Nevertheless review: Daring sex scenes and queer representation

Yu Na Bi (Han So Hee, left) and Park Jae Eon (Song Kang) are university students and ardent lovers in romance drama Nevertheless.
Yu Na Bi (Han So Hee, left) and Park Jae Eon (Song Kang) are university students and ardent lovers in romance drama Nevertheless.

This review covers the first three episodes of Nevertheless, which is streaming on Netflix.

The romance genre in K-dramas can be a tricky thing to handle. Thankfully, romance in K-dramas has more or less evolved from the more cliched I-love-you-but-I-can't-be-with-you-anymore tropes to more subtle iterations. At least that's what I'd like to think.

There are some dramas that have busted the ratings so hard, with the co-stars falling in love with each other, like Crash Landing On You. Or Record of Youth, which showed us that love can be so innocent and effortless.

Yet there are others that fall flat and don't always make the cut, like the ongoing series My Roommate Is A Gumiho.

When it comes to romantic drama Nevertheless, which has steadily climbed to the top 10 list on Netflix in Singapore, I have mixed feelings.

The series is all about a realistic romance and you'll be able to see why. It's centred around the love life of Yu Na Bi (Han So Hee), who recently got out of a relationship with a very emotionally abusive boyfriend.

She is a second year university Art student who struggles with inspiration to create a sad-looking clay statue for her term assignment, and inadvertently falls for the charms of the suave and gentlemanly Park Jae Eon (Song Kang), who has all the makings of a playboy.

Song Kang, the 'Son of Netflix', has been acting non-stop without a break since Love Alarm in 2019, Sweet Home last year and most recently in Navillera earlier this year.

There are definitely some cringeworthy lines from the two leads, who were said to have incredible chemistry at a press conference promoting the show. One line goes, “Want to come see some butterflies?” “Where?'' “My place.”

A friend whom I spoke with gushed with glee that Song Kang was so smooth when he said this. If anyone else but Song Kang had said it, it would've sounded ridiculously creepy and perverted.

There is also the ubiquitously pervasive theme of butterflies throughout the show. It doesn't help that Park Jae Eon has a huge butterfly tattooed across the back of his neck, and the fact that he keeps butterflies as pets at home. Also, Yu Na Bi's name means butterfly in Korean.

Seo Ji Wan (Yoon Seo A, left) and Yoon Sol (Lee Ho Jung) have cute crushes on each in a lesbian side-story in Nevertheless.
Seo Ji Wan (Yoon Seo A, left) and Yoon Sol (Lee Ho Jung) have cute crushes on each in a lesbian side-story in Nevertheless.

I mean, symbolism is great when used well and mysteriously, like the butterfly that was brilliantly featured as foreshadowing throughout It's Okay Not To Be Okay (2020). But the lack of subtlety of its use in Nevertheless is jarring, in-your-face and nail-bitingly annoying for me.

But that aside, the series does do many other things well. The chemistry between Jae Eon and Na Bi is definitely intimate and intense. You can feel the heat of Song Kang's interest in Na Bi as he constantly moves towards her and encroaches in her personal space, repeatedly caressing her head and placing an affectionate hand on her shoulder.

Even as all this happens, it's important to know that the duo have not actually officially started dating. Scandalous!

We must of course talk about the sex scenes. Never will you see a sex scene in Korean dramas where the tops come off, and the swift removal of lingerie and even the unbuttoning of trousers, except perhaps in Korean movies. So far, the raciest sex scene in a K-drama I've seen is in What's Wrong With Secretary Kim, where Park Seo Joon slowly unbuttons Park Min Young's blouse.

It is definitely a step forward in portraying intimacy in K-dramas which is in its infancy, and possibly due to a very conservative society and strict contractual obligations between the actors' agencies and directors or production houses.

It is my fervent hope that such portrayals develop faster without diminishing the intimacy between actors, yet find a balance between the overly exposed and overdone sex scenes that Hollywood tends to proffer.

Also in its fledgling stage is representation for the LGBTQ community, which is also slowly but surely evolving. In Nevertheless, there is a very sophisticated lesbian relationship lurking in the background between Yu Na Bi's classmates, Yoon Sol (Lee Ho Jung) and Seo Ji Wan (Yoon Seo A).

It is fairly apparent that these two best friends like each other as more than just friends in their own child-like, bickering ways. Both are unaware that they mutually like each other, and get inwardly jealous when they spot each other hanging around other men.

Women tend to be not as equal as men in South Korea's patriarchal society, and perhaps that why lesbian relationships may be seen as more palatable to local audiences as an introduction to positive LGBTQ portrayal.

It is my opinion that South Korean filmmakers tend to be overly concerned about their image and reputations at home, hence furtively crafting content that caters to local conservatism in spite of it being streamed on an international platform such as Netflix.

Although there are rough edges to the series that needs filing, Nevertheless is a realistic and very sombre take on romantic relationships, with our leads and supporting cast showing some great chemistry in their pairings. Hopefully, a little more light heartedness will be infused into the story line as the relationships bloom and grow.

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