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[Movie Review] Timing, trust, and true love in Tune in for Love

It’s not often that I’ll leave dramaland in favor of a movie, but the premise and cast of Tune in for Love pulled me in. The film was released a few months ago in late 2019, but being mostly set in the recent past, it seems almost timeless.

The two-hour long story is told in a series of chapters, so to speak, each with a pause in between, and a span of a few years. In each chapter we meet our main characters at different parts of their life. And though their circumstances change, what remains consistent is their intersecting stories. In a way, the film is the story of our two leading characters slowly finding their way to each other.

The two leads are CHA HYUN-WOO (Jung Hae-in) and KIM MI-SOO (Kim Go-eun) — and admittedly, it’s this pairing that made the film appeal to me. Both have given some beautiful performances (in both drama and film), and I was excited to see what they would be like together. And really, they were magic.

When you’re in dramaland too long, you forget what it’s like to watch a story that leaves storytelling space. This space means room for nuance, subtly, and inference, and in Tune in for Love, this space was half by design (the tone and direction) and half by necessity (with a decade-long tale to tell in a running time of two-ish hours, there’s a lot of ground to cover). This space in the narrative was utterly refreshing — and seeing these two actors operate in this environment was the same. With all the gaps in the storytelling and timeline, it made the moments when our characters did come together all the more meaningful.

The film opens up in 1994. Our heroine Mi-soo works at her old family bakery with Eun-ja, an unni that’s like her family. We see glimpses of Mi-soo’s morning routine, get a sense of the history that the bakery holds for her, and we learn of her fondness for radio. That particular morning is Yoo-yeol’s first time hosting his show, and it’s the same morning that our two characters meet for the first time — Hyun-woo walks into the bakery asking for some tofu. As it turns out, he’s on parole from juvenile detention, and though we learn little about the event that put him there, the event hovers over him, and the story as a whole. Similarly, Yoo-yeol’s show is another thread established early on that also stitches their story together.

Hyun-woo starts working part time at the bakery, and soon he, Mi-soo, and Eun-ja have formed their own little adorable family unit — but before long, this chapter of the narrative closes. Hyun-woo runs off with his hoodlum friends, and we don’t meet our characters again until 1997.

If there’s one thing that stood out the most in this film, it’s the warm and authenticity to the story and setting — so strong, in fact, that it makes me wonder how it’s possible to do so much with so few scenes. Tune in for Love is rich with history — not only the history of the different years/eras it depicts, but the history of our couple’s relationship as well.

Years later, Hyun-woo and Mi-soo accidentally cross paths again one night in front of the closed down bakery, and it’s my favorite scene in the film. The three years that have passed in the story are incredibly palpable — in fact it’s hard to imagine it’s only been three minutes since you last saw them together on screen — that’s how real the actors make the stretch of time feel.

How does a production add so much emotional weight to the depiction of time? I often wonder what it is that can sometimes make the passage of time seem rich and compelling — versus the opposite effect (a cheap trick to push the story forward) that we run into so often in dramaland.

For one, in Tune in for Love, the passage of time is an intrinsic part of the storytelling. Though the film used all of the usual mechanisms to show us the time lapse (on-screen text, shifting seasons, different hairdos, clothes, and technology), there is something Tune in for Love was able to capture that I haven’t seen depicted so vividly in a while.

The emotions that run through the drama also helped this authenticity. Since our main characters are mostly apart, we see them experiencing the passage of time between their reunions, whether it’s the ache to see each other again, or the hope of it happening.

Stories of timing, connection, and romance are fairly common, but one way the setting of Tune in for Love set it apart was that their long periods of separation were largely based on the difficulty of actually finding each other. This wasn’t done the way we might see in a K-drama, with narrow misses and malicious second leads keeping our OTP apart. In Tune in for Love, their challenge to connect is because of the limitations of their circumstances.

It’s sometimes hard to believe how much the world has changed in the last decade or two, and how digital technology has revolutionized the way we connect and communicate with each other. In Tune in for Love, and especially in the first half, we’re presented with a story where if someone you like rides off with his friends, you might never see him again. There are no cellphones, social media, and barely any Internet. If you haven’t exchanged home addresses or phone numbers, there’s nothing but a vacuum.

That’s exactly what our heroine faces when she crosses paths with Hyun-woo for the second time in 1997. The two share a deep connection, but the timing is off once again: the very next day is the start of Hyun-woo’s military service. Mi-soo creates him an email account so they can stay in touch — but when she forgets to give him the password, years go by before they connect once again. It’s amazing how something so simple can have such drastic repercussions on the maturation of their relationship.

Whether it’s missed connections due to technological failures — or fate — their relationship continues to be challenged, even after Hyun-woo’s return from the military. Hyun-woo gets a cellphone, but when it breaks, Mi-soo only has a dead number with no answer. When Hyun-woo visits her old apartment from years ago hoping to find her, she’s moved out long ago.

In a different genre or medium, these little impasses and hiccups could come off as contrived, or even ridiculous, but in Tune in for Love, each event is believable. The circumstances and events that interrupt Mi-soo and Hyun-woo’s budding relationship are as authentic as they are realistic, and the understated way they’re presented only helps them feel more real.

The acting and the script give this film its authentic feel, but the direction is also a huge part of this. Throughout the film, I admired again and again how a plot that could have been messy or flimsy in less capable hands actually became something lovely.

There’s an intimacy in the film that’s hard to explain — some of it is from the intense quiet (you can hear the actors swallow and breathe most of the time), some of it is the way the camera holds on our characters a few beats longer than we expect, and some of it is because we join Mi-soo and Hyun-woo on their decade-long journey to each other.

It’s not until many false starts (and years) later that Hyun-woo and Mi-soo are finally together long enough to have a “real” relationship. And here, as expected, they have to deal with a lot of baggage from the past before they can truly find each other. It’s a nice statement to the fact that being in a relationship with someone is about more than being in their physical presence every day — it’s about trust, understanding, forgiveness, love, and all those good things.

I’ve read some critiques that Tune in for Love feels long and plodding — perhaps these folks were not drama watchers. We’re used to being with characters for about eight times as long as any movie, so often (at least for me) movies tend to leave me feeling a little flat.

But with Tune in for Love, I got everything I had hoped to out of the story; it’s a great little film. I watched Hyun-woo and Mi-soo’s story grow before my eyes, I got all the character development and complexity I wanted — and the simplicity of the storytelling made it all the more enjoyable.

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I really liked this film too. I honestly liked that it didn’t have much dialog and that the actors just had space to act. The dialog it did have was succinct, to the point, not rambling. Really, a great screenplay. It was all about nuances, glances, looks. This movie is set in my timeline as well. I felt like I was them. They were in high school when I was, came of age when I did. The soft visuals also appealed to me too, like living in a memory or dream, which, I think, was exactly the point.

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Thematically, it reminded me of "On Your Wedding Day", but with less comedy.

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Gosh! I was about to say that! The main similarities between the two about lost opportunities and weird timings is uncanny.

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I liked that film too! Kim Young Kwang and Park Bo Young was a pairing I didn’t know I meeded

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@missvictrix I thought this movie will miss your radar, but I am so glad it didn't. What a fully nuanced script. I was feeling desperate for the Hyun Woo and Mi Soo every step of the way. So bittersweet. I loved the movie.

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I never thought about movies feeling flat (to me) because I’m accustomed to spending 16 rather than 2 hours with the characters, thank you! That makes so much sense.

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I'm glad you wrote this review.

I've totally forgotten how life was in my childhood, teens and later on and it reminded me of that time. Because of no social media, cellphones, computers (they've been huge boxes and very expensive) there was more time to read, search for things, people, to reflect, to deal with things more creatively, to love with having more personal space, etc. It's such a wonderful reminding of that time that'd disappeared. I'm glad I was part of it and maybe I should step back little bit to find my mental drive and force and sleeping talents from before.

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I loved this film! Thanks for the review. It was a slow-paced movie but I think it was part of the charm.
Just wanted to point out that I prefer Jung Hae In in films than in dramas...
And also, by the end of the film, I was shipping the leads IRL... 😉

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Kim Go Eun is my fav but I still haven't watched it yet. This review made me even more excited to watch. I love melancholic films.

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Thanks for the review. I just saw this movie two weeks ago, and I loved it: it’s slow rhythm, how the story was told, the connection between these two souls, their struggles... I also felt it was part of my timeline: I was a teenager in early 90s, I lost some people and then found them thanks to technology years later, we reconnected, some are still important in my life. I lost a love, I found another. It felt real.

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I am so happy you wrote this review! I mean, I know! I felt it! Every silence, every close-ups of these wonderful actors was so palpable I felt their pain and longing through this screen. 😭
Missing their timing and all has led them to a much wonderful and meaningful reunion. 💙

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This movie was a slow burn. I really liked it. JHI and KGE really did well : portraying the different areas and their chemistry. I mostly love their relationship with her "sister", she was a great character.

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I've also watched it for main leads, I'd love to see them in drama together.
after watching so many dramas I have problem with to flat or shallow characters in movies since they don't have much time. So I am skeptic towards movies which cover long time but this one was pretty good.

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They were in Goblin together! But I know what you mean!

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This movie seems like something I would really enjoy. I like Kim Go-eun but haven't watched Jung Hae-in's dramas (except 'While you were sleeping' which I still haven't finished), so I'm interested in seeing him again on my screen. Thanks @missvictrix for the review, I'll definitely give this one a try.

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Felt it was a silly little movie with immense artificiality in the loss of connect. How could nobody in the neighborhood of the shop and home knew contact of Mi Soo. Hyun Woo's insistence on hiding the past was also considerably unpalatable. It was okay one time watch as Jung Hae-in fan.

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That's the point, in the past there were just landlines, no cellphones, no internet, just letters, booths or landline phones. It was really hard to communicate between people who lost contact. I doubt that anyone would be interested in someone who was in juvenile center before. He was an unwanted stranger. That's the beauty of it. Even for police or customs it wasn't easy to look for missing people. Crossing 2000 everything changed like a miracle. But still there was no Facebook addiction or Instagram nor Twitter. There were chatrooms and people were knowing each other or passing information through it.

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This was a cute movie. I happened on it while on Netflix and I'm glad I watched it. Slow and steady.

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Thanks for the review; I usually watch only dramas and would have missed this otherwise. And it's on Netflix, so I'll be watching soon.

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I really enjoyed this movie as well! I was at first interested in Tune in for Love because of the main leads but the story was so lovely and sweet. One of my recent favs~ I highly recommend this film on Netflix!

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Thanks for the review, sounds like a great film.
Just watched monster starring Go-eun and Min-ki, I need time to recover from that film first!

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"I’ve read some critiques that Tune in for Love feels long and plodding — perhaps these folks were not drama watchers." LOL, I concur. This whole movie would have taken at least 6 episodes in a kdrama and most would have been ok with it.

Based on the comments thus far, there seems to be a universal love for this little gem of a film. Let me add my own sentiments to the bucket as I also loved it, and thought it was sweet and nostalgic. I like JHI and KGE individually, but here their chemistry was palpable. Let this comment serve as notice to the powers that be, that these two actors should do a longer project, i.e, a kdrama.

How about a romcom ... with a dollop of mistaken identity, a side of childhood history, a pinch of family abandonment and lots of romantic hijinks sprinkled throughout??? I know it sounds like every other recipe, but we all know it's how you cook it - the mixing, the stirring and the temperature of course!

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Indeed the passage of time used in dramas and movie is different. To be able to express it this well without it feeling rushed or even pushed is hats off to the director and to the casts! I love how you pointed that out or else I would have just let it pass without thinking much. It was a great film!

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So, this just popped up on my YouTube stream, must be from when they were promoting the movie... Just found it super embarrassing and cute: https://youtu.be/mFRN54vFWZ4

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I love both these actors so when the movie popped up on my Netflix feed I was in! Loved this movie so much. It kind of reminded me of Burning with it’s lack of dialogue, which wasn’t needed as they say “A picture is worth a thousand words”

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Well done movie. Took me back in time; Windows 95! I wish I understood Korean, I'm sure I'm missing emotion and effect with only the Netflix sub-titles. The line by Mi-soo to Hun-woo after she gets out of the car something like "Don't follow anymore you'll just get hurt," simply killed me! My head went ballistic as if she told ME that! I had visions of her holding her sleazy boss's hand, him touching her everywhere, even sleeping with him! Augh! I don't know what that says about me, but that's the emotional level these actors took me too! Seeing that folded Pepsi T-shirt on the bed. Ahhhhh! Help me Jesus! I'm glad they got back together, wish I could have seen them back together a little longer t relive my stress.

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I love this movie. So pure. Clear. So dear. It touches the very deep of my soul, a part that I forgot it even existed. The me when I have my first love. It's refreshing to get rid of layers we put to get along with society, for once in a while. And for that this movie have my sincere gratitude.

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