Love to Hate You Review: Extremely poor execution in this romantic comedy that explores key themes
It attempts to broach many serious subjects of our time through an opposites-attract-romcom, but poor execution on all fronts kills the story
Even if viewed with the limitations of genre in mind, Korean series Love to Hate You turns out to be one hell of a drag. Ten full hours of it, if I were being precise. The premise has our two lead characters –female and male – having deep prejudices against the opposite sex as they are introduced to the audience. And a chance meeting of these people sets them on a strange collision course involving vigilante justice MMA-style, patriarchal law firms, the vain world of superstardom and some friends and family time thrown in for good measure. The show’s 10-episode run delves additionally into the politics of corporate and celebrity environments. This mishmash isn’t just too much content crammed in, it’s handled poorly as well.
Creators – Kim Jeong-kwon, Choi Soo-young
Cast – Kim Ok-vin, Teo Yoo, Kim Ji-hoon, Go Won-hee, Lee Joo-bin
Streaming On – Netflix
Caricatures abound in this rom-com of opposites attracting. Kim Ok-vin and Teo Yoo have the dishonourable distinction of headlining the list of badly-written characters. The former plays Mi- ran, a feisty young lawyer who is adept at a multitude of martial arts she has picked up over the years. She has an aversion to men (including her own father) whom she slots into the various categories of patriarchal, sexist and misogynistic. When she isn’t at office, she physically picks on male bullies on the street. Over time, she has dated these aforementioned men to give them a taste of their own medicine. In all her experience, she hasn’t met a decent bloke, so to speak. As for Kang-ho (Teo Yoo), he is one of Korea’s most beloved young male actors, a romantic leading man with a spotless reputation. What he is on screen (soft, sensuous and adoring) is but a front. In reality, he is rude and judgemental towards all his female co-stars, and is of the firm opinion that all women are scheming manipulators and gold-diggers who use men (partners and husbands) for their own self-interest.
So, it’s two sexists belonging to opposite ends of the spectrum who are pitted against one another. That they have baggage that has made them into their present selves is no secret. We don’t need the reveal of future episodes to figure that one out, surely. What Love to Hate You lacks in great abundance is a shot of humour. Its story goes on and on and on (long after it should have called time), but not one single moment is worth laughing at. It tries to entertain you in that department with the lawyer-martial artist kicking unsuspecting ass on the street and dishing out her moves at office gatherings. The irony of a legal mind beating up bad apples isn’t lost on anybody, trust me. Even the scenes involving conversations in male-dominated law firms attempt to fit the comedy tag desperately. What all of it achieves is a level of crassness you find hard to shake off. The writing is so below average that its characters are unable to tackle the bigger subjects of gender-stereotyping and patriarchy the show deals with. With little to no nuance, it is hard to get behind the performance of either of the leads. Teo Yoo’s Kang-ho is an expressionless mask through the show. Whether he is on the screen within a screen or on your screen, his inability to emote in any natural way proves to be a problem. Though Kim Ok-vin has acted better than her counterpart, her character is poorly envisioned. She goes from cocksure and cold to absolutely puerile within the same setting. It is the incredulous and inconsistent nature of the switch that points to a set of confused writers. If that was their attempt to elicit laughter, they have another thing coming.
Supporting characters such as Do Won-jun (Kang-ho’s handsome and hands-on manager/agent) and Choi Soo-jin (a temperamental actress being represented by Mi-ran’s law firm) are small saving graces through the narrative. Played by Kim Sung-ryung, the latter represents the best acting talent on display. Kim Ji-hoon’s role of Do Won-jun is definitely stylised but it merits more attention than the male lead, whose sidekick he’s supposed to be. A few dramatic instances towards the end do burst with potential, and for an all-too-brief window, capture the human condition angle the show was perhaps conceived with. That being said, the majority of Love to Hate You sinks without a trace. Subjects as important as the power differentials between men and women, the sordid nature of patriarchy and casual sexism (to name just some) aren’t handled in a manner befitting them. The writing, acting and direction ensure that a nuanced approach is tossed out the window from the word go. Add zero humour to this equation (in a romantic comedy, no less) and you have yourself a lethal combination to contend with.