If you haven’t checked out this drama, which is a follow-up/sequel/spin-off to last year’s I Need Romance, then at least read the wonderful recap by gummimochi for episode 1, and then go watch the drama. I Need Romance 2012 is a delightful little gem that is a little more refreshing than the zany romantic comedies out there. Though it has its own tropes and cliches, at least they deal with love in a thoughtful manner. Much like how regular people agonize over it.
Joo Yeol Mae (Jung Yumi) is a music director for films and in a long on-and-off relationship with her boyfriend and housemate Yoon Suk Hyun (Lee Jin Wook), a scriptwriter. The two of them have been living together since they were young; their mothers were best friends, and built this conjoined house for their families when their respective husbands passed away. When Yeol Mae’s mother passed away, Suk Hyun was there for her to take care of her. Naturally they fell in love, and become a couple in high school. They keep it a secret from their families, but they’re together like glue.
They break up a total of 5 times in their 12 years together – the fifth being their final time, which led to a break of three years. They still live together and know everything about each other, but it isn’t stopping them from seeing other people. Yeol Mae is jealous when Suk Hyun takes on an assistant writer, Kang Na Hyun (Kim Ye Won), who’s young, fresh, and totally got a crush on Suk Hyun. Yeol Mae tries to stake her claim over Suk Hyun by offering a friends with benefits relationship; it works for a while until she starts wanting something more – a more committed relationship than he is prepared to give.
So Yeol Mae goes off and starts dating Shin Ji Hoon (Kim Ji Suk), who is the owner of her favorite cafe and the nicest guy in the world. He’s romantic and sweet, and genuinely likes Yeol Mae. He’s had a crush on her since years ago when he took group guitar lessons with her, and he sees a side of her that Yeol Mae has forgotten. Having been with Suk Hyun for so long, Yeol Mae is used to thinking she’s a spiteful, selfish, and hot-tempered girl. But Ji Hoon doesn’t see that; he sees a sweet, innocent, generous woman, and whether it’s true or not, it makes Yeol Mae very happy to know that she’s appreciated in a different way by another man.
Yeol Mae has two best friends – Woo Ji Hee (Kang Ye Sol) and Sun Jae Kyung (Kim Ji Woo). Ji Hee is a little more naive about love, having dated and experienced less than the other two, and still holds on to that notion of a “pure innocent love” that really only occurs in dramas.
Jae Kyung on the other hand is the complete opposite; she’s a shoe designer in a high-profile marriage to a news anchor, Lee Jang Woo. The thing is, though they present a perfect marriage to the outside world, they actually don’t sleep together, nor is Jang Woo faithful to her. She lets him date other women in secret, provided he doesn’t get caught, and she herself dates her ex-boyfriend/business partner Jung Min.
Ji Hee starts off in a really bad relationship with a doctor who thinks he’s a wonderful lover in bed and the best catch in all of Seoul. However, he’s really bad in bed and is very controlling of Ji Hee. He embarrasses her at the top of Namsan Tower by blaming her for the bad sex while within earshot of the man who will become her boss, Tae Woo (Heo Tae Hee in a return from season 1). Thankfully she breaks up with him, and ends up dating Tae Woo.
They start off as bickering coworkers who are uncomfortable over the fact that Tae Woo overheard her entire sex life (thanks Dr. Ex-boyfriend!), but eventually she is grateful to him when he helps take care of her when drunk. They don’t begin dating officially, but when Tae Woo moves into an apartment near her building, they start doing activities together and eating together. From there, Ji Hee hopes to “naturally” become a part of Tae Woo’s life. At least she succeeds on that front.
As for Jae Kyung, she had planned on divorcing Jang Woo as soon as it was convenient by citing adultery as a reason for divorce. However, he catches her in the act first by getting a private investigator to tail her when she’s returning from a rendezvous with Jung Min. She and Jung Min get into an accident together, and that’s when they are outed by all the press.
They get a divorce, and Jae Kyung struggles to forgive herself. Her only regret is not having outed Jang Woo first, as she’s now been vilified by all of Korea. (Jang Woo, sleazebag that he is, is still beloved by all of Korea, still watching his news show.) Jae Kyung decides to start over, this time with Jung Min. Her business flounders because the investors are all backing out of supporting “the devil woman” and so she turns to her best friends and Suk Hyun for some help. After some obstacles, she finally launches her new collection, and she ends up being more popular than ever before. Though she may have a bad reputation, one cannot deny she knows how to make stylish and comfortable shoes.
Unfortunately, though she eventually succeeds on the business front, Jung Min is aghast to learn that Jae Kyung moved out of her house and lives in the warehouse. She refuses to live with him, as she’s not ready for that yet, and so he decides to break up with her.
Back to our main couple. Yeol Mae is finally moving on with Ji Hoon, and that’s when Suk Hyun realizes that he’s in love with her. It’s actually kind of ridiculous because you know that he loves her but he’s just trying to protect her; he harbors a secret that prevents him from fully committing to her. Plus the fact that he can’t voice out his feelings with a simple “I love you” makes him a pretty cold boyfriend. His inability to express his feelings was a reason for their break-ups many times over, but finally when Suk Hyun is ready to admit it, Yeol Mae isn’t willing to hear it.
Until… she rifles through his closet one day looking for her shirt that may have ended up in his laundered clothing. Yeol Mae discovers a box that has all their letters and pictures together, as well as their promise rings. She realizes that he still loves her, and always has – even when he said that he hated her. They had thrown away their promise rings during their last and final break-up, but the fact that Suk Hyun retrieved them means something.
She later learns from her grandmother that Suk Hyun’s younger sister died of the same disease his father had. It’s a debilitating disease that’s pretty much like a slow death, and we learn that Suk Hyun fears the disease is hereditary. It can come up at any time without warning. Because of his fear that he might have the disease too, Suk Hyun never wanted to commit to Yeol Mae and then saddle her with the burden of taking care of him until he dies. He could never tell her about what happened to his sister, and he could never really admit his family background to her. Yeol Mae had to piece it all together herself.
Realizing that Suk Hyun was trying to protect her all along, she dumps Ji Hoon. It may seem heartless, but Yeol Mae certainly waffles on her decision. She tries to be supportive towards Suk Hyun after his sister’s death, but she can’t help missing Ji Hoon. After a very thoughtful and long walk home, Yeol Mae visits Ji Hoon. She admits to loving him, but knows that she cannot go back to him even though he said he’d wait. No matter how much she tries to move on, there’s still a part of her that’s holding on to Suk Hyun.
However, Suk Hyun wants to cut her from his life, preparing to move out of the house and back to his family’s country home. He leaves Yeol Mae, and she is left only to wait for him to return.
A year passes. Jae Kyung is leaving for France as her shoes are becoming a worldwide sensation. She invites Jung Min to join her there – not just as a business partner, but her partner for life.
Meanwhile, Tae Woo’s proposed to Ji Hee; despite his meager salary, he loves her dearly and got her a cheap ring that she accidentally threw away with the cheap flowers. For that, he punishes her by making sure they’ll marry! Na Hyun visits Yeol Mae and encourages her to find Suk Hyun again, and she finds him easily at his country home.
He’s coping fine, realizing that it’s easier to just miss Yeol Mae than try to remove her from his life. He does have a dog that he names Yeol Mae to keep him company. But Yeol Mae the person finally arrives at his doorstep to bring him home. Suk Hyun tears up – no one has ever reached out to him before; usually he’s the one doing the reaching. He’s never accepted the other’s hand before either… until now.
And with that – the friends all gather for a picnic outside Yeol Mae and Suk Hyun’s home, happy and always promising to say “I love you” every single day.
If I Need Romance was more about dating and making sure that they’ve found “the one,” then I Need Romance 2012 focuses more on people who have found “the one,” but what happens after that. I must admit that in the beginning I found Yeol Mae quite abrasive and not at all a female lead I wanted to back. She was loud and selfish, and while I loved her spunk and forthrightness, she was also disagreeable and narrow-minded. Whenever she and Suk Hyun argued, it was always around what she felt and what she thought; she never gave him a chance to think, to respond at his own time, to convey his own thoughts and feelings. Sometimes she’d keep on talking and talking, and I’d be sitting here thinking, “Let the guy breathe! He is not going to have a fully formed answer in the millisecond it takes for you to catch your breath!”
I found myself being on Suk Hyun’s side most of the time when they first argued because it was off-putting how she kept poking and prodding at him. Let the guy have his secrets! Not everything had to revolve around her, as she was keen to think. I didn’t want her to end up with him if she was going to keep acting like this. It took her a while to finally grow up and to think before she spoke. It took her a while to understand that even though she had been with Suk Hyun for so long and had endured his many moods, she still didn’t know how to react to him. In other words, it’s as if she saw a blue bike, learned how to ride it, and when she saw a pink bike, she promptly forgot how to ride a bike.
But eventually she learned that when he needed space, she should give it. But just as she grew up, I had hoped Suk Hyun would grow up as well and learn to rely on someone if he wants to have that person in his life. But he didn’t. It took him a very long time to realize that he needs to vocalize his troubles, his issues, in order to let them go. There’s no reason he had to keep the secret about his family’s illness; if he had said it earlier he definitely would have kept Yeol Mae around longer. As the series progressed to a slow end, I found myself wanting to slap Suk Hyun to wake up, to realize that he was in love with Yeol Mae already and to just open up to someone.
What’s nice about this series is it takes the opposite approach of the first season. In the first season, Jo Yeo Jung’s character chooses to be with her man (Kim Jeong Hoon), especially after his heartfelt apology. She gives him some crap for it, but she’s the one choosing to be with the guy, and he accepts because he’s been wanting her back. In I Need Romance 2012, it’s the girl choosing him again, but this time he’s pushing her away because he can’t accept her yet. This time, the girl is ready to accept him, and it’s only when he becomes mature enough to admit how much he wants her that they can reunite.
I’m very happy that Yeol Mae ended up with Suk Hyun in this season because the two of them were meant to be. They have a clear understanding of each other, but just had the wrong timing in the world. They needed to be in the same place emotionally and physically to be able to get back together – much like in the first season. I’m also glad that Yeol Mae was very honest with herself when she admitted to loving and missing Ji Hoon, and yet knew that she would never be able to go back to him.
Some may say that Yeol Mae just didn’t want to change, but sometimes the man next to you is just right. But because you were together for so long, you need to evolve and change too. Ji Hoon gave Yeol Mae the opportunity to evolve and be the woman Suk Hyun hoped she’d be – someone who’s more generous towards others and a little more trusting. With that lesson learned, she could go back to Suk Hyun. Suk Hyun in the meantime had to learn how to forgive himself and how to be the more upfront man Yeol Mae needed him to be.
I liked that in this series we knew they were meant to be together, and the entire drama arc was trying to get them back together, rather than a series about a girl who should break up with her boyfriend and how she should go date other men – only to end up with her ex-boyfriend.
As for the other characters, Ji Hee served as the innocent girl well enough, but I couldn’t appreciate how shallow she sometimes was. Her match, Tae Woo, was so much more fun because he was a holdover from season 1. It’s because he left his first fiancee at the altar (played by Choi Song Hyun) that he ends up in this side of the world. I love that there are constant references to season 1, including the fact that Yeol Mae is working on the music for Sung Soo’s films. Jae Kyung was more fun than Choi Yeo Jin’s character Seo Yeon because she had a lot of self-respect despite knowing that she was cheating on her husband. Seo Yeon loved herself too much, whereas Jae Kyung loved herself, but had the capacity to love another without losing her independence.
Overall, I enjoyed this series very much because I really enjoyed the growth of the characters. The cast once again had great chemistry, but it’s not just the girls; what’s great is that the guys fit in just as well. It’s very similar to season 1, and in some ways it’s a little more grown up. It certainly lags a bit in pacing towards the end, but it didn’t diminish my love for the series. I appreciated that these characters needed time to think, to be apart, to grow, and then to come back together. The series is just as fun as season 1, but I certainly don’t think a season 3 should come out of this.