an intimate romance becomes the perfect comfort watch

As Soundtrack #1 tells us, falling in love – even with the right person – is easy. It is everything else that is hard. There is perhaps no emotion so omnipresent, yet so inexplicable. It is an exercise in patience and disappointment. It clouds our judgment. It compels us to make sacrifices for a cause that often seems worthless to others; and sometimes, it baffles us how obvious, yet obscure it can be.

But that is all philosophical drivel. The practical questions are these: Can you fall in love with a friend? Should you? Many will recoil at the prospect. In many ways, friendship and love are two sides of the same coin. By that logic, it should be easy for friendship to turn into love – it’s only a matter of what hurts more. When friendship begets love, you stand to lose not just love, but also a friend.

This dilemma is at the heart of Soundtrack #1, the latest offering in Disney+’s foray into K-dramas. Han Sun-woo (Park Hyung-sik) and Lee Eun-soo (Han So-hee) have been friends for 19 years, eight of which Sun-woo has spent deeply in love with Eun-soo. With two weeks to his departure from South Korea for a project, Eun-soo ropes Sun-woo in to help her out with a song she’s working on. With prolonged separation looming on the horizon, how will the dynamic between Sun-woo and Eun-soo change?

At first glance, it is a surprisingly simple, perhaps even unoriginal story. It’s certainly less ostentatious than counterparts like A Business Proposal and Forecasting Love And Weather. Where it excels, however, is inverting this friends-to-lovers trope into something intimate, realistic and sensitive. It isn’t so much about two people learning to be in love as it is about them realising that there are numerous ways to love someone – quietly, from afar, by their side, or even by loving them before you even realise you love them.

Fortunately, Disney+’s latest fares much better than a certain doomed Romeo And Juliet romance that shall remain unnamed. At first glance, the show’s four episode total seems surprising and dubious. When it comes to K-dramas, we’re used to sweeping gestures, longing glances, soaring soundtracks and at least one filler episode where the characters are happy before everything goes down the drain. That can’t be possible in four episodes, surely.

Over its limited run, the show strips away all pleasantries and niceties, concentrating only on the stories of our two characters, and how they grapple with friendship and love in their own ways. Really, we don’t ever find out anything about the side characters outside of their interactions with Sun-woo and Eun-soo. One could argue that it makes the story unidimensional and boring, but it actually works in the show’s favor, where the object of your affection is the only one that matters.

Soundtrack #1 also augments this with soft, at times poetic treatment, both through dialogues and visually. Quiet moments of introspection, long walks on a good day, cozy shared lunches and dinners with faint chatter in the background – it is sometimes painfully practical, yet magical, underscoring how love often feels like cutting out a special slice of time just for the two of you.

Easily the best parts about the story, however, are Park Hyung-sik and Han So-hee, who bring the lead characters to life with charming effortlessness. Han’s Eun-soo is optimistic, effervescent, even naive in some places, presenting a stark contrast to Park’s quiet, thoughtful, restrained Sun-woo. Their relationship, however, is easy and comforting in the way balanced relationships are – Eun-soo breathes life into his secluded world, and he pauses her storms.

Of course, balancing these abstract notions are the very practical characteristics that Park and Han nail. At times, one fears Sun-woo might turn into the dreaded “nice guy”, but save for jealous tantrums that he readily owns up to and apologises for, he remains the wistful best friend in love. Similarly, Han So-hee’s Eun-soo switches between sporting bright smiles around Sun-woo to tearfully breaking down in his absence in the blink of an eye, proving why she’s the moment.

The contrast between Sun-woo and Eun-soo is as much a character as the two of them, particularly because it highlights their different paces while falling in love. While Sun-woo wholly gives himself to loving Eun-soo – silently and in the comforting way he knows – Eun-soo struggles with the idea of upsetting her dynamic with Sun-woo lest she end up hurting him. Despite being the more expressive of the two, Eun-soo often finds herself stumped, partly because she holds herself back in places it matters.

These two different journeys and how they lead Eun-soo and Sun-woo to the same destination is what makes Soundtrack #1 one of the most sublime offerings of this summer. When the moment finally comes, it is utterly satisfying. And once the realisation sets in, she does not waste any time – as effortlessly as they had fallen into their roles as friends, they do too in their new roles.

‘Soundtrack #1’ is available to stream on Disney+.