We’ve seen a lot of K-dramas on Netflix in the past few years, and they tend to have the same elements: Dreamy music, some screwball comedy, and one person being pursued by multiple people of the opposite sex (we’d love to see an LGBTQIA+ K-drama, but we haven’t come across one yet). Was It Love? changes the formula up a bit, making the object of affection a thirtysomething single mom with a career, and giving her four men to choose from — if she chooses any. Read on for more.
WAS IT LOVE?: STREAM IT OR SKIP IT?
Opening Shot: In 2012, we see a woman on a scooter, about to deliver a stack of newspapers.
The Gist: That’s not the only thing that Noh Ae-jung (Song Ji-hyo) does… She’s worked various part-time jobs since she had to drop out of university six years prior because she got pregnant. Now that her six-year old daughter Hah-nee (Kim Seo-Hun) is six and going to school, Ae-jung wants a full-time job. She applies to be a bookkeeper at various film studios, because, before she got pregnant, she had dreamed of working as a film producer, and at this point she figures any way in the door is fine.
After almost pushing her out, CEO Wang (Kim Byung-Choon) of Thumb Films hires her after he asks her why she just applied to studios. She gets the call right after her lowest point, but celebrates with Hah-nee and her mother, Choi Hyang-ja (Kim Mi-kyung), who lives with them and helps with Hah-nee.
Cut to eight years later. Hah-nee (Uhm Chae-young) is 14 and has just been transferred to a new secondary school after getting kicked out of the first one for fighting. CEO Wang just promoted Ae-jung to producer, and she’s about to pitch a new romantic drama to an investor. However, that investor, Goo Pa-do (Kim Min-joon), is actually the head of a loan company who says that CEO Wang owes them 10 billion won (about $8.5 million), and he assigned Ae-jung to the loan. Ae-jung and her assistant Choi Hye-jin (Baek Soo-hee) run to Wang’s apartment to see that he ran away and left Ae-jung to pay the ruthless Pa-do back.
Meanwhile, Hah-nee is already getting in trouble at her new school, having defended a kid that was getting bullied. Her homeroom teacher, Oh Yeon-woo (Koo Ja-sung), defends her against the bully’s parents and, when Ae-jung comes to the meeting with the principal, he recognizes her immediately and remembers a past incident. Hah-nee also takes a liking to the young P.E. teacher. She also yells at her mother that she’ll be forever known as the girl who doesn’t have a father.
Digging through old files, Ae-jung and Hye-jin manage to find an old manuscript, with a famous name on it: Cheon Eok-man (Son Ho-jun), a novelist and screenwriter. The old contract that they found in Wang’s apartment turns out to be Eok-man’s contract for the film rights. The two of them go back to Pa-do to see if he can finance the marketable movie; while standing in his yard in a shirt streaked with someone else’s blood, he agrees to forgive the debt and finance the movie if they can get Eok-man to write the screenplay and superstar actor Ryu Jin (Song Jong-ho) to star in it.
Ae-jung and Jin do have a past, as we see a flashback to her college days, where she dashes out of a party and goes to kiss the drama student on a drunken dare. Since then, Jin has become extremely popular as a “nice guy” actor, to the point where Ae-jung has to vault over a mob of fans just to try to talk to him.
In desperation, Ae-jung e-mails Eok-man to see if they can meet about the project. She agrees, but is surprised to see the shy man that’s in front of her — a man that she’ll get to know by his real name: Oh Dae-oh.
Our Take: Was It Love? is like most of the K-dramas that have popped up on Netflix in that there’s a lot going on, and there tends to be lots of rivals for the main character’s attention and affection. But this one is a cut above most of the rest of Netflix’s K-drama lineup because the situation is a little more in-depth than “will this person find love?”
Firstly, Ae-jung isn’t your typical K-drama ingenue. In fact, she’s not an ingenue at all; she’s a thirtysomething single mom with a career and ambitions to be a film producer. As she said to the bully’s sexist father after Hah-nee’s first day incident, “I am her mother and her father.” In other words, she may have sat in tears after breaking a cup when she was looking for work, but she’s confident eight years later that she can have her career and do a good job of bringing up Hah-nee. After all, she was the only one to come to the defense of the kid that was getting bullied.
So it seems like there are going to be four rivals for Ae-jung’s affections, and someone that can be a father figure to Hah-nee. But we’d just be happy to see Ae-jung work all of these issues out on her own, with the help of the village she’s built. Song Ji-hyo is utterly charming in the starring role, able to play sincere emotion along with physical comedy. She also does a great job in the scenes where she’s enraged and cursing out CEO Wang, or drunk and stumbling her way to kissing Jin.
Three of the four men that enter her life in the first episode are almost interchangeable. The only one who stands out is Pa-do, if only because he’s got a mean streak and a criminal history that the first episode more than alludes to. But, given that there will be 17 episodes, doled out weekly as they premiere in South Korea, there’s plenty of time to explore what the other guys have going on.
Sex and Skin: Nah, not that kind of show.Parting Shot: When Eok-man introduces himself to Ae-jung, she’s at first surprised, then her face warms to the fact that the famous author seems like a good guy.
Sleeper Star: Really enjoyed Uhm Chae-young as the feisty 14-year-old version of Hah-nee, especially when she lectures her mother about how much of an outcast she feels because she doesn’t have a father.
Most Pilot-y Line: For some reason or another, every K-drama I’ve seen on Netflix plays some version of “Dreams” by The Cranberries on its soundtrack. Not sure if that’s considered the epitome of atmospheric Western rock, but it feels like every producer uses it.
Our Call: STREAM IT. Does Was It Love? have the potential to get really complicated? Absolutely. But a charming lead performance, plus the story of a single mom trying to make it as a producer, is enough to keep us tuning in.
Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, VanityFair.com, Playboy.com, Fast Company.com, RollingStone.com, Billboard and elsewhere.
Stream Was It Love? On Netflix