We kick off episode 1 of A Love So Beautiful under the high school welcome banner for the class of 2006. Cha Heon rakes leaves while Shin Sol-i, who’s meant to be cleaning as well, psyches herself up to greet him, pleased that they’re in the same class. He nods and continues his work.
To her cheerful, ‘Wow, one might say fate brought us together,’ he resumes raking. Undeterred she confesses she likes him. His flat response is ‘I don’t like you.’ A little bruised, she chirpily carries on, ‘Then I’ll find a way.’ And he watches her scamper off.
This is A Love So Beautiful in a nutshell, which then flashes forward to 2020 where the banner focuses on eradicating bullying. Sol-i is now an adult but the scene brings her back to her high school years, with memories of a friend calling out that they’re late. She narrates her story, explaining that when she was 17, her most important thing was Heon.
In Spring 2006 Heon jumps on his bike and Sol-I runs out, keen to ride to school together. He declines, but she follows him anyway. She explains in voice-over that she’s always followed him around.
Flash to an embarrassing school moment where the less-than-graceful Sol-I knocks a cleaning bucket onto him in her enthusiasm to greet him. She claims he never gets angry at her.
The only issue in her following him around is her very short legs can’t compete with his very long ones. But it’s all good, as she believes he’s waiting for her to catch up.
Enter classmate Jin-Hwan who’s singing along to his headset. Sol-i notes it’s the 121st time he’s sung the same song and he confirms he’ll keep going, as practice makes perfect. She continues to object and he’s hurt that she doesn’t acknowledge his impending talent. Instead she pastes a sticky note to his mouth. Another classmate, Ha-Young watches with amusement.
The student leader collects math homework but Sol-i isn’t ready and quickly tries to copy Jin-Hwan’s work. Just then Heon walks in – how embarrassing. She bluffs that the homework was super-easy and hands it over.
In the teacher’s office, Sol-I is scolded for not completing the homework. Heon again walks in but all Sol-I can do is apologize.
Back in class, Sol-I is still smarting while an adorable Hui-Ji asks Heon for help with a math problem. Another kid carries on that they could be the new class couple. While Heon explains the formula, Sol-i checks in with Jin-Hwan on who has the smaller face – she or Hui-Ji.
He instantly confirms that of course it’s Hui-Ji. She smacks another sticky note onto his mouth. He continues to evaluate her versus Hui-Ji assessing that Sol-i doesn’t stand a chance. She plops another handful of stickers on his face.
Early the next morning outside their complex, Sol-I practices how she’ll present Heon a homemade lunch. She voices both sides of the conversation where he confirms that her less-than-small face is not a deal-breaker.
She waits and waits and eventually falls asleep on a bench. Heon comes for his bike to see a knocked-out Sol-I. He rides off to school without a word.
In class they discuss poetry, comparing it to love letters of today. The teacher notes that a great love letter can move someone’s heart, giving Sol-I ideas. At lunch, she tries her hand and Jin-Hwan offers his expertise. Sol-I misunderstands believing he’s received 1000 love letters. He corrects that he’s the master of writing them.
The deal is, she must deliver his love letters to earn his writing skills. He corrects her tacky start and rails off a few magical lines. She thinks the words may be too forward, but scribbles anyway.
She rehearses in the schoolyard, thinking of what she’ll say if Heon refuses. New student Woo Dae-Sung overhears her and applauds. She tells him off for eavesdropping and he claims to be scared, saying that he’ll respect her as his ‘brother’ from now on. He adds that everyone can hear her. Doh. She runs off in embarrassment.
In class, Ha-Young reads a line in English about finding a balance between relationships and studies. Sol-I is still working on her love letter, squealing to herself. Of course, she’s caught out and called to the front to write the English line on the board.
As Sol-I starts to write, she’s getting the spelling of ‘balance’ wrong. Enter Dae-Sung who corrects the word. He introduces himself as a swimmer to a spurt of female applause.
They go to their desks, with Dae-Sung sat behind Sol-I. He points out that she was saved by the word ‘balance’ written on his t-shirt. Jin-Hwan asks if they know each other and Heon seems to be listening to the exchange.
Between classes, Sol-I delivers a love letter as Jin-Hwan watches from around the corner. She hands it to a girl but a guy immediately snatches it from her hands. He starts to make fun of it and more boys appear, reading out the letter. Sol-I tries to grab the letter back but can’t reach and Jin-Hwan comes out to pull her away.
In their class, another student runs in to announce that Sol-I and Jin-Hwan are fighting with some seniors. A bunch run out to see what’s happening. Ha-Young gets there first, defending her classmates. Ah, she’s the righteous one.
One of the kids makes to hit Ha-Young and Dae-Sung steps in to grab the guy’s arm. And the best line of the ep – ‘Is this necessary? Use your words.’ Of course, there’s a scuffle and as a teacher rounds the corner, Heon shows up to pull Sol-i away as Ha-Young grabs Jin-Hwan’s arm to run for it. Music and refracted light for Jin-Hwan.
In study hall, Sol-i is making heart shapes on her dot test and the teacher commandeers her paper. There’s a love poem scribbled on the back, which he starts to read aloud. Heon prepares to intervene but Dae-Sung gets there first. Before he can speak the teacher tells him to go to training. He sits as Mr Choi continues to read.
This time Heon stands, saying he’s violating Sol-I’s rights by embarrassing her. He’s sent to stand in the back. A cheeky classmate realizes it’s song lyrics and dramatically sings the next line. Jin-Hwan joins in as does the whole class. Mr Choi chases them out of the room.
In detention, they’ll all writing letters of apology. Sol-I reads Heon’s which is more a diatribe of Mr Choi’s violations of student rights. Sol-i offers to write it for him as she’s an expert in apologizing.
Jin-Hwan compliments Ha-Young for her earlier intervention with the seniors. She tells him he should have punched them. Sol-I scolds Jin-Hwan for giving her lyrics instead of real poetry and he offers karaoke all around to make up for it. Everyone declines.
Sol-I is running late for school the next morning and worries she’s already missed Heon. She’s gleeful to see him just backing out his bike. He asks if she’s coming, to her delight, and she smiles crazily. Her voice over confirms that she’s sure that even though he never did receive a love letter from her, she believes he understands her feelings.
At the end of the episode, there’s a flashback to the morning she fell asleep on the bench. Before Heon rode away, he knelt next to her presumably to wake her. In her sleep, she tells him that the lunchbox is for him. He freaks and rides away.
The Episode Review
Episode 1 and I’m loving the energy of the characters, even if we only have a glimpse of their motivations. To be fair the impetuses we’ve seen so far are pretty simple. Such as the worry about not having a small enough face, a praised feature by Asian beauty standards.
If you watched the 2017 Chinese version of A Love So Beautiful (also Netflix) starring Shen Yue (Meteor Garden 2018 – Netflix) and Hu Yitian (Handsome Siblings – Netflix), this version is on par with the original (adapted from a novel) but seems to be moving at a slightly sprightlier pace. That can only be a good thing.
Whilst, in the end, I did like the previous rendition, I struggled a bit at the start with the pace and the cold male lead who didn’t seem to be as fond of the female lead as Heon is here. Yes, she’s a puppy who begs for a pat on the head. But he seems willing to give it, as long as she keeps her drool at a cleanly distance.
You may recognize Heon as Kim Yo-Han from K-pop group WEi and as a winner on music reality show Produce X 101. He’s set to appear next in the School series, School 2021, but this is his first major role.
So Ju-Yeon plays Sol-I (sometimes written as So-Yi) and has previously appeared in a number of roles, including the recent Lovestruck in the City (Netflix) and Dr Romantic 2 (Viki).
Funnily, I can relate to this girl, thinking back to my high school crush. Let’s call him SW (think: Sun-Woo in Reply 1988) and whilst I wasn’t nearly so bold, I remember the giddy feeling. And how I spent ages babbling about him with my friends Lisa, Tricia and the rest who all had their own crushes as well, of course.
With 24 episodes, potentially all a zippy 25 minutes, we’re in for some easy relaxed fun. No monsters, no stabbings, no deadly infections. Consider this a watch when you’re jonesing for a stress-free hit of nostalgia and a bit of a laugh! No struggle required.