Review – Just Between Lovers
Tragedy can change a person. Forever. An unexpected death, a crime, a war, a disaster. This show focuses on the tragedy of a building collapse – and those who died as well as those whose lives were left shattered in the wreckage. Each of our three principle characters was there the day it happened – but each experienced a different aftermath. And each of them is profoundly, irrevocably altered by the experience.
I loved the characters in this show. All of them. I especially loved their personality flaws: their anger, their survivor’s guilt, their irrational thinking- which I’ll go into below. The romance was slow and steady and gorgeous. Their secrets unraveled with precision as the show moved through its various points, heavy with emotion. It had a relaxed paced, but wasn’t at all boring. It wanted us to get a feel of these people’s every day lives, and how much they were impacting each other, and you can’t really show that if you’re rushing from one action scene to another.
Just Between Lovers was moving and unique. I was fully invested from the first episode to the last. There was such a delicate push and pull in the main love story – both wounded creatures, their instinct was to run and hide when someone got close – and so they ran and slowly came back together, ran away and came back together. Getting closer every time, inching towards real trust and recovery. The writing in this show left me speechless… so many lines worthy of quoting, so much wisdom… it was top tier stuff.
Overall Rating – 10/10. A Story of Love Built Over Ruins.
More about the characters, spoilers, and thoughts follow…
Oh where to begin? Let’s start with the three survivors:
Survivor 1: Blackout Girl. Our lead female spent her formative years overshadowed by her younger sister, who was a child actress. While at the mall, she leaves her sister behind to run off to meet a boy – only to have the building collapse while they are separated. Her little sister is killed and she is trapped in the rubble. The whole experience was too traumatic for her brain, however, and she blocked the memories of being buried alive – along with the memories of meeting our leading man, who was also trapped under piles of concrete and debris with her. With the loss of her sister, her family is broken – her parents overwhelmed by the trauma of losing their child quickly separate. Her mother turns to alcohol for consolation, and her father isolates himself, drawing away from his loved ones to grieve alone. Our Blackout Girl attempts to comfort and support both, but honestly… she could have used some comforting herself.
Her parents were outstanding, their performances subtle, their pain and struggles so obvious but also so delicate. I really felt the agony of losing a child by watching them, that unspeakable, terrible fate that cruelly tore their daughter from their arms. And you knew they didn’t mean to hurt each other like they did, but they also couldn’t help it. The whole family needed serious grief counseling, but like most people who suffer, they suffered alone, dealing with the pain as best they could. Their slow transformation over the show was deeply satisfying and proved that sometimes it’s breaking apart that is healing, not coming back together.
Anyway, Blackout Girl grows up to be interested in architecture, a direct influence of her traumatic experience. She builds models, searching for weaknesses in design, flaws that might lead to another disaster. Her past is an unspoken secret that everyone in her neighborhood knows about but no one can really relate to. Though she tries to fit in and be normal, she doesn’t feel normal. She feels haunted. When she finally meets someone who she can share her past with, someone who can understand her troubled mind, she finally opens up and starts letting go of secrets that have been held too long and getting the care she desperately needs. Also… some smooch counseling.
Blackout Girl also has an awesome best friend, a gorgeous paraplegic who creates webtoons. There were so many amazing characters in this show! They did not skimp on character development of any of the side characters… the hallmark of a truly great show indeed.
Survivor 2: Struggling Champion. Our male lead also lost someone in the disaster, his father, who was one of the people blamed for the accident. His father worked in construction and had been posthumously accused of stealing building materials that were needed to make the structure safe. Because of this, no settlement money was given to his family, and his two children were left to take care of themselves. Our male lead was one of the last people dragged from the rubble, after spending days buried under the debris with a serious leg injury. He’s rescued only to find himself orphaned, with heavy medical expenses and a baby sister to take care of. I know, right? Cruel!
Thankfully, fate intervenes our Struggling Champion meets a loan shark who is about to retire from the business – a gruff but lovable older woman who takes him under his wing. She helps him with his finances and even gives him medications for his leg pain, all the while keeping a watchful eye out on her adopted stray. Their relationship is truly beautiful and heartfelt and by the time this story kicks in, they’ve been embedded in each others lives for years.
Our leading male has also been adopted by a madame, a gorgeous viper of a woman who manages a hostess club. She calls him in for odd jobs, but you can tell she also thinks of him like a son. She was outstanding and I loved the odd secondary romance that developed between her and the frustrated, selfish CEO (who secretly wanted to be a nature photographer).
So he has these two vivacious women who care for him, both on the shady side but both with real affection for him. And he also has his baby sister, who he has been supporting all the while. She’s gone through medical school and is in her first year of residency when the story takes place, used to being alone and slightly estranged from her rough-around-the-edges brother.
The sister was a fascinating character. Tragedy surrounded her, had taken her family away, but she struggled on independently to become a doctor… hoping to heal others as a coping mechanism for not being able to heal herself.
A round of applause to Nam Da-Reum, who played the young version of our leading male. Damn, this kid is good. Really good.
Survivor 3: Guilt-By-Association Guy. Our second lead male is the son of one of the higher ups responsible for the collapse of the mall. Now, how exactly he is responsible, I’m not too clear on. But as the whole project was under his direction, and he’s the captain required to go down with the ship. Guilt-By-Association Guy watches his father break down into a horrified man forced to deal with consequences I doubt he intended but unfortunately was accountable for – and papa hangs himself in despair. Anyways, Guilt-By-Association basically grows up to be his father’s son, taking over the business of building big big buildings and probably raking in the dough in the process. Gotta have that money to make that money, peeps.
Guilt-By-Association is ridiculously tall and well groomed and sets his sight on his new model maker, our very own Blackout Girl. But she is having none of it, thank you. I guess hot rich guy has never been rejected before, because he responds to it like a kid the first time you tell them they can’t have a toy just because they want a toy: annoyed and baffled by the complexity of the world. He literally towers over her and says, “I’m offended you don’t like me!” (well, not verbatim but it’s pretty close to this) and I couldn’t help but sigh and say, “Poor rich sod, welcome to the real world.” He’s polite enough not to make her miserable over it, but also clueless enough that he doesn’t take her obvious disinterest into consideration and back waaaay off. Nope. Just lurks around, imagining she’s going to suddenly change her mind and run into his arms.
Black-Out Girl and Struggling Champion get paired together to work on a memorial to the mall disaster – as they are both working in construction on a new building that will go up on the same site. As they plan this memorial, they go around meeting other survivors or people who lost someone in the disaster, and you get glimpses into how huge this catastrophe was and how many lives were ruined by it.
The Romance. The romance is really what this show is about and it never forgets it. The relationship that develops with the two main leads takes it time, unfolds gradually, keeps us anxious and excited. They get closer then back away. Just when one of them is being won over, the other one panics and jumps ship (our male lead literally does this at one point, taking a job on a fishing boat just to get an ocean between himself and his lady love cause he’s so torn up over their fate). She doesn’t think she’s able to open up to anyone. He doesn’t think he’s good enough for anyone. They are both racked with guilt and shame and anger over their traumatic pasts. God, it’s awesome. I simply loved it. Loved it, loved it, loved it.
There are so many reveals in this show, it’s like excavating a site… with patience and care, beautiful things can be discovered. The backflashes were well paced and purposeful throughout the drama. Never too much, never un-needed. Whether it is glancing back at what happened in the last few months or taking us all the way back to the horrors of the mall collapse, I was impressed by how well done things moved forward and reflected backwards in perfect time.
Truly a 10/10 show and not to be missed. Gorgeous, profound and enjoyable. Do yourself a favor and check it out.