Since its release in August of this year, the Netflix-produced South Korean Drama Love Alarm has got viewers clamoring for a second season, which got confirmed last month. This was not only due to the show’s abrupt cliffhanger, but also universal praise from K-Drama fans.
Taking place in a near-future where an app determines romantic feelings within ten meters (or roughly 33 feet), the story follows the romance between an ordinary high school girl and two boys. While this may sound like a typical K-Drama set-up, there are some elements that make Love Alarm unique.
10 Typical - Has Unrealistically Attractive Main Characters
One of the main reasons K-Dramas are appealing outside of South Korea is the physical attractiveness of their actors, and Love Alarm is no exception. Apart from a few supporting cast members, almost all the actors in this show are young and physically fit with hardly any acne or wrinkles on them.
Now this wouldn’t be an issue if they weren’t playing characters that are supposed to be in high school where the show begins. Thus, the attractiveness of the show’s main characters comes across as unrealistic. While American TV shows do this too, there has been more inclusion of different body types. By contrast, Asian countries like South Korea haven’t been very bodily inclusive on television.
9 Unique - Is Dubbed Into English
Much like Japanese anime, the accessibility of K-Dramas worldwide is fairly recent. But even then, it’s not easy for English-speaking viewers to find versions that have subtitles or are dubbed. Fortunately, streaming services like Netflix do have both of those options.
With that said, it’s more common to find K-Dramas that are subtitled as opposed to dubbed, since it’s less expensive and doesn’t require hiring voice actors. Additionally, Netflix does set some of its foreign shows to the dubbed version for the sake of increased viewership. One such example is Love Alarm, which automatically plays the version that’s dubbed, instead of subtitled.
8 Typical - Has Multiple Love Triangles
An age-old trope that transcends various cultures, the love triangle is one way to create a lot of drama in a story with minimal effort. Hence why it’s fairly common in K-Dramas such as Love Alarm, though they each offer a unique gimmick to separate them from each other.
For instance, Love Alarm’s gimmick is the titular phone app that rings if a person has romantic feelings for another. Otherwise, it’s a Cinderella-type story about a poor girl named Kim Jo-Jo who falls for rich boy Hwang Sun-Oh that likes her in addition to his friend Lee Hye-Young. Then as the show progresses, other love triangles form as well.
7 Unique - Is Self-Aware At Times
In recent shows and movies, moments of self-awareness are more common as it’s seen as both clever and funny. This even applies to anime as certain shows have been known to be deliberately self-aware for the sake of humor and/or commenting on different tropes. But by comparison, there are hardly any K-Dramas that do that.
Yet in Love Alarm, there are moments where it seems self-aware, even if it’s never explicitly stated. One such example happens in the first episode where a minor character named Kim Min-Jae comments on how bad it would be if Sun-Oh and Hye-Young had feelings for the same girl.
6 Typical - Overbearing Relatives Serve As Minor Antagonists In The Show
Though Love Alarm doesn’t have a main antagonist, it has several minor antagonists instead. But what connects them is that they’re related to the main characters and overbearing in some form. Some examples include Sun-Oh’s mother and Jo-Jo’s aunt.
A common trope in K-Dramas, overbearing relatives are deeply rooted in how Asian culture perceives older women. Their main narrative purpose is to keep the young lovers apart and/or put external pressure on their children. While this certainly applies to Sun-Oh’s mother, who expects a lot out of her son, Jo-Jo’s aunt is constantly disappointed in her niece but no less overbearing.
5 Unique - Briefly Addresses The Persecution Of Gay People In South Korea
In progressive Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea, there seems to be tolerance for the gay community as demonstrated by various media featuring gay characters. However, the reality is far more complicated. Because while homosexuality is legally tolerated in South Korea, it is not socially.
Hence, whenever a gay character shows up in a K-Drama they’re either portrayed in an exaggerated manner or revealed to not truly be gay due to a misunderstanding. But Love Alarm treated this subject without glamorizing or nullifying it. Particularly, during a subplot where Hye-Young interrupts the bullying of a boy who rang another boy’s Love Alarm and confronts both of them about their feelings.
4 Typical - The Lead Heroine Has A Tragic Past
Much like the love triangle, tragic pasts are a common trope that’s used to achieve a certain outcome without putting too much thought into it. In this case, though, it’s used to make the heroine immediately sympathetic from the viewer’s perspective, regardless of what she does. Plus, it makes her more relatable to just about any girl who’s watching.
We see this aptly demonstrated with Jo-Jo, who isn’t unique compared to other K-Drama heroines. Apart from having a tragic past, she also has abusive relatives such as her aunt and works at multiple part-time jobs which are additional cliches to this type of character.
3 Unique - Shows The Downside Of Social Media
Even though it’s a gimmick, the titular app in Love Alarm does have major social ramifications that are explored during the show’s second half. Set four years later story-wise, the app’s popularity has created prestigious social media clubs and sparked large protests.
There’s even a wedding scene where the bride and groom turn on their Love Alarms to signify their affection before they officially kiss. While this may seem absurd on the surface, there is an underlying eeriness to being dependent on a program to demonstrate one’s love. Now such a concept may not seem unique compared to shows like Black Mirror, it is for K-Dramas.
2 Typical - Characters Make Irrational Decisions For The Sake Of Drama
As entertaining as dramatic shows may be, they aren’t known for being realistic. This is especially true for K-Dramas, as characters often make irrational decisions due to vague motivations such as love. Now some may see it as admirable, but objectively it is for the sake of creating drama in the story.
In this regard, Love Alarm is no different as all the characters make rash decisions that don’t make sense from an objective standpoint except to complicate things emotionally. Some examples include Hye-Young installing Love Alarm after expressing his feelings to Jo-Jo without it.
1 Unique - Each Character Is Flawed
To create a sense of realism, a character in any given work of fiction should ideally have some kind of flaw that affects them. Over time though, this flaw should be overcome to create a well-rounded character arc. But in most K-Dramas, the protagonist is usually flawless while the other characters are flawed to varying degrees.
But in Love Alarm, almost every character has a significant flaw that causes them to do things they end up regretting. Even Jo-Jo, who comes off as the typical innocent protagonist, is flawed as she deliberately pushes away the two boys who love her out of fear of being emotionally hurt.