In September, Korean romance Tune in for Love topped the box office in its native country, and now Netflix introduces it to an international audience. The movie takes place between 1994 and 2005, and weaves many cultural references — music especially, thanks to Korean singer and radio personality You Yeol — into its story of long-developing love. For many, it’ll be a reference-riddled nostalgia trip. But will it transcend those superficialities to be a rewarding character drama?
The Gist: It’s 1994. Mi-su (Kim Go-eun) works at a bakery owned by Eun-ja (Kim Gook-hee), a longtime friend. Hyeon-woo (Jung Hae-in) walks into the shop, asking for tofu or soy items; he eventually answers the bakery’s window flyer for a part-timer. He’s withdrawn and quiet, fresh from a stint in a juvenile detention center. Just as the two women begin cracking this tough nut, a few brash ne’er-do-wells arrive on mopeds, and buzz him away. Mi-su and Eun-ja sigh, resigning themselves to never seeing him again. Time to make the doughnuts, without a handsome fella to lug bags of flour around.
Đang xem: Tune in for love
Now it’s 1997, and Mi-su is finishing her undergraduate studies. She has two options: a temporary gig working for popular radio DJ You Yeol, or a dependable, boring, permanent job writing copy for a manufacturer. Like a responsible adult, she foregoes the fun/dream job and chooses the latter, where she has to wear earplugs because her office is directly adjacent to deafening machinery. Life is pain. By chance, she bumps into Hyeon-woo, and their eyes share a twinkle. Of course there’s a hitch: he leaves for military service tomorrow. They spend a chaste night together at her apartment, in separate beds, talking about their feelings and crap. She fires up her sparkling-new Windows 95 machine and sets up an email account for him so they can stay in touch. But carn sarn it and darn blast it, she forgot to give him the password!
And now it’s 2000. The whole time, Mi-su was journaling her innermost feelings to the dead-end email address. Until he sleuths the password. Let’s just say they have another opportunity to disconnect so the plot can leap ahead to 2005, deepen the melancholy of its leads, introduce approximately 1.7 conflicts and elongate the romantic tension. Are Mi-su and Hyeong-woo destined to be together? Or is this one of those Nicholas Sparks-type movies that demand a third-act death like a blood sacrifice to Satan?
What Movies Will It Remind You Of?: Tune in for Love borrows a little from the every-seven-years gimmick/theme of Richard Linklater’s impeccable Before trilogy — and Ashton Kutcher/Amanda Peet movie we forgot existed, A Lot Like Love, he mentions with a groan. It also features the youthy-melancholy vibe of stuff like The Fault in Our Stars.
Performance Worth Watching: Among the three primary characters, Kim Gook-hee lends a little bit of color to her scenes, brightening the bland earnestness of the two leads.
Memorable Dialogue: “But then” (pause in subtitles) “I thought” (another pause) “You’d never” (sigh) “Come back,” Mi-su tells Hyeong-woo, accurately conveying the movie’s overall pace.
Sex and Skin: A PG-rated makeout session.
Our Take: Tune in for Love is two hours long and moves like it carries its shell-home on its back, yet still feels like it’s missing scenes. Mi-su and Hyeong-woo pine for each other like a million-acre Christmas tree farm, but their characters are underdeveloped to the point that we don’t really feel the pain of their longing. It takes until the third act for the story to find its dramatic footing, and answer a couple of the many, many questions that may explain why its principals are the way they are, and act the way they do. And they still act confusingly, at the service of the plot and the cliches it mercilessly wedges in at the last minute (e.g., Mi-su’s smug, Maserati-driving dink of a romantic alternative).
That isn’t to say the movie is altogether dishonest. It’s just not particularly exciting, populated as it is with moments edging perilously close to Twilight Saga existential woe, where characters stare into the middle-distance with a level vague self-contemplation that’s 51 percent emptiness and 49 percent hazy heartbreak. Suggestiveness in characters’ makeup can be good, but nebulousness is best left to the David Lynches of the world.
Oh, and if you’re not familiar with Korean 1990s and early-2000s culture, you’ll be unable to recognize and appreciate the references that might partially explain why a bland love story like this was relatively popular in its home country. As always, nostalgia is powerful. Powerful like a fox.
Our Call: SKIP IT. This romance never truly captures that gaga feeling of being in love, or the despair of losing it. It’s poorly edited, tedious and populated with shapeless characters. Tune in to this or tune in to the farm report — they generate the same amount of excitement.
John Serba is a freelance writer and film critic based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Read more of his work at johnserbaatlarge.com or follow him on Twitter: