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Radio Romance
    라디오 로맨스
KBS2 (2018) 16 Episodes
Romantic Comedy, Melodrama
Grade: A
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Some Spoilers)

A wonderful ensemble actor team effort, exploring a unique topic in Korean dramas, that of running a successful real-time radio show, Radio Romance (2018) was quite an interesting and rather effortless watch for me, for the drama flowed so smoothly that it was like a well-oiled machine from start to finish! It never teased the audience with unessential plot points or characters just to fill up time, like so many other K-dramas do, but remained on the straight and narrow path, with a tight-knit group of characters, moving very well to a satisfying, realistic ending. I finished all sixteen episodes in only two days and never once grew bored. I loved the ambiance of the story and enjoyed the moments of humor, too, such as this one, below, where the leading lady character is trying to impress the leading male character with her determination to hire him away from Kdramas and movies, and to the medium of radio, which she loves, and partly to the love tune from Chuno as well! Over and over she falls backward into a lake as a stunt double, just to impress him! Wow!

Starring one of my favorite Korean actresses Kim So Hyun (get ready for the list of what I've seen on her vast resume! from The Suspicious Housekeeper, Goblin, Love Alarm 1, Love Alarm 2, Page Turner, I Hear Your Voice, Ruler: Master Of The Mask, School 2015, Reset, I Miss You, Birth Secret, Let's Fight Ghost!, Triangle, Sensory Couple, Nightmare Teacher, Padam Padam, Moon Embracing The Sun, Rooftop Prince, Que Sera Sera, Baker King Kim Tak Gu, films Pure Love and The Last Princess), I was delighted with her performance here because it was much more mature than a lot of the characters I've seen her play over the years.

Left to Right: Yoon Park, Kim So Hyun, Yoon Doo Joon

She played a career woman writing programs for radio, and her character needed to get along with a lot of very different types of people in her job. Rarely did she have temper tantrums or emotional upsets, but she was a very measured, calm character, one whom I quite admired.

The leading man I wasn't as familiar with, Yoon Doo Joon, having only seen him in a supporting role in a K-drama I didn't really care for, a silly time travel thing called Splash Splash Love (2015), and in cameo roles in Because This Is My First Life (2017) and Let's Fight Ghost! (2016). He is mostly known as a singer for a Korean boy group called Highlight. I wasn't sure I would like him very much at first but I kept an open mind and after the first few episodes his character growth became quite more interesting. I ended up liking his nice chemistry with his leading lady, and he even made me tear up in a few scenes.

For largely comic relief there was second male lead actor Yoon Park (Good Doctor, Bridal Mask) whom I warmed to IMMEDIATELY because he made me laugh like the dickens in only the first episode, his character returning home to Korea from a trip to India, dressed in a funny way, and saying "Namaste!" to everyone in a weird manner! LOL! I didn't really get a strong case of Second Male Leaditis Syndrome, however, because his character knew how to behave and hide his romantic feelings well from the lead female character, and he even made an effort to understand and work with the first male lead character whom she did end up favoring.

The Story:

In radio, there are no cameras. Rather than focusing on images, like in drama-making or in films, the radio highlights something that comes literally from deep inside: our voices. Although a script or talking points can be written up as a guide, the radio host voices not only his or her own emotions, but also engages directly with listeners intellectually. Think of Orson Welles doing War of the Worlds, or Rush Limbaugh voicing conservative ideals and fundamentals over the airwaves. In doing this kind of work the radio host or DJ can even learn many important life lessons about himself or herself, and great personal growth can result in their own lives, as well as their listeners, who take what they say to heart. Radio Romance tells the story of a small, but spirited, team of people who love the medium of radio, as they work together day by day, week by week, year by year, to pull off a successful show.

We meet Song Geurim (Kim So Hyun) who is an assistant writer in her twenties for a live radio program called Radio Romance. The DJs will voice a story, often with a romantic view of the world, and people call in and comment on it. Geurim is often yelled at publicly in front of her co-workers by her loud-mouth producer boss named Kang Hee Seok (Lee Won Jong), but she takes the abuse in her stride. She gets along better with a station manager named Lee Gang (Yoon Park) who wants to see her succeed. He treats her professionally in the studio but it's obvious at quieter moments that he has some tender feelings for her. She also highly respects a sunbae (senior) DJ at work who has had his own successful talk radio show for years, named Moon Sung Woo (Yun Ju Sang). In their conversations he is always kind to her, and teaches her a lot. There are also programmers Ra Ra Hee (Kim Hye Eun) and Lee Seung Soo (Im Ji Kyu, whom I had loved in The King's Face) who help her focus on work, but sometimes with pointed criticism.

Sometimes Geurim even replaces the DJs when they can't get to the studio, and with her soft but strong voice does a good job filling in for them. She is also pressured to engage in some strange guest-scouting tactics at times. Her plate is full at quite a young age. She only has one family member left, her blind mother Jo Ae Ran (Kim Ye Ryeong) whom she loves and takes care of in the home they share together.

One day Geurim is told that the ratings are slipping for her show, and that if she wants to become a chief script writer any time soon in the future that she must scout top star Ji Suho (Yoon Doo Joon) to become a DJ on Radio Romance. This is a tall order! Ji Suho, a very popular actor, is the famous son of the nation’s most enviable rich celebrity couple, actress Nam Jooha (Oh Hyun Kyung) and Ji Yoonseok (Kim Byeong Se). They are their own family entertainment corporation. For years they have put out a false narrative about their family: that they are sublimely happy living and working together in their mansion, when in truth all three of them are miserable. The father cheats repeatedly on his wife and she in turn becomes bossy over her son, telling him what acting jobs he should take next. In a flashback to his childhood we see Nam Jooha tell Ji Suho on his eighth birthday that actually he is not her biological son, he is adopted (no doubt the child of one of the father's many mistresses). This scars Ji Suho tremendously. He turns inward and eventually requires a psychiatrist named Jason (Kwak Dong Yeon), and a personal assistant named Kim Joon Woo (Ha Joon), to take care of him. He grows up needing sleeping pills to sleep. In order to maintain as much peace in the home as possible Ji Suho plays along with his parents' lies, but inside he is miserable and afraid of real intimacy with the opposite sex because of what he sees in his parents' marital relationship.

Knowing her job is really on the line, Geurim becomes determined to land Ji Suho as a DJ on her radio show. When she first meets him she asks nicely but he is having none of it. He looks down on radio as a second class medium compared to acting in dramas and films. Due to her complete perseverance and desire to show Ji Suho the wonderful capabilities of radio, Geurim eventually ends up convincing him to enroll as a DJ with the station – however, he refuses to use scripts created by anyone other than his own producer team. He gives her a hard time about everything in the beginning but eventually Ji Suho ends up making use of some of Geurim’s scripts. This helps to soften their relationship, and it's obvious in time that Ji Suho is falling in love with Geurim. Among the radio professionals on the Radio Romance team, a strange love triangle and rivalry seems to be forming between Song Geurim, Lee Gang and Ji Suho. It's obvious soon enough that Geurim is far more attracted to Ji Suho and not Lee Gang.

In childhood and teen flashbacks into Ji Suho and Geurim's lives we are given to understand that they had met before in a hospital environment, with Geurim (Lee Ra when young) taking care of her mother after she became blind, and Ji Suho (Nam Da Reum when young) there to be treated for severe depression. Ji Suho makes a new male friend in the hospital as well, who sadly is terminal due to cancer. His name was Woo Ji Woo (Choi Min Young) and both end up liking Geurim from afar. Ji Woo, despite his terminal diagnosis, still plans on going to a singing audition. He tells himself if he wins he will tell Geurim that he likes her. However, before he can get to the audition he is killed in a traffic accident and Ji Suho blames himself because the boy was crossing the street to meet up with him on the day of his audition. Ji Suho sinks further in depression and gives up on his feelings for Geurim. Due to these scenes, though, we finally understand Ji Suho's reluctance to be near Geurim: it makes him feel guilty to look at her. She doesn't remember him, but he certainly does remember her!

Ji Suho as a teen is played by lovely Nam Da Reum
from The Suspicious Housekeeper and Goblin and
Ji Woo his doomed friend played by Choi Min Young

Throughout the show, a lot of factors exterior to the radio program itself accumulate to bring the plot a lot of tension: a fake relationship between Ji Suho and a snooty actress named Jin Taeri (Yura) is promoted by Ji Suho's bossy Mom, in order to keep his name in the limelight, especially after he seems to drop out of sight to do the radio program. A seemingly wacko fan is sending letters to the studio claiming that Ji Suho is a murderer. Ji Suho's deeply buried emotionally traumatic past requires that the psychiatrist, Jason, force Ji Suho to face reality and try to admit his feelings for Geurim publicly. This he eventually does and a confession to Geurim is a major scene in the series.

If you are hungry for something a bit different than the norm in Korean dramas, then definitely give Radio Romance a try! You'll like the character growth that you see, and some scenes are outright hilarious and will make you laugh. Others will bring you back down to reality in a serious way. I also highly enjoyed the OST, except one song they used, The Hidden Road, which was a big song in the OST of My Rosy Life classic K-drama, made me sad whenever they played it, because I so associate it with the lead actress in that drama, Choi Jin Sil, who committed suicide (also, its composer committed suicide, too!). I really wished they hadn't used it.

Radio Romance is a good mix of humor and melodrama and romance. I really loved Kim So Hyun's character, her spunk and determination to succeed. If you are her true fan then you won't want to miss Radio Romance. Put it on your Kdrama queue for sure! Enjoy!