but, for me, in watching these characters struggle with love, I saw reflections of myself in them. And for that, I cannot recommend Alone in Love highly enough. 10/10.