‘Tune in for Love’ Makes Your Heart Sing With Its Sweet Simplicity and Waves of Nostalgia
In 1997 during the IMF crisis, two people meet while exchanging stories on a radio program. They fall in love, but can’t quite seem to get the timing right.
Director: Jung Ji-woo
Cast: Jung Hae-in, Kim Go-eun, Kim Guk-hee
Country: South Korea
Runtime: 122 minutes
A brooding stranger meets a shy girl, clouded by the magic of Christmas on cobblestone streets – it is impossible to go wrong with this set-up. That is the opening of Tune in for Love 유열의 음악앨범, a quintessential love story guaranteed to take you down memory lane. Nostalgia is the foolproof formula that is largely used in this film with the Windows 95 visuals, flip phones and tedious email set-ups – all essential tools of yesteryear romance.
The story opens in 1994 in a quaint bakery where we are introduced to the young Kim Mi-soo played by the beautiful Kim Go-eun. The bakery is run by her sister Choi Eun-ja (Kim Guk-hee) and the two share a very close bond. Enter Cha Hyun-woo (Jung Hae-in), a handsome teen, fresh out of a juvenile centre. He is haunted by a dark past, seeming quietly tortured.
Curiosity sends sparks flying between the couple but as fate would have it, they are separated. They meet again in 1997, 2000 and finally, 2005. Spanning 11 years, each phase is a narrative of what it means to love someone at different stages of life. The rest of the story is a test of whether absence really does make the heart grow fonder.
The biggest win in the film for me is its simplicity across all aspects. The no-frills screenplay avoids any unnecessary filler scenes, keeping each scene important and consequential. Even the cinematography presents nothing fancy, with simple close-up and over-the-shoulder shots to capture the nuances in the characters’ emotions.
The pace, however, is slow from the beginning and never really takes off. While this may work for some, giving the characters time to organically grow on viewers, some may find it stagnant. Due to the many times the couple gets separated over the course of the film, my anticipation for their reunion is hyped enough to help me smooth over the chunky storytelling. The slower, more intimate scenes were something that stood out to me. With its use of silence, the characters’ thoughts replace the background music, allowing viewers to establish a very personal connection with the film.
Many will see a part of themselves in either Mi-soo or Hyun-woo. Director Jung Ji-woo smartly takes advantage of first love nostalgia in his film, beginning the couple’s journey at the exciting age of 19. Viewers are immediately transported to their respective pasts, thanks to the tender moments on screen. Actors Hae-in and Go-eun share an innocent and easy chemistry that works tremendously in the earlier portions of the film.
As the years pass, their chemistry shifts into one that is more tentative yet experimental. With age comes a brand new desire that the two endearingly attempt to navigate and explore together, while never losing their child-like innocence.
Hae-in taps on his boyish charms and is swoon-worthy throughout the film but he brings more than just his good looks to the table. He portrays his character’s inner conflict of guilt versus the desire for liberation convincingly, bringing decent variations in his performance when he transforms from a troubled teen to a self-sufficient man. Go-eun is pleasant as a shy and curious schoolgirl. However, her delivery becomes uneven as her character ages and I struggled with understanding her growth and character development over the years. Overall, as a couple, the two bring out the best in each other and are just adorable to watch.
Tune in for Love holds a mirror to the audience – I think what you will see is largely based on your own experience with love. Whether it is the lifelong impact of a first love or the uncertainty of separation, there is something for everyone to relate to. This is a movie that appeals to the heart rather than the brain and is best enjoyed that way. Absence diminishes mediocre passions and fuels great ones – watch to find out if third time is really the charm for these two.