How ‘Call It Love’ explores gray areas of revenge and romantic attraction
The K-drama series “Call It Love,” starring actor-models Lee Sung-kyoung (“Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo”) and Kim Young-kwang (“The Secret Life of My Secretary”), isn’t just fascinating for its emotionally vulnerable actors and postcard-pretty setting.
More than its eye-candy appeal, the Disney+ show—which will drop Episodes 13 and 14 this week—owes its crowd-pleasing lure to the way it eschews the “pa-kwela” approach of most rom-coms for something more thought-provoking and less skin-deep.
In fact, the central themes of this unlikely love story will quickly shake viewers out of their apathy because they explore the gray areas of revenge and romantic attraction.
In the series, Sim Woo-joo’s (Sung-kyoung) situation goes from bad to worse when her two-timing father unexpectedly dies, and his mistress Hee-ja (Nam Gi-ae) kicks Woo-joo and her two siblings (Kim Ye-won, Jang Sung-bum) out of the family home. Thankfully, coworker Yoon-jun (Sung Joon) comes to Woo-joo’s rescue.
But when she decides to take her wrath on Hee-ja’s lonely son, Han Dong-jin (Young-kwang), who is now her boss, Woo-joo doesn’t count on falling for the dashing but perpetually brooding bachelor. She soon realizes that Dong-jin is still reeling from the infidelity of his girlfriend Min-young (Ahn Hee-yeon), who broke up with him after seven years.
As her vengeful plans get underway, life throws Woo-joo another spanner in the works: Is she falling in love with the son of the woman who ruined her life?
With love slowly diminishing the impact of her need for revenge, we then see Woo-joo’s world unfurl into confounding complexity and romantic ambiguity.
It’s a complex situation that certainly gives the “Call It Love” cast something to play with. Devoid of cornball contrivances, the show’s narrative progression builds to a natural crescendo, avoiding an onslaught of overwrought scenes along the way.
Director Lee’s vision
But, as he explained at the Disney Content Showcase (DCS) that Inquirer Entertainment attended in Singapore last year, there’s good reason behind director Lee Kwang-young’s slow-paced storytelling approach to Dong-jin and Woo-joo’s shared journey.
“Rather than a tale about love at first sight with particular events driving it forward, this is a very slow-paced story, where the characters are able to take their time developing feelings for each other,” the director explained. “The series does not feature a lot of dramatic events, but rather, it is a romance about two people slowly becoming a part of each other’s life and realizing that what they’re feeling is love.”
In a separate interview, Kwang-young was asked what he thought sets “Call It Love” apart from other romance shows.
He said, “This production focuses not only on loving and being loved, but also on how one’s life is changed by such love. And love in this show doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic. It could be love between friends, family or any sort of bond.
“While a bond can sometimes weigh down on you, it also helps you withstand hardships in life. I wanted to talk about these kinds of relationships in this show, hoping that its characters would take a step forward in their respective lives because of love.”
Asked what it was like for Young-kwang and Sung-kyoung to work with each other, the former said that his costar helped him immerse himself fully into his character.
“Sung-kyoung and I usually joke around a lot,” Young-kwang disclosed. “But working with her on this project, I saw a lot of aspects of her as an actress that I didn’t know about—from the way she talks to the body language, I could understand why Dong-jin would fall in love with Woo-joo.”
For her part, Sung-kyoung said she was impressed by the way Young-kwang completely transformed himself into the lonely CEO he was tasked to bring to life. “He shattered all of my assumptions about this character,” the actress said. “I felt as if I was seeing Han Dong-jin coming to life right before my eyes. “Actors sometimes need to undergo a certain process to get into their character at the beginning of production, but Young-kwang’s performance helped me so much that I didn’t particularly need that process. I also realized that he puts an immense amount of thought into every single detail of a scene and cares deeply about it. I learned so much from him.”
Speaking of the screen chemistry that made sparks fly between them onscreen, the two actors explained why it was easy for them to fall in love with each other while they were in character.
“For starters, the show created an environment that helped me stay in character as Woo-joo,” Sung-kyoung said. “Everyone made sure that the set was ready in a way that we didn’t have to care about anything but our performance.
“Every time our eyes would meet or when we were simply in the same space feeling the same mood, my heart would always form these feelings toward Dong-jin. I could definitely stay in character better. This project was slightly more special in that sense.”
Young-kwang agreed, “I definitely felt something similar to what Sung-kyoung described. As I got to know Woo-joo more and became closer to her, I could feel that we were completely in character and had moments when we were truly in love with each other. Looking back, I think we managed to stay in character until the filming was over.”
How do they let go of their characters after filming a project and get back to their normal selves?
“I haven’t really had long breaks between projects,” Young-kwang pointed out. “I tend to finish a project, then almost immediately move onto preparing for the next one. So, I naturally let it pass. I don’t have a particular way of stepping out of character. As I get more immersed into a new character, the old one slips out of me without me deliberately trying to let it go.”
It’s a little different in Sung-kyoung’s case, she said, “I always take a solo trip after completing a project. I love the relaxing time for myself when travelling alone. I’m working on my third project in a row without taking a proper break, and I actually feel sad — because I had to let go of this character that I fell in love with, so I could let the next character in.
“But Young-kwang is right. When you work on a new project, you naturally need to let go of your last character in order to get adjusted to the new one. Generally, for me, I take time for myself to rest and hang out with the other cast members and directors to remember the moments we shared, which helps me get out of my character gradually.”
Sung-kyoung has played many perky, cheerful roles in rom-coms. Why did the director choose her to portray Woo-joo?
“There are a lot of scenes in the script where Woo-joo couldn’t hold back what she wanted to say. She doesn’t stand up for herself, but she would stand up for the person she likes without fear,” Kwang-young explained. “I was hoping this side of her wouldn’t look vile but rather charming. When her innately cheerful vibe was met with those blunt words, it created a totally new blend. Sung-kyoung delivered beyond my expectations.
“With her astute handling, we see Woo-joo taking a step forward, moving slowly away from her seeming indifference, and breaking down her walls with Dong-jin… and Sung-kyoung does a perfect job of bringing that process to life.”
What’s the main message the show wants to impart?
The director answered, “Living a life comes with emotional scars and moments of loneliness. Despite being so, we live on. I wanted to tell the audience, myself included, that this is how we all continue to live.
“When Woo-joo’s path crosses Dong-jin’s, they start taking a step forward. I hope this film helps others take a step forward despite their own emotional scars.”
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