THE SHORT VERDICT:
A stylish, light, polished sequel to I Need Romance.
Although it’s hyped as a more realistic picture of modern-day dating and romance, the show managed to make its world romanticized in its own way.
I liked this more than the original series, but in the end, it still left me a little cold.
I Need Romance 2012 OST – I Could Give You Love
THE LONG VERDICT:
I Need Romance 2012 wasn’t perfect, but there was a fair bit that I liked about it. It’s just that by the time I finished it, I was left feeling rather disappointed and bemused. This, despite really, really hoping to like it.
So, to be fair to the show, I decided that I’d tackle both the good and the not-so-good in turn.
Style & Cinematography:
I liked the color palette, which ranged from bright and happy, to sepia-toned, to desaturated, depending on what the show wanted to convey in any given moment.
I also liked the editing, and in particular, I thought that the freeze-frame technique was put to good use throughout the series. It was often paired with character voice-overs, giving us a moment-suspended-in-time sort of effect which I liked.
I also liked the use of flashbacks to flesh out our understanding of their relationships and their world, and I thought the flashbacks were nicely interspersed with the current-day scenes.
I liked the idea of peppering the episodes with thoughtful voice-overs, not only by the female lead, but on occasion, the male lead as well. This gave a more balanced feel in terms of whose eyes we were observing their world through, which I appreciated.
The almost slice-of-life approach was also rather appealing. I liked the concept of being a fly on the walls of our characters to observe them bicker, laugh, and navigate their lives towards their hopes and dreams.
I thought each episode had a stylish, polished finish, which was enhanced by a good selection of background music. Everything felt light, zippy and fun.
I found the cast good-looking and likable, which is always helpful.
One of the reasons I’d struggled to like the first season was that I wasn’t a fan of either the lead actor or lead actress, and that made watching the show more of an uphill task than it needed to be.
In contrast, I actually started off liking the cast this season, and I found Lee Jin Wook appealing and rather sexy as our male lead.
I also really liked Kim Ji Suk and thought he looked particularly delicious after his stint in the army; so tanned, toned and chiseled:
Mm. Very, very nice.
The Gal Pals
Despite many others not feeling the friendship between the girls as much this season, I actually found the friendship between these 3 characters believable.
Perhaps it’s because I have 2 close girlfriends too, and we also met while in school, and have kept up the meet-ups and girl-talk in adulthood, despite all 3 of us being completely different in terms of temperament and personality.
I found the girls’ frank conversations about men, relationships and sex amusing and fairly true-to-life. I could imagine real friends chatting about similar things and asking one another similar questions.
I also found the dynamic of them being one another’s safe haven heartwarming.
I generally found the sub-plots interesting and entertaining.
My favorite plot-line is that of Ji Hee (Kang Ye Sol), mainly because she learned how to stand up for herself and be true to herself, despite pressure to settle for less due to her age and therefore, perceived lesser bride potential.
[MINOR SPOILER ALERT]
Ji Hee’s bickering, blossoming relationship with Tae Woo (Heo Tae Hee) was so much fun to watch. Their comic timing was very good, and they had great chemistry.
I actually came to enjoy watching them more than I did the main love triangle.
[END MINOR SPOILER]
Kim Ji Suk as Shin Ji Hoon
Shin Ji Hoon was such a wonderfully warm, grounded and good character.
Yes, perhaps he was just a little too perfect, but I loved that he had so many good traits. He was patient, level-headed, generous, humorous, and made it a point to see the good in others.
He brought out the good in our leading lady Yeol Mae (Jung Yu Mi), and didn’t look like he was even really trying. It felt like it was simply the side effect of his goodness, that brought out her goodness, and I loved that.
Of course, it didn’t hurt at all, that he was also romantic and pro-active to boot.
I loved how he patiently courted Yeol Mae, even though she didn’t show a lot of interest in him.
Basically, he was everything a girl could hope for, from a guy that liked her.
Kim Ji Suk made Ji Hoon extremely charming and likable, and I enjoyed watching him the most, among all the characters in the ensemble.
The Chemistry Between The Leads
Lee Jin Wook and Jung Yu Mi had excellent chemistry as Seok Hyun and Yeol Mae, and their scenes together sparked and sizzled in a way that was believable and engaging.
Whether they were playing around as friends or making out as lovers, they looked comfortable together and it was easy to believe that they had grown up together, had been involved with each other, and had known each other all their lives.
Both Lee Jin Wook and Jung Yu Mi delivered strong performances and did justice to their characters.
Yeol Mae as a Character
I honestly found Yeol Mae as a character really hard to root for. That’s kinda not great, considering that she was our lead character.
Right away in episodes 1 and 2, I got a sense of her thoughtlessness and self-centeredness and I disliked her. Immensely. Not a great start.
Unfortunately, my dislike for her was pretty much sustained throughout the series. Yes, there were pockets – small pockets – of time where I found her more likable, but they were essentially fleeting and transient.
[VERY LONG SPOILER ALERT]
The first time she snubs her date, it is by accident because she mistakes Ji Hoon as her blind date.
Subsequently, however, when she realizes her mistake, not only does she take her time to correct her mistake and sit down with her rightful date, she doesn’t pay him any attention, and then, before we know it, she gets up to sit with Ji Hoon again.
I was aghast at her lack of manners, not just for someone who’s grown up in a society like Korea where a premium is put on manners, but for anyone. In the world.
Then in episode 2, she’s needlessly high-handed with the band that she’s producing in the studio.
First, she’s critical of them and accuses them of not practicing. Then, she won’t let them eat – not even bread! – even though they’re likely to keep going late into the night.
She allows them to take a short break, then bops them on the head for poor manners because they didn’t finish zipping up before coming out of the washroom. Then she goes off for lunch, on her own, even though her sound engineer doesn’t get to eat either.
To add to the distastefulness of it all, in voice-over, she says matter-of-factly, “After living more than 30 years, I’m getting more spiteful.”
I SO did not like this woman. I found her selfish, thoughtless and yes, in her very own words, spiteful.
I get that many kdrama lead characters start out more unlikable than likable, and we’re supposed to root for them as they encounter change and ultimately, growth, in the course of the story.
My big problem with Yeol Mae as a character is that she doesn’t really change all that much over the course of 16 episodes.
Yeol Mae showed some sparks of growth while in close proximity with Ji Hoon, but remained essentially cruel and thoughtless, even in the later episodes of the show.
When she broke up with Ji Hoon, she did so abruptly and matter-of-factly. She systematically threw out everything that he’d given her, including his precious limited edition record and his childhood photo.
I couldn’t understand this. Why couldn’t she just return them? A limited edition record is hard to replace, though arguably, you might eventually find a replacement for it.
But you simply can’t replace a childhood photo. Especially if he’s an orphan and there’s unlikely to be an existing negative in his possession.
I couldn’t understand why she could return the bicycle, but couldn’t return these precious items to him. The way she emotionlessly dumped them out, without batting an eye, repulsed me.
Instead, she channeled all her energy into re-igniting her romantic relationship with Seok Hyun.
Which brings me to another beef of mine, and that is, her general lack of ownership of everything.
One incident that comes to mind is when she grabs Seok Hyun’s hand while they’re walking together, post Ji Hoon breakup, and Seok Hyun pulls away. She cheerfully grabs again, saying, “Don’t shake off my hand this time.”
Seok Hyun relents, and then they look up to see Ji Hoon watching them from a distance. Yeol Mae wrenches her hand out of Seok Hyun’s, and abruptly turns around to gather her thoughts. And then, without a word to anybody, she simply walks away. Argh.
In that moment, I felt that Yeol Mae was cowardly and hypocritical. If you’re so bold to break up with Ji Hoon and pursue Seok Hyun all over again, then own it. Don’t run away from it.
Another thing that really annoyed me was her bouts of crying after breaking up with Ji Hoon.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I did feel extremely sorry for Ji Hoon, and I wanted Yeol Mae to show remorse for hurting him the way she did. And tears generally do indicate remorse.
But they didn’t indicate remorse here.
That’s the problem. I didn’t feel like Yeol Mae was crying because she felt sorry for hurting Ji Hoon. Rather, I felt that she was crying because she felt conflicted. The tears were about her, not about him. And that just made me so mad.
Somewhere around this stretch of the drama, Yeol Mae said in voice-over, “I wish there were traffic signs in my life. Stop. Danger. Safe. Be careful. Turn right. Turn left. Go straight. I wish someone could tell me things like this.”
Not only does it show a great bent towards self-centeredness, it shows her lack of ownership. She doesn’t want to take ownership of her decisions. She wants someone else to take responsibility for the direction of her life.
Seok Hyun says to her in exasperation in episode 15, “You always spill your guts and expect the other person to figure it out.” So true.
She says whatever is on her mind, describing how she feels, and expects the other person to make sense of it. She doesn’t bother to filter whether it’s something that would be uncomfortable for the other person to hear.
Case in point: she asks Seok Hyun about how to sort the rubbish, when he knows full well that it’s Ji Hoon’s things that she’s sorting out.
I found it impossible to feel sorry for her.
She cried hard and often about breaking up with Ji Hoon, but really, it was her choice. She chose to leave him. So why does she get to cry about it and feel sorry for herself? I didn’t get it. And I still don’t get it.
Plus, I’m annoyed that she hurt Ji Hoon so badly.
She started dating him knowing that while he was really into her, she was just trying him on for size.
Even in how she started the relationship with him, she relinquished ownership, telling him, “I’ll let you have my heart. So make me change my mind. Make me fall in love with you. I’m giving you a chance.”
Make you change your mind? Make you fall in love? Lady, these are things that people don’t make you do. You choose to do these things yourself. Sheesh.
I found Yeol Mae completely annoying and very, very exasperating as a character, from the get-go, all the way to the very end.
There were flashes of improvement, yes, but when that improvement had everything to do with Ji Hoon whom she heartlessly dumped, that doesn’t score any points with me.
[END VERY LONG SPOILER]
The Writing & The Ending
The writing in I Need Romance 2012 was clever and insightful at times, but ultimately, I felt dissatisfied with where the writers chose to go, particularly in terms of the character development of our lead characters.
For a drama that aims to be modern and more realistic than classic kdrama fare, the writers of this show certainly managed to employ a good number of classic kdrama tropes.
We get the lack of communication, first loves, a time skip and even a mysterious disease as plot devices.
Sure, they’re dressed up a little differently, and accessorized to appear a bit more modern, but they’re all certainly there. Not only are they present, they’re big players as well.
Seok Hyun’s entire reason for keeping Yeol Mae at arm’s length – which ultimately, was the basis of our entire story – was an exercise in the lack of communication.
Actually, we get 2 tropes for the price of one. Not only does everything boil down to a lack of communication, it’s all because of a mysterious, potentially fatal disease!
At first, at the big reveal, it felt like a big game-changer. Suddenly, I felt sorry for him. But upon further thought, I felt like he was acting too much like a victim, and his lack of communication with Yeol Mae about it or anything else just made him fatalistic.
He’s supposed to be all in love with her, and super-super close to her, what with their childhood history & everything, but he never tells her anything, including that his sister was ill, or that the disease was probably hereditary.
Yeol Mae, too, sucked at communication. She would rattle off what she felt on the inside, but essentially, she was a poor communicator who was unable to navigate an important conversation to save her life.
I found myself thinking, if your communication with each other over 30 years is consistently this poor, I really don’t think you’re that good for each other.
Ok, I get that Seok Hyun is written as a character who’s uncommunicative and closed off about anything remotely emotional and close to the heart. That’s why he’s written as never having told Yeol Mae that he loved her, in all the years that they were romantically involved.
But see, if I buy that, then I can’t buy the ending.
After the convenient time skip – I don’t have issues with the time skip per se, because I buy that the characters needed time and room to grow.
It’s just how conveniently everything is solved with one simple time skip that I don’t buy – Seok Hyun is shown breaking down in tears from missing Yeol Mae. And then we see them reunited, with Seok Hyun incessantly telling Yeol Mae that he misses her and loves her.
Er. If you want me to buy that something so deep-rooted in him was so completely turned around, I’m going to need more than a time-skip to explain the change in him.
After all that reticence about telling her that he loved her, it rang false that he would be incessantly telling her he loves her just because he missed her for a year. People don’t generally change so easily or to such extremes.
So yes, the time skip in itself was good. But after the time skip, everything rang a little false.
I wanted them both to grow up more, mature more. And I wanted to see how they arrived at that new place of maturity. It was inferred, sort of, but it just wasn’t enough for me.
In the whole 12 years that Yeol Mae and Seok Hyun were together, they kept breaking up because of the lack of communication.
I’m supposed to believe that a simple one year time skip fixed all their communication problems and that’s why they’re now insanely happy? That’s hard to do. You have to give me more than that.
The insanely happy couple that they were in the final scenes didn’t seem real to me. I didn’t buy the cutesy.
So ultimately, the first love won. Isn’t that the oldest kdrama trope of all time?
Worse, this happened in both installments of the series, which is supposed to tackle romance with a more modern and realistic sensibility.
With this whole first-love-always-wins theme pervading both installments, the whole I Need Romance series shouldn’t claim to be anything close to reality.
Because in reality, first loves are, more often than not, just that: a first love. You grow up, you mature, you move on, you evolve.
You learn (hopefully) to care for other people more, and to recognize and treasure what or who is truly good for you.
You generally don’t get rewarded for staying your petulant, selfish self.
This drama didn’t acknowledge any of these real-life truisms, and therefore wasn’t very real where it actually mattered, I thought.
I would have liked the writers to have taken a different approach, to have let Yeol Mae choose Ji Hoon, commit to him, and really do some serious growing up under his positive influence.
That, to me, would have been a much happier, more realistic ending than what the writers served up.
In the end, though, I am sort of relieved that Ji Hoon didn’t get the girl. With Yeol Mae as fickle as she’d shown herself to be over the course of the show, even if she’d decided to choose him, I wouldn’t have wanted him to accept her. I would worry that she’d bail on him again.
So, it’s actually a relief, I guess, that Ji Hoon didn’t get the woman he wanted. Coz, y’know, sometimes what you want isn’t good for you.
SLICES OF LIFE
Overall, this drama had a slice of life feel in some ways.
There was often a lot of back and forth between characters, and sometimes, there wasn’t a lot of plot movement. And it’s true that that’s similar to real life.
If we’d wanted a slice of someone’s life, though, why did we have to pick Yeol Mae’s? Sigh.
So, in the interest of ending this review on a happier note, I decided to highlight some of the slices of life that appealed to me a lot more.
Here we go:
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Contains some goodies, but in the end, not very satisfying, I’m afraid.
FINAL GRADE: C-