When My Love Blooms: Episodes 1-2 (Review)
What a lovely start! When My Love Blooms premiered on tvN this weekend, telling the story of college sweethearts that meet again later in life. The drama’s strength lies in the passage of time it portrays so poignantly, and it grabs you from the start.
Note: We will be continuing coverage of this show with weecaps.
EPISODES 1-2 REVIEW
The story of first loves meeting again later in life is by no means new to dramaland, but When My Love Blooms brings a melancholy but beautiful take on it. Like most other dramas of its genre/plot, I expected When My Love Blooms to open with two-ish episodes of backstory with our younger cast that would lead to the “X years later” moment where we switch to present day and our adult cast. We’re all seen it many times.
But hooray, with When My Love Blooms we finally have a new bit of storytelling mechanics — our past and present storylines play out simultaneously, and it proves a real advantage for the story.
We open up with an introduction to our leads in the present day. We meet HAN JAE-HYUN (Yoo Ji-tae), just as he’s completed a four-year prison sentence. We quickly learn that he’s taken the fall for the chaebol corporation he works for, and he seems a little weary as he’s about to return to his life, wife, work, and family. At the same time we also meet our heroine YOON JI-SOO (Lee Bo-young). She seems ordinary, if a little somber, and we learn she also has a criminal record.
It’s not the most wild introduction to our leads, but what makes it come to life is in the contrast between who these two people were, and who they are now. After the quick present day introduction, we meet our leads back in 1993 when they were in college. Here, Ji-soo is played by Jeon So-ni. She’s pretty, sweet, and empathetic to the loads of political protests going on across campus.
One of these protests gets violent (to the tune of Smells Like Teen Spirit lol), and the police come in with tear gas. Ji-soo is lost in the shuffle and nearly trampled… until she’s saved by Jae-hyun (his younger protesting self played by Jinyoung). A storybook meeting? Yes. He coaches her back to normal breathing after the tear gas, bandages her wound with his hankie, and then he’s off to complete his escape.
You really can’t blame Ji-soo for falling head over heels for Jae-hyun. He’s got this solid, serious presence, and he’s passionate about his cause. Kudos to Jinyoung here — he’s played the younger version of leading roles before (and particularly well in Beloved Eun-dong), and he’s primarily a lovable puppy. But there’s virtually no puppy to the Jinyoung we meet here.
Jinyoung plays Jae-hyun as commanding, masculine, and gruff, and it not only works, but helps draw a line between him and Yoo Ji-tae (which is nice, since usually I just have to force myself to believe that two actors are playing the same character rather than feel like they are). Long story short, college Jae-hyun is super crushable.
Ji-soo can’t forget him, searches him out on campus, and pursues him with adorable persistence. Even though he pretends to reject/ignore her, it’s clear there’s something there, and it’s actually a lovely sequence of scenes. Tonally, it’s beautiful, from the dreamy color palette and saturation, to the wistfulness of remembering one’s youth. It creates a great contrast to the present day, because both our characters are quite a bit different when we meet them over 25 years later.
Jae-hyun is now on the other side of the protests, looking down on them (in both senses of the word) from his corner office. He’s now a chaebol son-in-law thanks to his marriage to JANG SEO-KYUNG (Park Shi-yeon) — they have a son together, but from the glimpses we get there doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of togetherness in this marriage. Despite seeming like the chaebol bad guy, we also see a lot of the Jae-hyun we know — grounded, sure of himself, and ready to stand up for a righteous cause.
Ji-soo, however, seems to be doing worse than him. In some ways she is truer to herself (still supporting protests and playing the piano), but it’s clear she’s been kicked a bit by life. We don’t have all the details yet, but in addition to her time in prison, she went through a horrible divorce (circumstances unknown so far) and is struggling to support herself, her son, and her father who’s in a nursing home.
I really enjoy dramas with older, more mature leads, so I’m loving Lee Bo-young and Yoo Ji-tae in the lead here — and of course, they’re great opposite each other (but did you expect anything else?). They bring a gravity to the story immediately. We only have to look at these characters to know that they’ve been through a lot in the decades between our two stories — and that much of it hasn’t gone as they imagined it would.
Because the story takes its time, it feels like we have much more of the drama under our belts by the time our leads find each other again in the present. But in reality, it’s only been a single episode — and here’s how, as I said before, the drama’s parallel storyline is a real strength. Not only does it work to build the history between our couple as we watch both timelines unfold, but the younger story adds a sweetness to contrast the present day bittersweetness. As an audience, we get the best of both worlds: the spring of young love, and the cold winter of reacquaintance. And the balance is great.
Perhaps my mood was just right when I watched this show, but it struck all the right notes for me. The script is lovely, and knows just when to switch storylines to build context and history. But more than that, it’s the emotions the drama is able to convey that stand out the most.
Interestingly, many of the moments that grabbed me in these opening episodes were the ones without words — just great direction, acting, and the story coming to life. One example is when Jae-hyun recognizes Ji-soo from the corner of his eye and bolts out of the room before she has a chance to notice him. Another is when the two do meet each other, and rather than say anything, Ji-soo just looks at him, her eyes brimming with tears. The camera holds on her, and watching her emotions take over is quite poignant (as is Jae-hyun’s response). It makes you want to cry — not because it’s dramatic and pulls at your heartstrings, but just because it captures something in the quiet that gets right into you.
In our second episode, our present day storylines get fleshed out a bit more, from rivalries to romances. The drama is quiet and calm, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t want to be a melodrama of sorts, so we do have some familiar setups with school bullying, catty chaebol heiresses, the life-long unrequited crush, and more. But even with all these elements, because the story is so strong, it seems like they will serve the plot with appropriate restraint. Still, we gotta have drama, and that almost universally means wronged heroes/heroines, and outside antagonization — and that is clearly coming down the pike.
At the story’s center, though, is our two leads, and everything else circles around them. We have to believe in their connection, their history, and their love in order for everything else to work — and boy, does it ever. I don’t often enjoy both past/present storylines with equal affection, but here in When My Love Blooms, I have to say that I do. They work beautifully together, and watching both stories unfold is half the delight of this drama.
- Premiere Watch: Born Again, When My Love Blooms
- Love is in the air for Lee Bo-young and Yoo Ji-tae in tvN melo When My Love Blooms
- Character stills for Most Beautiful Moment in Life with Lee Bo-young, Yoo Ji-tae, and Jinyoung
- Yoo Ji-tae, Lee Bo-young confirmed for tvN’s Most Beautiful Moment in Life along with Jinyoung and Jeon So-ni
- Lee Bo-young, Yoo Ji-tae, Park Shi-yeon courted for upcoming tvN melo