Love Letter – | Review Score – 4/5
At the Karaoke – | Review Score – 4/5
Pick Me Up – | Review Score – 4/5
Field Day – | Review Score – 4/5
Drama Festival (Let’s go, Baby) – | Review Score – 4.5/5
Don’t Go – | Review Score – 4.3/5
Game of Truth – | Review Score – 4/5
Happy Birthday – | Review Score – 4/5
We Need to Talk – | Review Score – 3.5/5
Don’t Worry.mp3 – | Review Score – 4/5
White Christmas – | Review Score – 4.3/5
Declaration of Love – | Review Score – 4.3/5
Raindrop – | Review Score – 4/5
Four-Leaf Clover – | Review Score – 4.5/5
University, University, University – | Review Score – 4.2/5
Collect Our Dreams – | Review Score – 3.8/5
First Kiss – | Review Score – 2.5/5
Love Generation – | Review Score – 2/5
Farewell Formula – | Review Score – 3.5/5
It’s Been A While – | Review Score – 4/5
Your Wedding – | Review Score – 3.8/5
Begin Again – | Review Score – 4/5
My Dear Honey – | Review Score – 2.5/5
From, Honey – | Review Score – 3.5/5
A 24-episode Korean Netflix Original series shown locally on Kakao TV (KST), A Love So Beautiful is a high school story that follows its characters through to adulthood. Sweet love-triangled viewing, it features an engaging cast and a simple storyline.
The story revolves around inelegant yet endearing Shin Sol-I, who has one wish – to gain the heart of her neighbour and infatuation, Cha Heon. He, focused and studious, has other priorities.
The opening scene reveals an adult Sol-I recalling memories of following Heon around, causing him trouble and generally enjoying her school days with besties Ha-Young, Jin-Hwan and super-star swimmer Dae-Sung, who in turn has a crush on Sol-I. Focused on the push-pull of relationships and a mainly pleasing character build, A Love So Beautiful (ALSB) is an easy watch.
Short and sharp 21-25 minute installments feel efficient, for the most part zeroing in on the characters’ emotions and interactions and leaving out the extraneous. Occasionally it falls off the rails, reverting to slipping through a chronology of ‘stuff’ from the original work. These handful of episodes certainly don’t land. Generally though, there’s a development to watch and certainly an arc in self-expression.
So Joo-Yeon plays Sol-I and can also be seen in dramas Lovestruck in the City (Netflix), Dr Romantic 2 (Viki), and several others. With a face full of emotion and sincerity, she leads the story making us root for her in her pursuit of the unreachable Heon.
Kim Yo-Han (Yohan), a member of guy group WEi, is Heon. He’s appeared on variety shows and cameoed in Zombie Detective (Ep 1), but this is his first major role. He’s slated to appear in School 2021 in August too. At only 21, around five years younger than the other key cast members, he succeeds in carrying his three-eighths of the story. As the aloof and focused Heon, he gives us just enough to think maybe he’s worth Sol-I’s efforts.
Yeo Hoe-Hyun is Dae-Sung, one of the more experienced actors on set. He appears in a plethora of content from Reply 1988 (Viki, Netflix), to Marry Me Now (Viki), Leverage, and more. As Sol-I’s friend mostly hiding his interest in her, he’s full of charm and surprises, displaying an earnestness completely in tune with his competitive-level swimming persona.
Jin-Hwan is played by singer/rapper Jung Jin-Hwan who also appears in Gaduri Restaurant (Viki) and Fix You (Viki). Another fast friend and perpetually silly, Jin-Hwan brings the fun to the group as both jester and tour leader.
Jo Hye Joo plays bestie Ha-Young and also appears in drama Just One Bite (Seasons 1 and 2) and movie Wedding. She also makes a brief appearance in The Man Standing Next. She’s the practical to Sol-I’s whimsy. This character starts strong but finishes disappointingly – as a student, she had a lot to say and solutions (often violent ones) all around. Then she turns quiet. An early check-out as she becomes an adult, we know almost nothing about her other than friends, husband and fleeting interest in the stars.
The story traverses ages 16-30 and while the high school stuff feels spot-on, the transition to adulthood is a little rockier. In fairness, none of them have cracked thirty yet, so maybe a stretch and felt less realistic. Yet while the Chinese version covered the same period with equally young actors, they somehow managed that bridge a little more smoothly.
Director Seo Min-Jung previously led rom-com drama Gaduri Restaurant (Viki) and college romance Drunk in Good Taste also pairing with screenwriter Jang Yoo Yun. Choi Yoo Jung additionally shares writing credits for ALSB.
Production is natural and straightforward; a contrast to the over-produced Live On, which ran on a competing network crossing over some of the same weeks. ALSB gives us more of an opportunity to get to know the characters. Beautifully shot and cleverly edited, revealing plot points in a natural glide.
Where they drop the ball is in trying to pack in information that’s true to the source material but not key to the tale they set out to tell. What begins as a lively emotive flow occasionally gets lost in the tick boxes rather than sharing the feels. This is only for three to four episodes out of 24 but disconnects us from the narrative each time. It doesn’t ruin the story but does stand out.
The music is well-matched but they tuck the theme song into a few too many places, so it’s a bit tired by the time we arrive at the show-stopping wedding dance. Now that dance – really cute. And our idol Yohan excelled. But it stands out as out of character for Heon. I get the temptation to make the most of the talent on hand but it seems more like a chance to show off rather than a natural progression. Looking back at Episode 2, the karaoke snippet is much more on point with the persona.
A Love So Beautiful is based on the novel To Our Pure Little Beauty by Zhao Qianqian and a 2017 Chinese series A Love So Beautiful (Netflix). If you like the vibe, Zhao Qianqian also wrote the novel Put Your Head on My Shoulder, adapted as a Chinese series of the same name (Netflix).
Because of the proximity to the Chinese drama, one can’t help but compare them. I didn’t love the 2017 series, mostly because Jiang Chen (the Heon character played by Hu Yitian) is such a jerk. I struggle to see what Xiaoxi (the Sol-I played by Shen Yue) sees in him. Even when he shares his feelings, it left me cold. So, I’m pleasantly surprised to see this alternate and more pleasing view.
That’s where the 2020 iteration hits it hard – each character is so earnest and sincere. Even when Heon is walking away from Sol-I, his smile is fond. Where Jiang Chen looked like he was mocking. Fans had some good comments regarding this show, which you can actually read HERE
No monsters, no stabbings, no deadly infections; A Love So Beautiful is a stress-free hit of high school silliness and an engaging love story. No struggle required. It successfully brings back memories of the giddy feeling of a high school crush. And as quite a sweet coming-of-age drama, it supplies enough of a wrap-up to feel satisfying. Compared to Live On there’s lots more emotion to embrace.
Was ALSB a must-see for you? Let us know your thoughts below.