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.
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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.