Available on: Netflix
Total episode #: 8
Dumpling-rating scale: 3.75/5
In pursuit of trying to find a shared activity while doing long-distance, my husband and I, started watching the new Netflix mini-series, Love Alarm 좋아하면 울리는. Like other earlier hit Kdramas based on webtoons, Cheese in the Trap and What’s Wrong With Secretary Kim, Love Alarm has been very well received.
Not your typical Kdrama, the tone of this drama is dark and comparable to the 2015 Kdrama, Orange Marmalade, which also explored themes like parental abandonment, bullying and suicide. My husband (not your ordinary drama watcher) made the astute observation that with the exception of Lee Hye-yeong (portrayed by Jung Ga-ram 정가람), none of the characters were particularly likeable.
The drama stars Kim So-hyun 김소현 as Kim Jo-jo, an intelligent but meek high-school student with a complex backstory, and Song Kang 송강 as Hwang Sun-oh, the rich playboy also with a complex backstory (it couldn’t be any other way).
The drama opens four years after the launch of Love Alarm — an app which tells you whether a person within a 10m radius is interested in you. Kim Jo-jo is about to cross the road when she recognises a man from her past. Initially hesitant, she cross the road and to her surprise her Love Alarm rings…
There is a lot of toing and froing with time in this drama, and we immediately get taken back four years, a week after Love Alarm is launched and the beginning of Kim Jo-jo’s love story.
This drama already slated for a second season — it ends on a cliff-hanger– is not very long. For this blogpost, I summarise each episode and provide some thoughts but (as always) beware, there will be ‼️spoilers‼️.
Episode 1 | “The Flash of Lightning Before It Thunders”
Hwang Sun-oh returns to South Korea just in time for the new school year. It is clear from the start that he has a fractious relationship with his parents. The first person Sun-oh looks is his childhood friend, who is the son of his housekeeper, Lee Hye-yeong.
Warm and kind Lee Hye-yeong, works part-time at a bbq shop and is love with fellow part-timer, Kim Jo-jo. Kim Jo-jo often preoccupied with earning a living and keeping a float barely notices him, even when he creepily follows her to the bus stop. On one such occasion, Hwang Sun-oh, following Lee Hye-yeong, notices Kim Jo-jo and immediately takes an interest in her.
The next day at school Hwang Sun-oh pursues Kim Jo-jo and is even more intrigued that she does not ring his Love Alarm. His pursuit of her culminates in a somewhat coerced kiss in a narrow alley.
Thoughts: I did not appreciate Hwang Sun-oh in this episode. He came across as immature, with a weird desire to one-up Lee Hye-yeong, who from what I can tell has only ever looked out for him.
I have a bit more sympathy for Kim Jo-jo — her aunt and cousin seem quite cruel and she is supporting her grandmother who is in an aged care facility — but wish she showed a little more strength in certain situations, particularly when it comes to boys. How she deals with her selfish (and controlling) boyfriend and Sun-oh advances, should not be how girls think they can/should respond. I wish she had shown a little more assertiveness instead of hiding from her boyfriend and just giving in to Sun-oh advances.
Episode 2 | “There’s Nothing Anyone Can Do When You Like Someone”
Kim Jo-jo and Hwang Sun-oh have to deal with the repercussions of their illicit kiss as photos surface: Hwang Sun-oh gets beaten up by Il-Sik and Kim Jo-jo gets labelled a slut and faces the wrath of Gul-mi, her cousin.
Meanwhile, we learn that the motive for creating Love Alarm, was for high-school loner Duk-gu, to confess his feeling to Gul-mi. Gul-mi, disgusted by the attention, rejects Duk-gu in the cruelest way possible. Kim Jo-jo trying to break up with Il-Sik finds Duk-gu. Duk-gu gives Jo-jo a brand new phone, intended for Gul-mi, after she comforts him enabling her to finally download Love Alarm. Jo-jo and Sun-oh, through the Love Alarm, recognise their feelings for the other.
Thoughts: Lee Hye-yeong was very much in the shadows in this episode — I would have loved to know what was really on his mind. Hye-yeong is a closed book and its not really clear how he feels about his childhood friend pursuing his first love. What we do learn — which explains Kim Jo-jo’s personality to some extent — is that the death of Kim Jo-jo’s parents was suspicious and is related to her and the debt she has to pay off to her aunt.
Episode 3 | “The Miracle of Two People Liking Each Other”
Problems with Love Alarm begin to emerge in this episode when unwanted same-sex feelings and stalker/possessive feelings are captured by the Love Alarm. Both result in various people getting physically injured.
Although, Jo-jo and Sun-oh relationship seem to be going smoothly, Sub-oh’s possessive traits begin to surface. In relation to the leaked photos of their kiss, turns out that Kim Jo-jo’s best friend, Jang-go, harbouring a secret crush for Il-Sik took sneaky photos of Kim Jo-jo so that Il-Sik could break up with her. Jang-go’s plan backfires and Il-Sik, still in love with Jo-jo, doesn’t want anything to do with her.
Thoughts: In the previous episode, when Sun-oh and Jo-jo used the Love Alarm, I wasn’t convinced they ‘loved’ each other. I would call it more infatuation. Hormones. Because of that, I was glad that in this episode, there was an acknowledgement that the ‘love feeling’ is complex and can mean so many different things.
Again, Lee Hwang-yeong was the good guy, although he was the recipient of unwanted affection, he was gracious about it and accepted that people cannot change the way they feel.
Episode 4 | “The Best Feeling in the World Is Knowing There’s Someone on My Side”
We find out a little more about Jo-jo and Sun-oh’s family life. Gul-mi jealous of Jo-jo, tells Sun-oh about Jo-jo’s financial position and spreads false rumours about her. Secretive and proud, Jo-jo is initially hurt when Sun-oh tries to help her financially. But Jo-jo, an empathetic person, begins to understand Sun-oh. Jo-jo shows Sun-oh love and gives him words affirmation, which is in sharp contrast to the constant criticism he receives from his parents.
Sun-oh’s mother, an actress and personality, tried to drug Sun-oh when he was young — Hwang- yeong ends up saving him. Constantly trying to keep up the facade of a perfect family, Sun-oh’s mother forces Sun-oh to attend various media events.
Thoughts: Sun-oh’s mother – obsessed with youth, prestige and perfection — personifies the tragic repercussions of valuing those qualities. It is an apt reminder that it is important to constantly reevaluate our goals and the impact they are having on the people around us.
Episode 5 | “The Gravity of Liking Someone”
Jeju Island. After spending some really sweet moments together, Sun-oh and Jo-jo, go on their school trip to Jeju Island.
On Jeju Island, Sun-oh confronts her dark past — her parents riddled in debt, committed suicide by carbon monoxide and tried to kill Jo-jo as well. Jo-jo managed to escape but is constantly haunted by the fact that she survived. She turns to Sun-oh for comfort. During their time together, they get into a motorcycle accident.
After their accident, we fast forward in time, where Jo-jo is working at a wedding parlour. Sun-oh, still good friends with Lee Hwang-yeong, is in a new relationship with Yuk-jo. After their accident, Sun-oh did not return to school and their relationship begins to breakdown. Trying to protect Jo-jo, Duk-gu creates a Love Alarm shield for her.
Four years after the launch of Love Alarm, the app is very much part of people’s everyday life, and also leads to a new social elite called the Badge Club. It doesn’t come without controversy — an anti-Love Alarm group emerges and the episode ends with the finding of a mass suicide related to Love Alarm.
Thoughts: The mass suicide took me by surprise. I am interested to see how this all plays out in the next episode and if Jo-jo’s instagram account — _humming_moon — has anything to do with it.
Episode 6 | “Your Heart Is Safe Now”
Following the mass suicide, conversations about the utility and function of Love Alarm fill the airwaves. Sun-oh, Yuk-jo and Jo-jo all get invited to the launch of Love Alarm 2.0. Sun-oh wants to delete Love Alarm partly because it doesn’t ring for Yuk-jo but Yuk-jo refuses and says she will wait for Sun-oh.
Gul-mi now a wannabe content creator still compares herself to Jo-jo. And Lee Hwang-yeong finally steps up and pursues Jo-jo. It is implied that Jo-jo did something to Sun-oh leaving him hurt. Sun-oh warns Jo-jo to leave Hwang-yeong alone.
Going back four years, we learn that Jo-jo dealing with feeling of guilt after the accident, activates the Love Alarm shield created by Duk-gu. And Duk-gu, hurt by Gul-mi’s rejection, ‘disappears’. The final scene is of Duk-gu jumping out of his window presumably to his death.
Thoughts: Duk-gu can’t be dead… the fact that Jo-jo gets invited to the launch of Love Alarm 2.0 suggests to me that Duk-gu is not dead. Right? Also for all their problems, I am shipping for Sun-oh and Jo-jo — they can be broken together. Sun-oh, unable able to ring Yuk-jo’s love alarm, suggests that he is still in love with Jo-jo. Really hoping this is the case.
Episode 7 | “Something I’ve Been Holding Back and Can Only Say to You”
We finally find out what happened between Sun-oh and Jo-jo — Jo-jo dumps him for her own reasons. That is it. Sun-oh unable to forget her, won’t leave her alone, and is ultimately very hurt.
Back in the present, Gul-mi steals almost all of Jo-jo’s savings. Gul-mi’s motive for stealing the money is to join the Badge Club (a club of people with thousands of 1000s of alerts on their Love Alarm) and meet the creator of Love Alarm. Jo-jo finally confronts Gul-mi and gives her a bit of truth — that is, all Gul-mi wants is easy fame, whether its being a Kpop singer, part of the Badge Club or launching an online shopping site. Gul-mi in a fit of rage throws all of Jo-jo’s things out the window. Lee Hwang-yeong comes to her rescue and takes her away to vent her anger.
Jo-jo realises how much Hwang-yeong likes her but it is clear she still loves Sun-oh. Hwang-yeong decides to move out and Sun-oh finds out that he is dating Jo-jo.
Gul-mi spirals further when she is mocked on her shopping forum. However, when she finally acknowledges her failures and reveals that she was scammed, the only viewer left donates a lot of money to her.
Thoughts: Break-ups happen. I thought Sun-oh’s reaction was not okay and just another manifestation of his unhealthy possessiveness of Jo-jo. I did get some satisfaction in this episodes — when Jo-jo confronts Gul-mi and is supported by her aunt, who finally sees her daughter for what she is.
It was also ironic how Gul-mi has her eyes set on the creator of Love Alarm. It was only after Gul-mi admits her failures that she gets some support — I really hope that that lone/generous viewer is Guk-du. He really cannot be dead.
Episode 8 | “One Is Bigger Than Any Other Number in the World”
The finale. Kim Jo-jo meets both Hwang-yeong and Sun-oh. She rings Hwang-yeong’s Love Alarm and tells Sun-oh that she doesn’t love him anymore. Sun-oh, who still rings Jo-jo’s Love Alarm, tells her that he will only believe that she is no longer in love with him if she rings Hwang-yeong’s Love Alarm in front of him.
Sun-oh confronts Hwang-yeong and it looks like the end of their relationship. Sun-oh — trying to make it up to Yuk-jo — decides to attend the launch of Love Alarm 2.0. The launch is sabotaged by anti-Love Alarmers but continues and the creator, Brian Chon, is introduced. Love Alarm 2.0 will supposedly predict how feelings will develop and the person you will fall in love with.
With the havoc caused by the anti-Love Alarmers, the trio meet with their Love Alarms. It isn’t revealed whose Love Alarm Kim Jo-jo ends up ringing…
Thoughts: I found it quite annoying that this episode is mostly flash-back. The cliff-hanger didn’t help either — one of the best things about Kdrama is that it usually ends in one season. I know there is a season 2 but other than who Jo-jo ends up with, I’m not sure if there is anymore to this drama.
I have mixed feeling. While some really important themes were explored, the execution of Love Alarm was problematic. I will be watching season 2 but only to find out who Jo-jo finally chooses.
What did you think of Love Alarm?