‘Lovely Runner’ K-drama review: Kim Hye-yoon and Byeon Woo-seok are pitch-perfect in this charming romance

Once in a while (and quite a rarity in the last few months), comes along a K-drama that reminds us why we delved deep into this world in the first place. One that has you eagerly awaiting the weekly episode drops, the wild theories on reddit, the collective squealing online over episode previews, and the giddy, unadulterated joy of falling in love with a melange of characters over the unfortunately short course of sixteen episodes. 

An adaptation of the web novel by Kim Bbang, Tomorrow’s Best, Lovely Runner — which is a time-travel romance — has emerged as one of the unlikely winners of this year. Time-travel is having its moment again, what with Marry My Husband, Twinkling Watermelon, and A Time Called You all experimenting with the genre. Where Lovely Runner however scores is how despite multiple timelines, and all the chaotic back and forth, the writing never once compromises on the charm or emotional depth of the romance at its core. 

The show has a rather sobering start, with Im Sol (an outstanding Kim Hye-yoon) recovering from an accident that has left her paralysed. A chance phone call with a budding singer, Ryu Sun-jae (Byeon Woo-seok), transforms her bleak world and we see her years later, cheering him on as his ardent fan. The news of his sudden death puts her into shock, and spirals her back in time to when she was in high school, and Sun-jae was her neighbour. She is now a woman on a mission – to treat this chance to travel to the past as an opportunity to ensure Sun-jae’s life doesn’t lead him towards an untimely death.

Through the show, we see Sol and Sun-jae at different points of their lives

Through the show, we see Sol and Sun-jae at different points of their lives

From the get-go, Lovely Runner presents a new challenge for Sol and Sun-jae in every episode. Sol soon realises her mission isn’t as simple as it seems. Can the past ever be changed, and are Sun-jae and her lives entwined even more deeply than she could have imagined? Amidst all the chaos, romance slowly but steadily blossoms. Lovely Runner might partly be a thriller, but its best twist lies in the romance – the reveal at the end of episode two that Sun-jae is interested in Sol, his neighbour and classmate. This adds oodles of charm to how their relationship develops, and it is a delight to see a hopelessly smitten Sun-jae trying to act cool about his very obvious feelings. There’s also tonnes of bromance, and a dash of SLS ( second lead syndrome), which thankfully never becomes annoying or intrusive courtesy Sun-jae’s classmate and fellow musician Bae In-hyuk (Lee Seung-hyub) and Kim Tae-Sung (Song Geon-hee), who Sol goes on to date briefly. In the thick of all the time-travelling, avoiding a serial killer, and delving into a budding romance, Sol’s boisterous family and her best friends also add to the chaos that envelops her.

Actors Song Geon-hee and Lee Seung Hyub in a still from the show

Actors Song Geon-hee and Lee Seung Hyub in a still from the show

As complex as Lovely Runner’s narrative is, given how we jump timelines along with Sol, it helps that the writing by Lee Shi -eun (who previously worked on True Beauty) remains focussed on what works best for the show – the romance pretty much trumps everything else. In Sol and Sun-jae, we get perhaps one of the sweetest K-drama couples to swoon over and root for, as they transition from high school to university, and then to adulthood. Byeon Woo-seok and Kim Hye-won pull off their characters across three different ages with remarkable ease. It is truly surprising how they don’t seem jarring or out of place even as high schoolers – their innocence, friendship and warmth is believable and immensely charming. 

Kim Hye-yoon in a still from Lovely Runner

Kim Hye-yoon in a still from Lovely Runner

Hye-yoon has always been a competent, high-energy performer, and here in Lovely Runner, she pulls off being vulnerable and smitten with Sun-jae with equal flair. Hers is not a one-note character by any stretch, and it comes with the constant despair and fear of losing someone she loves. She oscillates between this feeling of hopelessness, and the floaty happiness that comes with going on quintessential K-drama dates with her loved one. On the other end, Byeon Woo-seok is a revelation, and in a role that has made him a star, he is pitch-perfect as the smitten, loyal Sun-Jae who is always willing to go the extra mile. 

Lovely Runner (Korean)

Directors: Yoon Jong-ho , Kim Tae-yeop

Cast: Byeon Woo-seok, Kim Hye-yoon

Episodes: 16

Run-time: 65 minutes per episode

Storyline: A woman finds herself thrust back in time, in an opportunity to rewrite the fates of her favourite musician and herself

In a dream role, Woo-seok swims, sings, fights, cries, and doesn’t shy away from utterly humiliating himself all for the sake of love, across timelines. He is the quintessential loser in love – charming, devoted and an all-round green flag. It is hard to imagine how Lovely Runner would have worked without the presence of its leads played by Hye-yoon and Woo-seok, who share a truly sparkling chemistry on screen that has left a trail of viewers giddy, and battling withdrawals ever since the show ended. 

Byeon Woo-seok as Sun-jae, from Lovely Runner

Byeon Woo-seok as Sun-jae, from Lovely Runner

From cherry blossom trees to snowstorms, and yellow umbrellas during sudden showers, there is a lot in the show that makes it look visually stunning. It helps that all of this is set to a lovely soundtrack. Perhaps the only lost opportunity, something the show could have delved into a bit more is Eclipse, the band Sun-jae ultimately becomes a part of. Save a couple of songs, we don’t get to know about the band in depth, which is a shame given how the few scenes they are in, especially in the latter half of the show, are a scream. With the romance (and the crazed killer in his car of doom) taking a large chunk of the screen time, there’s little else to focus on. But the show and their story ends on such a high that there isn’t much to complain about. 

In  a sea of fantasy shows, sageuk dramas, and thrillers, Lovely Runner stands out as a breath of fresh air, not just for how well the time-travel and romance elements come together, but also for how it doesn’t fall prey to the proverbial 12 episode K-drama curse where the writing goes haywire towards the end. Engaging, charming, and swoon-worthy from start to finish, Lovely Runner is undoubtedly 2024’s unexpected gem that has justifiably won hearts.

Time to listen to 10cm’s ‘Spring Snow’ on loop, everyone’s new favourite cult K-drama anthem, to deal with the show having ended. 

All episodes of Lovely Runner are streaming on Viki 

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