Warning: the following review contains heavy spoilers from several episodes of the drama.

Love Alarm‘ is a South Korean teen romance drama television series based on the webtoon of the same name. It premiered on Netflix in 2019 and stars Kim So-hyun, Song Kang, and Jung Ga-ram as the lead characters. It is set in a fictional world where a mobile application called Love Alarm, which can determine if someone within a ten-meter radius has feelings for the user, exists. In this world, people have become dependent on the app and take its rings as Gospel.

The main character, Kim Jo-jo (played by Kim So-hyun), is in a relationship with a Judo student who likes her very much, but she often makes up excuses to avoid hanging out with him. One of the two male leads, Lee Hye-yeong (played by Jung Ga-ram), is secretly in love with Jo-jo even though she doesn’t even know his name. One day, his best friend, the handsome model Hwang Sung-oh (played by Song Kang), sees Hye-yeong admiring Jo-jo from afar. This sparks Sung-oh’s curiosity towards the female lead. He later asks Hye-yeong if the latter would never get angry with him no matter what he does, which foreshadows what Sung-oh is about to do. Not long after, while Jo-jo is hiding from her boyfriend, she and Sung-oh meet. He takes her to a deserted alley, and asks if he could kiss her before doing so—and this happened in just the first episode.

As can be seen from the pilot episode where our lead characters already kissed—which doesn’t happen a lot in Korean dramas—we can already predict that the series will move at a very fast pace, yet it gives viewers enough time to fall in love with the characters. And it definitely did not disappoint. By the third episode, our two male leads have already figured out that they like the same girl and agreed that whoever rings Jo-jo‘s Love Alarm will become her boyfriend. However, Sung-oh goes behind Hye-yeong‘s back and takes Jo-jo to the gymnasium to ring each other’s Love Alarm, thereby confirming their feelings for each other while Hye-yeong watches in shock outside of their ten-meter radius.

This drama is not your typical cheesy romantic comedy. I saw a lot of topics I did not expect to be covered in teen romance. Heavy themes like anxiety, depression, the unintentional outing of sexual orientation, and dependence on smartphones hide behind the facade of a light-hearted title. The main characters are broken in their own ways. Jo-jo blames herself for her parents’ double suicide that also almost killed her, and Sung-oh‘s mother wanted to poison him when he was young. However, they find solace in each other. They constantly ask the other to ring their Love Alarm to bring comfort and assurance during their depressed states. While the app can reassure you that someone loves you, if it never rings, it is also easy to assume that no one loves you. In the sixth episode, this negative side effect of the Love Alarm was shown when more than twenty people collectively committed suicide in a park. It is very admirable that the series did not shy away from such a realistic repercussion of the app.

There were also scenes I found funny like when Jo-jo‘s scary Judo athlete ex-boyfriend tells his best friend who secretly loves him, “I will never ring your Love Alarm” with a straight face. Jo-jo‘s cousin was very consistent in being annoying from the beginning of the series to the end, which I really commend. There was one scene where she almost redeemed herself when she cried saying that she has to share everything with Jo-jo and that her family was torn apart because of the latter, which made me think that she might have an inferiority complex. But my sympathy for the character was shattered when Jo-jo replied that her cousin just wants to succeed easily in life, hence why she pursues Sung-oh who is a famous model. Taking the whole show into account, what I like the most is how Jo-jo is able to say that she’s not alright—a characteristic rarely seen in characters in Korean dramas.

Unfortunately, the drama is not perfect. In the fourth episode, Jo-jo‘s cousin, who also has a crush on Sung-oh, tells her that he bought her food earlier in the day because he pitied her. Like many Korean dramas, our female lead’s pride was hurt and she was planning to break up with Sung-oh. Even though they make up in the same episode when Jo-jo overhears Sung-oh confronting her cousin about the lie, the trope is nevertheless annoying.

In the fifth episode, the drama uses another stale trope. When Sung-oh and Jo-jo are having a sweet moment after they’ve opened their hearts to one another, they randomly meet with an accident. To make matters worse, there was barely any blood even though they were thrown off the scooter. Instead, we get a lengthy flashback of their memories together as she watches his face. After the accident, our female lead, for unknown reasons, decides to break up with Sung-oh and pretends she doesn’t love him anymore. Many Korean drama fans call this theme “noble idiocy”, which is one of the most annoying ones ever. Jo-jo later “explains” that the reason why she broke up with him is that she felt scared and was too immature back then. While I do admire her courage to admit that it’s her fault, her reason doesn’t really make any sense since there was no trigger for her to think that way. I would have preferred if it was because she was afraid that his parents will send him to the U.S. or that she felt she was unlucky and this was what caused Sung-oh to meet with an accident.

In the sixth episode, we also got another cliché. A few years have passed since Jo-jo graduated from high school. She is crossing the street and sees Hye-yeong and Sung-oh on the other side. Her Love Alarm only rings once—meaning only one person within a ten-meter radius likes her— and Sung-oh just passes by her as if he doesn’t know her, which leads us to believe that he had amnesia after the car accident. It is later revealed that he was just ignoring her because he was very angry when she never gave him a reason for their break-up.

What I hate most about the drama is when they introduced the “shield”. The shield is a sort of software that locks the user’s Love Alarm, such that even when it’s turned on, it will never ring another person’s Love Alarm. Even if the user changes phones and re-installs the application, the shield will automatically be installed, and only the developer can uninstall the shield. I hate this plot device because it completely makes the concept of the Love Alarm useless. It is a deux ex machina that allows Jo-jo to hide her feelings in a world where they are supposedly exposed, not to mention the fact that she is the only one in the world who has it.

Overall, I have mixed feelings about the series. I think initially it had great potential but then halfway in, it turned into a corny love story. Hye-yeong has been watching Jo-jo for a long time but lost to Sung-oh simply because the latter was better looking during their school days and one kiss, which happened while Jo-jo was in a relationship. Let us also not forget that Sung-oh probably only approached Jo-jo to see Hye-yeong get angry with him. After the timeskip, Sung-oh ironically became immature, whereas in his school days he was mature for his age. All he does is whine and threaten Hye-yeong to stop pursuing Jo-jo just because he was hurt by her in the past. All of this just had me thinking that the drama could be saved only if Jo-jo ends up with Hye-yeong. They do have their heart-fluttering moments after the timeskip, but just when I thought that Jo-jo will end up with Hye-yeong, the drama ends abruptly in the eighth episode. It has recently been announced that the series will have a second season, so I am hoping that my ship ends up together. I think there is more to be seen in the story, as the writers haven’t yet given an explanation as to why Hye-yeong loves Jo-jo before she even knew him.

Nevertheless, I love how the app is not only a plot device to push the story forward but also an integral part of the story. Without the app, many things would have changed in the story as it has a lot of influence on each characters’ behavior and decisions. The series was able to perfectly portray a society so dependent on technology that they lost their own logic and reasoning. Prior to watching the series, I had my misgivings because I did not know a single actor or actress in the series aside from Kim So-hyun. The latter is also not my favorite actress, even though she is a very good actress who has starred in many shows since she was young. However, I think she was very beautiful and mature in this series, and I look forward to her future projects.

Plot: 8/10
Characters: 7/10
OST: 7/10
Acting: 7/10
Cinematography: 7/10