Netflix K-drama Nevertheless: Song Kang, Han So-hee in college romance drama that struggles to break the mould
- Song and Han seem comfortable together in the lead roles, but theirs is not among the most compelling romantic pairings seen on screens this year
- Despite regularly flashing his wide grin, Song’s charming shtick grows tiresome before long, while Han is a pensive protagonist
Song Kang ( Sweet Home) returns to our screens for the fourth time in seven months in her first leading role, opposite Han So-hee ( The World of the Married), in Nevertheless, a college-set youth romance from JTBC streaming globally on Netflix and based on a webtoon of the same name.
Han plays Yoo Na-bi, an art student specialising in sculpture who we meet for the first time when she’s all dressed up and walking through an evening’s picture-perfect flutter of snow on her way to an exhibition opening.
She arrives and discovers people gathered around a provocative piece, of a naked woman bent over, hair covering her face turned to the side, lips suggestively parted. The piece’s name is Na-bi, and its designer is her older artist boyfriend Yoo Hyun-woo (Choi Sung-jae). Hyun-woo is manipulative, possessive and, as Na-bi soon finds out first hand, a cheat.
Na-bi escapes this toxic relationship and we meet her again in the spring, as she cheerfully trots down a path lined with cherry blossom in paint-spattered overalls. She makes her way to her university department like the belle of the ball – called out to by her peers, an array of effortlessly cool and chattering art majors.
One evening she sits alone at a bar when a stranger comes up and caresses her shoulder as he turns to face her, but he’s mistaken her for someone else. She watches him walk away, and notices the butterfly tattoo on his neck – her name, Nabi, means butterfly in Korean.
He returns soon afterwards, saying he’s cancelled his date, and asks to sit with her. This is how Na-bi meets Park Jae-eon (Song Kang), a charming, handsome and talented student enrolled in the same art department.
There’s clearly attraction between Na-bi and Jae-eon, and through friends and circumstance, they meet again several times over the coming days. Yet despite their interest in one another, Na-bi and Jae-eon are both being very cool about it, since at present they are commitment-phobes, but for different reasons.
Na-bi is scarred by her recent experience and isn’t eager to jump into bed with anyone. Jae-eon appears to be at the opposite end of the spectrum. He’s flirty and touchy-feely with the girls who enter his orbit, all of whom are very receptive, but he appears to be a playboy who shies away from commitment.
What follows is the push and pull of hormones as Na-bi tries to resist her urges, while the carefree Jae-eon makes the situation hard to read for Na-bi. This leads to some will-they-won’t-they moments, as several expectant embraces are eventually interrupted.
Frustrated with Jae-eon, at one point Na-bi begins to accept the attention of her cute junior Kim Eun-han (Lee Jeong-ha), but what starts out as a ploy to make Jae-eon jealous winds up backfiring on her.
Meanwhile, Jae-eon clearly has many attachments, including a girl who he tries to brush off at a club where he’s hanging out with Na-bi. Na-bi notices a butterfly drawing on the girl’s arm, the same one Jae-eon drew on her when they first met.
Yet the most important person in Jae-eon’s orbit appears to be Yoon Seol-a (Lee Yeol-eum), a bubbly fashionista who he picks up at the airport and clearly has a history with. Though it remains to be seen whether or not that history is romantic or something else, her appearance quickly makes Na-bi doubt herself.
Aside from the leads, several of Na-bi’s friends in the sculpture department are also navigating their own romantic battlefields, including Yoon Sol (Lee Ho-jung), who mostly avoids social gatherings – but after knocking someone’s coffee over in a cafe finds herself spending time with the young man she bumped into.
Nevertheless doesn’t deviate much from standard Korean romantic drama tropes, and in shows that focus squarely on the romance, a strong pair of leads can often overcome narrative weaknesses. Unfortunately, though Han and Song seem comfortable together, it is among the most compelling pairings we’ve seen on screen this year.
Song, one of Korea’s hottest young actors, has also been one of its busiest, but though he’s been the driving force behind successes such as Sweet Home and the modest but thoroughly engaging ballet drama Navillera, his role in Nevertheless is a disappointment. He spends most of his time on screen flashing his wide grin, and his charming shtick grows wearisome before long.
Han fares better as the conflicted sculptress, but it’s a performance that is hampered by a character who lacks definition. Na-bi is a pensive protagonist whose dominant characteristic is her victimhood. Beyond her past tribulations and present romantic uncertainty, she feels underwritten.
Nevertheless is a 10-episode show, but even with such a short run it’s already beginning to feel drawn out.
Nevertheless is streaming on Netflix.