If you know anything about Korean dramas, you’ll know that they’re completely over the top; beautiful women falling off of ladders and into an equally beautiful man’s arms, sickly sweet opposites-attract story lines, and probably an animal.
My Only Love Song is a refreshing step back from the cheesy K-drama cliches, taking us out of bubbly never-been-kissed protagonists. The 20-episode original series debuted on Netflix on June 9th, 2017, and follows a famous South Korean actress and her manager who happen to be taken back in time to the period of the historical drama which they are shooting for. Together the two must escape execution, befriend royalty, and fight generals to make it back to the modern-day.
Famous Korean idol Song Soo-jung (played by Gong Seung-yeon) begrudgingly accepts an acting job for a period drama, a genre that she wouldn’t have gone near without the prodding of her manager, Byun Sam-yong. Playing the title role of Princess Pyeong-gang in a timeless romance, in which a princess chooses to revoke her upper-class status to marry a commoner named On Dal, Soo-jung acts like nothing short of snobby royalty on set. She insists that nobody in their right mind would choose to marry “Dumb On Dal” instead of a rich and powerful general of the king’s choosing. After hearing that another, equally famous idol will be encroaching on her turf as a new character, she promptly kicks the woman in the face (no, actually) and storms off into the only unlocked car she can find. The beat-up van, named Boong Boong, promptly flexes its somewhat sentient and magical powers, sending her and her sleeping manager back in time to the historical period of the drama being filmed. Thrown in prison by guards for being “crazy”, Soo-jung meets the real On Dal (Lee Jong-hyun), an attractive con artist in love with money, but more in love with the idea of helping out the needy. As she meets with other historical figures and discovers the real story of what happened, she finds herself drawn to Dumb On Dal, all the while knowing that it was his destiny to marry the Princess.
My Only Love Song does a great job of blending traditional tropes from Korean drama with more progressive storytelling of a more modern audience. Between the daily workings of the far past, Soo-jung introduces the gang to taking shots and playing truth or dare. While the time travel in the show isn’t anything close to science fiction, the mystical powers of Boong Boong and the appearance of the Korean crew begin to take a toll on the course of history. As they begin to meddle in the affairs of Princess Pyeong-gang (Kim Yeon-seo), her trusty guard Moo-myung (Ahn Bo-hyun), and the famous On Dal, problems with the history appear. When Soo-jung refuses to return to modern-day Korea, things get even more complicated, and Sam-yong has to try and salvage the past and present with the use of a history book and its changing account of the course of history.
One of the most striking aspects of the series is the development of the characters, whether they are in the main cast or otherwise. Actors from the present Korea are reused as characters in the past, and Soo-jung immediately recognizes them as an extra in the drama, the director, or her boss. She begins her journey through the past as what she started the series as: a selfish actress who believes that she is entitled to a rather royal treatment no matter where (or when) she is. As the story progresses, she maintains her cocky attitude, but she begins to realize her own flaws with the help of On Dal and her band of friends.
Each character has their own backstory and motives, which are explained as the narrative plays out. Princess Pyeong-gang has been locked in her room for years by the king, although she occasionally finds ways to sneak out and meet new people, like her silent guard Moo-myung. While he refuses to speak, his running internal monologue is understood by the Princess, and the two form a quick bond. On Dal, introduced as a broke con artist trying to use Soo-jung and Boong Boong as ways to make money, is fleshed out, when his motivations for his cash-loving ways are revealed to be less than seedy. The characters interact in such a way that they begin to change each other for the better, forming them into lovable personalities which are missed when the series ends.
I have watched my fair share of Korean dramas, all of which are completely over-the-top. These insane plot lines and ridiculous premises are part of what makes K dramas so intriguing; they’re almost like a PG-13 version of a Spanish soap opera. Rarely do characters actually swear, and the romantic leads often only kiss accidentally or once on purpose, as a final scene in the final episode. However, I immediately realized that My Only Love Song was different, as Soo-jung actually curses out people working on her set. She is a drinking, swearing, ass-kicking female lead, and while her language tones down throughout the series, her awesome actions do not. Her sacrifices, along with those of her friends, are ridiculous, which transforms the audiences’ first impression of her to a deep sense of admiration.
Another part of what makes this series so special is the fact that you never really know what’s going on. Due to the fact that the main character is an actress, there are times where you can’t exactly discern whether or not she is pretending. On Dal is also a master of acting, and uses his skills in such a way that even Soo-jung does not know what the truth is in the grand scheme of things. Most of the characters are just as unaware at the viewers, which make the reveals that much more exciting.
My Only Love Song is a heartwarming story of a Korean idol, her manager, a con artist, a Princess, her bodyguard, and a magic car going on a road trip through time and space. It’s equal parts hilarious, sad, and action-packed, and you won’t want to stop watching until the last episode. Even then, you’ll probably want more, a wish only the gods of Netflix can grant. I would heartily recommend this series to anyone, whether you’ve seen a Korean drama before or not. If you have the time and can put up with reading subtitles, this is the perfect show for you.