Confessing to your crush takes a lot of guts, right? But what if there’s an app that does all the work for you? Your crush knows your feelings, and you know their feelings too. Romance would be easier. But Love Alarm shows us how messy romance can become when people rely on an app for love.
Based on the Daum webtoon written by Chon Kye-young, the Korean drama Love Alarm follows a young high school girl, named Kim Jo-jo, who lives in a world where an app notifies users of people—within a 10-foot radius—having romantic feelings for them.
Orphaned by a tragic incident, Kim Jo-jo is sent to live with her aunt and cousin Park Gul-mi, both of whom perceive her presence as an intrusion to their home life. With an aunt who often reminds her to pay back her money and a cousin who uses her as a scapegoat, Jo-jo is reluctant to tell others about her dysfunctional family situation.
Whether it’s her boyfriend Jang Il-sik or her close friends, Jo-jo guards her personal life. She cancels dates and get-togethers with the excuse that she has cram school. In actuality, Jo-jo works two part-time jobs to pay back her aunt and save money for college.
However, a series of incidents throws her relatively normal life into disarray, the catalysts being Hwang Sun-oh—the new guy who enrolls at her high school—and a new app called Love Alarm. An impulsive kiss shared in a small alley leads to school drama, her break-up with Il-sik, and a thrilling romance with Sun-oh. At the same time, Sun-oh’s relationship with Jo-jo creates a divide between him and his childhood friend Lee Hye-young, who has always liked Jo-jo from afar.
A Messy Love Triangle
While people may think that Jo-jo’s first boyfriend Il-sik is one of the contenders, he’s actually just a side character. In the picture above, Sun-oh (left), Jo-jo (center), and Hye-young (right) appear as the main characters.
As the first male lead, Sun-oh is the stereotypical rich boy who comes from a wealthy background. He’s a fashion model with a large following on Instagram, the son of a politician and a famous actress. Suffice to say, he usually gets what he wants—until he meets Jo-jo, who doesn’t seem to like him. Attracted by this novelty, Sun-oh pursues Jo-jo.
Whereas Sun-oh is clear and direct about his desires, Hye-young is a thoughtful person who prefers to be passive. In contrast to Sun-oh’s uncaring parents, Hye-young grows up with a loving mother who works as an in-house caretaker for Sun-oh’s family. Both boys share a close sibling bond despite not being related. However, their relationship grows awkward as they share feelings for the same girl—Jo-jo.
The Love Alarm app only amplifies the issue as Sun-oh and Jo-jo’s alarms ring for one another. It’s a sign of mutual love. Jo-jo never rings Hye-young’s alarm, only seeing him as Sun-oh’s friend.
But it’s not a happy ending for Jo-jo and Sun-oh, it’s far from it! Desperate to protect her heart after getting into a motor accident with Sun-oh, Jo-jo decides to break up with him. It’s the “I still love you, but it’s for the both of our sakes” move. Four years later, Jo-jo meets Hye-young, who decides to pursue her with pre-Love Alarm dating conventions. Jo-jo also meets Sun-oh, who seems to hate her, but his heart betrays him as it rings Jo-jo’s Love Alarm. However, Sun-oh has a girlfriend.
This love triangle can only get messier.
A Sweet Romance Gone Wrong
As a movie watcher, I prefer films with a good plot. Without a good plot to carry the storyline, the movie falls into pieces. What’s the point of beautiful cinematography if there isn’t a story to tell? To be honest, the first half of Love Alarm‘s first season was a drudge to watch precisely for that reason. There are a lot of beautiful scenes as we witness Jo-jo and Sun-oh’s relationship. The series shows the ephemerality of first love.
However, the romance seems superficial. A kiss certainly doesn’t equate to falling in love, and I feel that Jo-jo and Sun-oh’s relationship progressed too fast. Although the series tries to angle high school romance as impulsive, the relationship seems forced and without any substance. As a person who prefers slow burn romance, I love seeing a relationship slowly built from character development. With that being said, Jo-jo and Sun-oh’s interactions are shallow.
While romance drives the main plot of the series, the concept of the Love Alarm app is a wonderful starting point for worldbuilding. The second half of the series portrays the socio-cultural effects of the app. Just as Facebook reshaped how we interact with social media, Love Alarm alters how people approach romance and marital customs and creates a hierarchy of celebrities with high counts of receiving love from fans. Unfortunately, it also becomes a leading cause of mass suicides.
As a trigger warning, please be aware that the show contains depictions of suicide, depression, internalized homophobia, and bullying. Love Alarm highlights the good things and the bad things that occur when an app becomes too integrated into the fabrics of society. While the app allows lovers to reaffirm their love for one another, people become too reliant on it as a credible indicator of love.
Burdened by the number zero on their app, some people feel unloved and alienated from society, choosing to take their own lives. For queer people, the app becomes an unfortunate mechanism that reveals their feelings and sexual orientation. These consequences demonstrate how the app is too influential. With growing fervor, the anti-Love Alarm faction rises; more and more protests form.
By the end of the show, we see the range of effects caused by Love Alarm—from a personal level to a societal level. What will happen to the love triangle between Jo-jo, Sun-oh, and Hye-young, and what roles will they play in the grand scheme around Love Alarm?
Season 1 leaves us with burning questions as we wait for the upcoming Season 2, which will be released on March 12, 2021, on Netflix. If you love eye candy and don’t mind superficial romance, then I’d recommend Love Alarm. The show builds up momentum in the second half, so maybe Season 2 will have a better romance plot. We’ll have to wait and see.