THE SHORT VERDICT:
I Need Romance 3 is like the milder, sweeter, slightly ditzy younger cousin of the older, more worldly-wise I Need Romance dramas.
While INR3 may look like its cousins on the surface – glossy & modern, complete with real kisses & sexytimes – at its heart, it holds dear many classic dramaland rom-com values about Romance and True Love. Oh, and the ditziness? It’s coz logic isn’t this drama’s strength, and there’s a fair chunk of stuff in INR3 that doesn’t actually make sense.
If you loved I Need Romance &/or I Need Romance 2012, you’d probably be disappointed in this one. Conversely, if you didn’t like the first two installments, then this one just might sit better than you’d think.
Oh, and there’s Sung Joon. Mmmm.
THE LONG VERDICT:
To be honest, I have mixed feelings about I Need Romance 3.
On the one hand, the drama exceeded my expectations.
Which probably sounds a whole lot more promising than it actually is. The truth is, I really didn’t like the first 2 installments of the show. In fact, I was so upset with I Need Romance 2012 that I promised myself to thenceforth steer clear of any and all future installments of the show.
And then they had to dangle Sung Joon at me. Whom I think is dreamy. And so I wavered, as they say in dramaland.
On the other hand, there is a good chunk of stuff that doesn’t work for me in this drama.
When I stack up all the stuff that doesn’t work for me, there are some big hefty pieces in there that I’m still not sure whether I’m willing to overlook.
Yes, overall, the positives do win out over the negatives for me, but it’s really the kind of win that you need an after-the-fact, photo-finish sort of analysis to determine.
And so, in the spirit of ending on a more positive note, I’m gonna spend some time highlighting the key things that didn’t work for me before I get into the stuff that I actually liked.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
WHAT DIDN’T WORK FOR ME
One of the hallmarks of the I Need Romance dramas has been the female lead being part of a close-knit circle of friends. They talk about romance, love, sex; you name it, they talk about it. The friendship forms the safe haven of the female lead, and the friends are always there to support her in her time of need.
In INR3, this group of friends is replaced by a group of colleagues. And in principle, I have nothing against that. I mean, change can be good, right? And friends can work together, right?
My problem is that these people are colleagues first, and (not-quite-)friends second. In fact, right away in episode 1, something felt a little off to me. It didn’t quite feel like they were simply friends.
In actuality, our female lead Joo Yeon (Kim So Yeon) is their team leader. And that changes everything.
Basically, these people have to play nice and be friendly with her. And they clearly walk on eggshells around her. Can you really call that true friendship?
The thing that really horrifies me, though, is the tone of this quasi-friendship.
In episode 2, the “friends” show up at Joo Yeon’s house for an emergency slumber party to comfort her after her break-up with her boyfriend PD Lee (cameo by Alex).
First of all, the trio aren’t truly keen to go to Joo Yeon’s house for that slumber party. They feel obligated to go coz she’s their Team Leader. Secondly, at the slumber party, sex is the topic of choice. And we’re not just talking about general opinions about sex, mind you. We’re talking about personal experiences too.
I.. shudder to imagine having to be on a work team like that. I don’t want my team leader and team mates having so much access to my personal life, and I certainly don’t want to have a sleepover at my team leader’s place and have to talk about and hear about everyone’s sex life.
Ew. Whatever happened to personal space?
And, in case you feel like we need more proof that the friendship Joo Yeon has with her workmates isn’t really friendship, consider the the way she chews out Hee Jae (Yoon Seung Ah) in episode 3, and then how Hee Jae takes comfort in soju and goes to the roof to scream out her curses and grievances at Team Leader Joo Yeon, while Woo Young (Park Yoo Hwan) looks on enviously coz he’s got pent-up grievances too.
That just doesn’t smell or look or feel like friendship to me.
Yes, by the end of the series, some real friendships form within the group, and that’s a saving grace. But until they became actual, true friends, this continued to niggle at me.
Joo Yeon’s Characterization
So I don’t think Joo Yeon’s all bad (more on that later), but I concede that she was not one of my favorite characters on the show.
More important than that, I found the way Joo Yeon was written just flat-out unbelievable in some ways. Many of you know that I am quite the advocate of focusing on the good and shrugging off the bad in a show, to maximize one’s enjoyment of it.
Well, let’s just say that these pieces were more challenging to shrug off than usual.
She’s not very likable at all
I get the idea of writing a character as flawed and unlikable to allow room for growth. In Joo Yeon’s case though, the flawed and unlikable bit is taken to a bit of an extreme. And, that room for growth bit doesn’t play out in a satisfying enough manner to make up for it.
From the very beginning of the show, I found Joo Yeon annoying in that she’s selfish and self-righteous and throws her temper around when she’s upset. In episode 2, the way she starts flouncing around angrily when she realizes that PD Lee has quit is just not kosher.
And then there’s the time in episode 7 when Min Jung (Park Hyo Joo) tries to confide in Joo Yeon about her unexpected pregnancy.
With tears brimming in her eyes, Min Jung haltingly starts to tell Joo Yeon that she’s pregnant, and that the doctor had said that this is likely to be her last pregnancy.
Before Min Jung can go any further, Joo Yeon puts up her hands to stop Min Jung, her words coming out in spurts.
“Wait a minute. Ah…I…you know.. This kind of personal conversation… I don’t want to listen to it. I understand that you’re upset, but… there’s no real need for me to know it… and nothing I can help you with, either. It’s your situation. You make a good decision. Okay? I’m leaving.”
It’s obvious that Joo Yeon is uncomfortable in the situation, and it’s also obvious that Joo Yeon is aware of Min Jung’s distress. Heck, by the time Joo Yeon’s walking out of there, Min Jung’s sobbing. And yet, Joo Yeon doesn’t change course at any point and barrels on her chosen path of complete insensitivity.
While I get that Joo Yeon is written as too emotionally shut-down to handle the situation, this scene felt a lot like self-centeredness at work too. Essentially, her own discomfort means more to Joo Yeon than Min Jung’s distress.
And then in episode 9, just when I think Joo Yeon is softening up and becoming more likable, she tips the balance the other way all over again.
Basically, Se Ryung (Wang Ji Won) is desperate to win back Tae Yoon (Nam Goong Min). Sort of as a last resort, she pretends to mend bridges with Joo Yeon in order to hopefully leverage on Joo Yeon’s sense friendship to not pursue a relationship with Tae Yoon. Joo Yeon sees through the ruse and plays along with it, being all friendly with Se Ryung and leveraging the new friendliness to achieve some good work success. And then she turns the tables on Se Ryung later by asking Tae Yoon out on a date anyway.
I found Joo Yeon’s hardened approach to out-sly Se Ryung by using Se Ryung’s friendship ruse against her, cold, calculated and manipulative.
I mean, I’d like her to be shrewd enough to spot the ruse, but not manipulative enough to use it against Se Ryung. Call her out on it, or coldly refuse to be friends. But don’t play along and make it work for you, before crushing her hopes by walking all over her heart in your spike heels while you ask out her ex-boyfriend, is what I’m sayin’. Not cool.
Another instance of not cool is in episode 10, when Joo Yeon asks Wan (Sung Joon) for permission to take the soup that he’d painstakingly prepared for her, to give Tae Yoon. Ugh. That’s basically taking Wan’s heart and giving it to Tae Yoon while passing it off as her own. How insensitive and self-centered can she be??
It boils down to Joo Yeon taking advantage of Wan’s feelings for her, and it doesn’t help to endear her to me in the least.
I wanted to like Joo Yeon and root for her, but pretty much all the way to the end, she remained.. just not my type of girl.
For a smart woman, she’s not very smart
Sometimes, Joo Yeon comes off as more than a little dense.
In the beginning of the show, Wan shows up in her life as “Allen” the famous DJ-genius songwriter-music producer (his job never made sense to me, to be honest. Do genius songwriters DJ? *scratches head*). And despite Wan repeatedly dropping multiple hints about his real identity, Joo Yeon doesn’t connect the dots at all, which I found a bit of a stretch.
Another stretch? That she can listen to Wan’s voice on the phone one moment, and then when “Allen” calls the next moment, it doesn’t even occur to her that they sound alike. Um. How clueless is she supposed to be? And yet she’s supposed to be a really sharp woman.
I found it just unbelievable. Which brings me to my next point.
The thing that I found the hardest to swallow about Joo Yeon, is her dormant emotional chip.
I mean, I see the irony and the Poetry of Coming Full Circle that the writers are aiming for, but I just can’t buy it.
Yes, I know the writers want me to see the irony of Joo Yeon having been the one who’d taught Wan to be in touch with his feelings and to be honest about them. And the irony – and poetry – of Wan now having to teach it all back to Joo Yeon.
Seriously though, unless the show pulls a case of full-on amnesia on Joo Yeon (yes, I can’t believe I’m saying that amnesia is actually preferable in this case), I just can’t buy that she would be that emotionally removed from her past as to have no memory of it whatsoever, and to lose the ability to feel too.
I have trouble believing how clueless Joo Yeon is in terms of her own and other people’s feelings. Given that she is portrayed as someone who used to be fully functional and who even taught Wan about feelings and expressing them, it’s hard to believe that she would get to this point, where she is that blind about what she is feeling, without an actual case of amnesia. (And how convenient, that they blame it all on Tae Yoon having been a hard taskmaster. Pfft. I call cop out).
I get that this is all supposed to further our story and also make Joo Yeon amusing as a character, but to me, it makes her appear unreal and unbelievable. I mean, I find Se Ryung’s default response of letting people think bad things of her decidedly strange. But I find that more acceptable than Joo Yeon’s missing emotional parts of the brain.
The fact that I found this.. thing so hard to ignore and shrug off really affected my ability to engage with Joo Yeon as a character. Which is a problem, seeing as how she’s the central character of the entire show.
Wan’s Over-Indulgence of Joo Yeon
Much as I liked Wan (more on that later, too), there was one thing that really did aggravate me about him, and this was his consistent over-indulgence of Joo Yeon’s bad behavior.
Wan is unbelievably patient with Joo Yeon, even while she’s at her worst, and while on one level it’s super swoony, I can’t help getting a little annoyed with him for being so nice to someone who’s consistently so abrasive.
It’s such a conflicting experience to watch scenes of Wan gazing at Joo Yeon so dreamily. Coz while the dreamy gaze on its own is very melty (it’s Sung Joon! Being swoony!), it’s also very dissonant to me, that he looks at her with such indulgent eyes when she behaves so badly. It.. makes me doubt his judgment.
It’s almost like when you see a kid misbehave and act like a total brat, and you see the kid’s parent look on affectionately and indulgently. That’s love, yes. But it’s also annoying. Coz we expect parents to love their kids in ways that help them to become well-behaved and well-adjusted, rather than indulge them in their tantrums.
Granted, Wan’s not Joo Yeon’s parent and doesn’t have the authority to do anything like that. But to be that indulgent? He has the authority to not look at her like that, at least, is what I’m thinking.
WHAT I LIKED
Like I promised, it’s not all doom and gloom, and there really are some things that I enjoyed in this show.
First, the very reason I wavered enough to check out this show.
Dreamy Sung Joon
Sung Joon. Being romantic and dreamy. Mmmm.
Yes, it’s absolutely a shallow fangirl reason to enjoy a show, but hey, sometimes shallow works, y’know?
I didn’t always appreciate his stylist’s odd wardrobe choices…
And I found the fake DJ-ing in episode 1 rather laughable (sorry, Sung Joon-sshi)…
…But right away from episode 1, I was all, “Augh. So, so handsome. And so swoony.” (Cue hearts in eyes)
I really enjoyed gazing at him on my screen, just drinking in his lanky, handsome presence:
Plus, his buttery, deep, warm voice was music to my ears, seriously. I literally just wanted to sink into his arms and listen to his voice all day.
And then there were the wonderfully swoony kisses.
Let the record show that Sung Joon knows how to deliver the sexy, sensuous, swoony kiss.
Like the kiss in episode 3.
OMG. He makes the kiss look so absolutely delicious, that I totally wanted some of that too.
And the way he takes Kim So Yeon’s face in his hands in episode 4 and the way he leans in and just looks at her:
And then there were multiple instances of very natural, very casually cozy skinship:
I also wanted some of that.
And then there was this:
Hawt kisses. Swoon~
And plus this:
Sung Joon, shirtless, asking for a kiss, in a very sexy, sleepy, slightly slurry drawl in his I-just-woke-up bedroom voice.
To state the obvious, I found Sexy Sung Joon supremely appealing.
Besides Sung Joon the actor, I also had affection for Wan the character.
Yes, I was peeved at him for being over-indulgent of Joo Yeon’s bad behavior. But putting that aside, there’s a lot to like in Wan.
In episode 1, before it became too much and crossed over to the Land Of Annoying Over-Indulgence, I actually really appreciated his instinctive response to Joo Yeon’s bad behavior.
While most people would’ve walked away and spared themselves the bad behavior, Wan’s response to an essentially ridiculously outspoken, ill-mannered and ill-tempered woman was patient, quiet and thoughtful. That exhibition of self-control and maturity inspired a sense of respect in me right away.
I really liked that he gave her the benefit of the doubt and spent time considering what might have caused her to turn out this way. I found that loyalty endearing, and his measuredness, swoony.
He loves from the heart
In episode 5, Wan answers Joo Yeon’s question of why he likes her thusly: “There is no reason. But I think because there’s no reason, it’s love.” … “Because if the reason disappeared, my feelings would change too.”
Talk about constancy. Talk about simplicity.
Even though I wasn’t on board the Joo Yeon train, I had to admire his simple, uncalculated yet very intentional approach to loving her.
He wouldn’t be changing his mind about her, because his love wasn’t from the head, but the heart.
He’s not self-centered
The deeper we get into the show, the more it becomes obvious that in this love for Joo Yeon, Wan’s never seen it as being about him.
He’s consistently more concerned for Joo Yeon than for himself.
In episode 8, when Joo Yeon realizes that she likes Tae Yoon, Wan’s response is, “Go where your heart leads. Do what you want. Go where you want. Go as far as you can go.”
Despite Joo Yeon’s heart leaning towards another man, Wan still tells her that he loves her, because he doesn’t calculate. And yet in his openness about his love for her, Wan doesn’t apply pressure on her to like him back. I just really liked that selfless, deliberately genuine quality about him.
What strikes me about Wan is that to him, it’s more important that Joo Yeon regain her emotional abilities than that she likes him back. When she cries to him that she must really like Tae Yoon, he smiles to himself that it’s good that she’s learned how to cry again. Again, Joo Yeon comes first.
In fact, it’s more important to him that Joo Yeon is loved well, rather than that Joo Yeon loves him back.
In episode 12, Wan schools Lousy Boyfriend Tae Yoon on how to love Joo Yeon properly: “..The people around her should know. Love her so that the whole world knows how much she’s loved!”
Not a word to Tae Yoon about going away and leaving Joo Yeon alone. Wan’s only request of Tae Yoon is to love Joo Yeon well.
Sweet, selfless Wan.
He’s so affectionate
Perhaps the thing that about Wan that got under my skin the most, was his casual skinship with Joo Yeon.
There’s something about how casual it is that makes me melt. Wan’s always holding her hand, or holding her close, and he does it so easily, like it’s a natural extension of himself. And he does it even when she doesn’t reciprocate. I just find it all so melty.
Like this shot of him absentmindedly reaching for her hand and gently rubbing her fingers:
So casually cozy.
And this shot of Wan wrapping himself around Joo Yeon, even when he’s a little upset with her, and even though she’s acting peevishly haughty and playing hard to get (which I found annoying, for the record).
Putting aside my thoughts about Joo Yeon’s behavior, I do like how Wan is so expressive and giving in his love.
Wouldja look at that tenderness spilling out of his eyes?
Of course, Wan’s extreme goodness makes him feel more than a little too good to be true, and many have argued that Wan couldn’t possibly exist in real life.
But that doesn’t mean I can’t like him, right?
A Better Joo Yeon
So I’ve detailed a good number of things that I didn’t like about Joo Yeon.
To be fair, and for the record, there were a couple of times in the show that I did like her.
Like the time in episode 10 where Joo Yeon seems genuinely distressed at being caught between Tae Yoon and Se Ryung. That felt sincere and I liked this side of Joo Yeon that didn’t want to engage in playing games and manipulating people.
Or the time in episode 14 where Joo Yeon has her epiphany and realizes that she loves Wan.
She heads straight to Tae Yoon’s apartment and breaks up with him, saying:
“You were wrong. There is something you can’t be without, something that you can’t get through effort. Love you can’t live without—I know it doesn’t exist… But I’m going to believe that it does. I’m going to live believing that. I’m going to love someone who believes that. Let’s stop here.”
Y’know, I was expecting her to beeline for Wan, given her sudden epiphany. I mean, that’s what most kdrama heroines would’ve done, I think.
But I have to say, when I realized that she went directly to Tae Yoon first, to set things straight, it gave me a jolt of respect for her. There’s something about how she’d first sort things out properly with the boyfriend-who’s-not-quite-a-boyfriend, before allowing her heart to go to the one she truly loves, that I find very clean and clear-cut. I like it.
At the end of the show, I also love how Joo Yeon’s perspective of Wan completely changes from annoying Sweet Potato, to most desirable, perfect man alive. Cue hearts in her eyes.
That’s evidence that Joo Yeon’s no longer just thinking from her head; that’s definitely her heart talking.
And I do love that she now wonders “What woman called this man a sweet potato?!”
Talk about a turnaround.
While late in the coming, I do like that when Joo Yeon finally sees Wan in a new light, that she would go so far as to question her past self for being so blind. She’s not hanging onto her pride or making excuses here, and I dig that.
Lastly, I do like that Joo Yeon gets so comfortable with telling Wan “I love you” that by series’ end, she’s telling him she loves him, unprompted.
It makes me happy coz Sweet Wan deserves some love.
Min Jung’s Arc
To be honest, there were times in the show where I was most interested in Min Jung’s arc, over and above the OTP arc.
There’s just something very warm and endearing about Park Hyo Joo and her portrayal of Min Jung that I really like.
I also liked her early-menopause-oh-wait-no-it’s-pregnancy arc, even though it reminded me of Answer Me 1994. I was interested in how Min Jung would deal with the pregnancy, how baby-daddy Min Seok (Yoo Ha Jun) would find out, and what would happen if & when he did. I found the tension around this all quite enjoyable.
Also, I actually really liked Min Seok as a character.
In episode 10, even after the truth is out, he still leaves his confession and gift on Min Jung’s door. Not only that, he then apprehensively waits for some kind of response on the other side of the wall, which is so endearingly adorable. Both of them listening through the wall to each other (above) was also very cute.
I really like that Min Seok is the kind of guy who, when he realizes that he likes Min Jung, goes after her and seeks her out, even when she’s trying to hide from him. And when he finds out that she’s pregnant, his first instinct is that they need to talk it out and make a decision together. I like that from the get-go, he has every intention of being a father to the child, even though he’d never wanted a child before.
Even when Min Seok’s world is twisting and turning around him and everything’s thrown into confusion, I like that in spite of himself and his fear of being a bad father, he ends up doing the right thing.
In the end, I really did like the way Min Jung’s and Min Seok’s arc is treated.
We get to see their growing affection and commitment to each other, and that is endearing and quite lovely.
Even though we don’t see them outright making that commitment, their slow but steady journey towards a committed, happy ending shows in the small everyday gestures, and it’s sweet and hopeful and very nice indeed.
On a side note, doesn’t Yoo Ha Jun look like a dead ringer for Bae Yong Joon?? Seriously. I had flashbacks to Hotelier (2001), with the way that Yoo Ha Jun is styled in this show.
I know there’re quite a few things that I haven’t mentioned in this review.
Like Se Ryung’s and Tae Yoon’s arc(s). And Hee Jae’s arc with Woo Young. And Joo Yeon’s arc with Se Ryung.
Basically, I neither loved nor hated any of these arcs. There were better moments and worse moments in all of them, and I ended up feeling pretty neutral towards them.
In the end, the show has almost all of its characters facing life with brave faces, despite varying levels of uncertainty in their lives, and that’s not a bad thing at all.
Overall, given that I’d really disliked the first two installments of the INR franchise to the point of wanting to swear off any and all future installments forever, and yet I managed to come away from this one without feeling like I wanted to kill the writers, well, that’s.. not half bad, right?
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Unremarkable but generally pleasant, if you’re the forgiving sort. I.. didn’t hate it. And Sung Joon is dreamy. As always. ❤
FINAL GRADE: B-
For those who don’t mind spoilers, here’s a breezy, cheerful track from the OST that quite perfectly sums up Wan’s point of view in the drama: