Finely tuned South Korean meller “Love On-Air” unfolds a tentative romance set in the cutthroat world of commercial radio. Slow-burning affair is centered around the mutual attraction between a singer-cum-DJ and her producer, but its surefooted depiction of the crew’s off-hours shenanigans is what propels the narrative forward, while graceful leads Lee Min-jung and Lee Jeong-jin keep things percolating from start to heartrending finish. Caught between “Mission: Impossible” and “Sherlock Holmes” sequels, pic underperformed in January with $5.8 million, but given the similarities of radio industries worldwide, offshore cover versions are not out of the question.
A former lead singer with girl band Purple, Jina (Lee Min-jung, “Cyrano Agency”) has successfully parlayed her earlier musical success into fame as an accomplished if high-maintenance DJ on Korean airwaves. However, her new producer, Jae-hyeok (Lee Jeong-jin, “No Doubt”) has no time for prima donnas and is under pressure to revitalize Jina’s slot. Used to getting her own way, Jina puts up a petulant fight, but she’s no match for Jae-hyeok’s perfectionism or his steely resolve to improve ratings.
Snapping at Jina’s heels is her former Purple colleague Mira (Seo Yeong), who has segued into modeling and TV drama. Mira is not only eager to add DJ-ing to her resume but also carries a grudge against Jina for splitting up the group when it was at its peak.
The melodrama feels lightweight until the halfway point, when a surprise allegation ousts Jina from her job. While the personality clash between Jina and Jae-hyeok is still fiery, the producer’s feelings for the disgraced Jina start to thaw when he realizes he could have saved her career. A series of well-prepared plot twists ensue, revealing how carefully the pic has been structured and how deep the emotional hooks have been planted.
With notable ease, Lee Min-jung runs the gamut from pretty pain-in-the-ass to self-sacrificing heroine. Slightly outshone by his co-star, Lee Jeong-jin is solid and convincing as the stern Jae-hyeok, while the large supporting ensemble is topnotch.
Light ballads prettily fill in character detail but also perform a narrative function, as when the tune “You’re My Angel” serves to increase the film’s dramatic intensity. Helming by Kwon Chil-in (“Singles,” “Hellcats”) has a sleek, elegant flow matched by aces production design.
Korean title is a transliteration of “Wonderful Radio,” the name of the broadcaster where the drama takes place.