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Song Kang in a still from Love Alarm season two. Photo: Netflix.

Review | K-drama review: Love Alarm season two – Netflix fantasy romance drama rings false

  • Jojo, Sun-oh, and Hye-young, played by Kim So-hyun, Song Kang, and Jung Ga-ram, are back for a second season of series about an app that rules their love lives
  • There is even less meat to the story than first time around, and some jarring secondary plot lines that try to mix in social commentary are distracting

2/5 stars

The lives and loves of Jojo, Sun-oh and Hye-young are back on our screens – season two of the fantasy romance drama Love Alarm opened on Netlfix on March 12 with returning stars Kim So-hyun, Song Kang and Jung Ga-ram.

Based on the webtoon of the same name by Chon Kye-young, the show is centred around the premise of the ‘Love Alarm’ app, which will ring if someone who likes you comes within a 10-metre range and has installed and turned on the app.

Somewhat akin to a romance-driven Black Mirror episode, but stretched out to eight episodes through a love triangle, Love Alarm was a familiar, but fresh, easy-going and slickly produced confection that had all the usual comforts of a K-drama romance, but fewer characters and a bit less downtime.

The first season focused on high school student Jojo (Kim So-hyun), an orphan who works two jobs and lives with her aunt and cousin, classmate Park Gul-mi (Go Min-si). Fellow student Hye-young (Jung Ga-ram) has a crush on her, but model Sun-oh (Song Kang), his best friend and a member of the rich family that Hye-young’s mother works as a housekeeper for, also takes a fancy to her.

Season one ended four years later, with all the characters converging on a Love Alarm 2.0 launch event. Around this time Jojo installed a special shield on her love alarm, which prevented her from ringing anyone else’s love alarms, leaving us with an unresolved love triangle.

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Picking things up not long after this event, season two finds Sun-oh still in a relationship with model Yuk-jo (Kim Si-eun), despite the fact that he doesn’t ring her love alarm. Meanwhile, Jojo, now a college student, and Hye-young, who works for the company behind Love Alarm, are also in a sort of relationship. She also doesn’t ring his alarm, but because of the 2.0 update the app says that she will love him later.

With only six episodes this time around, you’d be forgiven for thinking that things would be even breezier in season two, but alas, in this case, less isn’t more but it certainly feels longer. Episodes have expanded running times but there’s also less meat to the story.

Since the beginning, Love Alarm has tried to have its cake and eat it too. It uses a sci-fi concept to create a fantasy set-up, but it also occasionally engages in social commentary. Updates and other contrivances keep the characters’ romantic feelings opaque, to keep the will-they-won’t-they going, while an event such as a mass suicide will suddenly signal that the Love Alarm may in fact have a negative impact on society.

Season two gives us a lovelorn murderer, who stalks Jojo once and then fades into the background, but this and other fleeting storylines feel shoehorned into the series and jarringly off tone – the commentaries within them run contrary to what the writers are doing with the main characters.

Jung Ga-ram in a still from Love Alarm season two. Photo: Netflix.

When Love Alarm began, characters could merely choose whether or not to use the app. Then the code was rewritten – just for Jojo and the app’s developer – to let users hide or fake their feelings, and thus invalidate the app’s purpose. Love Alarm should not be taken as sci-fi, but it would be easier to accept its fantastical contrivance – a gimmick to breathe some life and fun into into the well-worn romantic drama – if it didn’t also toss in disingenuous social commentary reminiscent of Black Mirror.

Love Alarm is at its heart a story about three callow youths who have trouble grappling with their incipient romantic feelings and even more difficulty expressing themselves. If the show gets any social commentary right, it’s the relatable paradox of loneliness in a hyper-connected world.

Jojo, Sun-oh and Hye-young are simply drawn characters with clear emotions, and there’s a sense that they could easily resolve their problems if they just talked about them. The Love Alarm conditions them to rely on digital notifications to tell them what they’re feeling or how they’re being felt about, and with that comes an erosion of their confidence and self-actualisation. In effect, these characters, particularly Jojo and Sun-oh, remain in a state of arrested development.

Go Min-si in a still from Love Alarm season two. Photo: Netflix.

With so much slow-mo, repetition and silent moping, the six episodes of season two feel especially padded out, but visually the show has also lost some of its verve. It employs a wider aspect ratio – it’s the first Korean Netflix Original not shot in the 2:1 ratio – and a washed out, overexposed colour scheme in its daytime scenes – though the nighttime scenes look much nicer.

The wider frame does reinforce the space between the characters, but it feels like the wrong choice here, as it also separates us from the character’s head spaces, which is somewhere we yearn to be in romantic stories. Otherwise, how could we live vicariously through them? The bleached out white tones, which give off a perpetual hazy wedding shoot vibe, take away from the handsome Seoul City Centre locations the show has used throughout.

Love Alarm remains an easy commitment, but is there enough of the initial spark left to keep going?

Song Kang (left) and Kim Si-eun in a still from Love Alarm season two. Photo: Netflix.

Love Alarm season two is streaming on Netflix.