Two people find love in the most unexpected of circumstances, but destiny conspires to keep them apart – a tale as old as time but one that remains enticing no matter how many times it’s been reused and recycled.
Call It Love, Disney+’s latest K-drama, takes on this time-worn trope of star-crossed lovers – but entwines it in a cold-blooded revenge tale. Add family drama, and you get an emotionally charged mix that sets this new series up for serious success.
Shim Woo-joo (Lee Sung-kyung) and Han Dong-jin (Kim Young-kwang) are our unlikely couple in Call It Love. Woo-joo is a jaded, almost apathetic young woman, whose heart hardened as a child after her father eloped with another woman and abandoned her family. She still harbours a deep resentment towards him for this betrayal of the highest order: not only was the mistress once a good friend of her mother’s, they also left the family destitute by taking the Shim family’s valuables and savings with them.
So it’s hard to blame Woo-joo when she shows up to her father’s funeral 13 years later, looking to thoroughly humiliate both him and his mistress-turned-widow, Heeja, by donning the skimpiest of outfits and airing dirty laundry at the service. Her plan succeeds for the most part – Heeja is publicly and righteously shamed in front of her own loved ones – and things escalate when Woo-joo learns from prattling funeral attendees that Heeja has decided to sell off the house she and her family had lived in for 20 years. This sets off a primal rage in Woo-joo, which only worsens when Heeja defends her legal marriage to Woo-joo’s father and therefore her legitimate inheritance of the property.
Woo-joo is done being the bigger person and becomes hell-bent on exacting her revenge on Heeja. She decides to target Heeja’s son, Han Dong-jin, believing him to be as vapid as his mother. But Woo-joo discovers that Dong-jin is not only estranged from Heeja, but also a sensitive, kind-hearted man – in other words, Heeja’s polar opposite.
In its opening episodes, Call It Love is a heart-rending tale of all-consuming vengeance. As Woo-joo finds herself grudgingly opening up to Dong-jin as both a friend and a love interest, she is faced with an ultimatum: will she let go of past wrongs for love or sacrifice a rare shot at romantic intimacy for the sake of evening the score? Credit must go to Lee Sung-kyung for articulating the solemn stakes of Woo-joo’s dilemma, while making sure the character remains relatable.
Call It Love’s cinematography accentuates the heartache. Shots evoke looming loneliness while colour-grading favours cool-toned pink hues, culminating in a visual language that makes palpable a sense of delicate melancholy and intimacy. Two episodes in, it’s already hard to shake the feeling that though Woo-joo and Dong-jin both yearn for connection, they will never find it in each other.
Sanguine moments of respite are rare on the so far despondent Call It Love. Something going right for our protagonists – even within the tantalising romance blooming between them – feels more like a privilege than anything at this stage of the series. Should Call It Love evolve beyond despair, it might well emerge as one of the year’s most poignant K-dramas.
Call It Love is now airing on Disney+.