30 October 2020

K Drama Review: Record of Youth (2020)

After resisting the urge for a long time, I finally decided to watch a current drama, i.e., one that's currently running in South Korea too. Record of Youth was an easy choice. It has Park Bo Gum. Although we didn't really like Encounter, we loved him in Reply 1988. And let's be honest, he is probably the best looking baby-faced oppa out there. Add to that how much we'll be missing him for a couple of years due to military service. So, yes, it made perfect sense to pick Record of Youth. A bonus was having Park So Dam as Bo Gum's partner. We absolutely loved her in Parasite and we looked forward to watching her for a longer time. 

Story


Record of Youth tells the story of a struggling model-turned-actor, Sa Hye Jun. He comes from a middle class family and does not have the proper connections to make it big in the entertainment industry. His manager Lee Tae Soo (Lee Chang Hoon, the annoying colleague in Something in the Rain) duped him by pocketing his talent fees. 

Hye Jun was called to enlist in the military but he thought of deferring once again to try his luck in showbiz one last time. He does not have much time left since he's already in his late 20s. 

Hye Jun lives with his family - his dad (Park Soo Young), his mom Ae Sook (Ha Hee Ra), his grandpa (Han Jin Hee), and his older brother (Lee Jae Won). His mom and his grandpa are supportive of his career, unlike his dad and older brother who are very critical of him and have branded his career as a failure. 

Hye Jun has been friends with two guys since childhood, Won Hae Hyo (Byeon Woo Seok) and Kim Jin Woo (Kwon Soo Hyun). Jin Woo is a budding photographer. He lives with his parents and his younger sister. His dad (Jung Min Sung of Prison Playbook) is also the colleague of Hye Jun's dad in a construction company. 

Hae Hyo is the affluent friend who's also a model/actor like Hye Jun. Unlike Hye Jun, however, Hae Hyo has the money and the connections to get the proper breaks that could propel him to stardom. Despite the class differences (so different that Hye Jun's mom works as the housekeeper for Hae Hyo's family), the two remain the best of friends. 

Hae Hyo lives with his dad, mom (Shin Ae Ra), and younger sister Hae Na (Jo Yoo Jung, one of Kim Jojo's colleagues in Love Alarm). Hae Hyo's mom is obsessed with her kids. She is always over the top - she gives expensive gifts to production people to secure a role for Hae Hyo and she even buys Instagram followers for him. Her defense is she only wants the best for her kids. Thus, it's not surprising that she's against her daughter's relationship with Jin Woo. 

In one of their modeling gigs, Hye Jun and Hae Hyo met Ahn Jeong Ha (Park So Dam), a budding make-up artist who's a huge fan of Hye Jun. When Hye Jun heard Jeong Ha mumbling about being the fan of someone, she covers it up by saying that she was Hae Hyo's fan. When Hae Hyo confronted her about it, however, she admitted that she was really Hye Jun's fan. Hye Jun and Jeong Ha became close to each other, which of course led to a romantic relationship. To make things more interesting, Hae Hyo is also in love with Jeong Ha. 

Hye Jun eventually got his well-deserved break with the help of Lee Min Jae (Shin Dong Mi), a former employee of his old manager. Min Jae began getting modeling gigs for Hye Jun, which led to his first breakout drama. Hye Jun's hits came one after the other. He even got a best actor award on the first year of his career. And with his rise to stardom, we can also expect an increase in the number of issues hurled at him. It didn't help that there was an annoying reporter, Kim Su Man (Bae Yoon Kyung), who was being fed malicious information by Lee Tae Soo. Kim Su Man attacked Hye Jun non-stop. 

One of the issues Hye Jun had to deal with was the suicide of a famous gay fashion designer who had a huge crush on him. Hye Jun was summoned by the police because he was one of the last people contacted by the designer, Charlie Jung (Lee Seung Joon of Descendants of the Sun), before he committed suicide. Naturally, rumor mongers began questioning Hye Jun's sexuality. This rumor was disproved when Hye Jun's ex-girlfriend, Jung Ji Ah (Seol In Ah), agreed to be interviewed about their past relationship. 

The next issue was about Hye Jun's relationship with Jeong Ha. Hye Jun didn't mind going public but Jeong Ha refused. She wanted to protect Hye Jun and she felt that their relationship could jeopardize his career. Jeong Ha broke up with Hye Jun. Hye Jun and Hae Hyo enlisted in the military. The ending showed us what happened after the two were discharged from the military. Hye Jun and Jeong Ha met again in a set and while they were civil with each other, we don't know if they got back together again. 

The Good

Park Bo Gum as Hye Jun

I will be honest here. While one of the main reasons why I watched this show was Park Bo Gum, I initially put him in the neutral category. I'm not sure if I still associated him with sleepy/sluggish Taek in Reply 1988. Or if I was comparing him to my other baby-faced oppa, Jung Hae In, who has proven himself as an actor who can transition from sweet and gentle roles (Something in the Rain) to fierce and scary ones (Prison Playbook). Although I saw improvements in Bo Gum's angry acting, I felt that he still lacked that toughness I saw in Jung Hae In. But he is getting there. 


When it comes to heavy drama scenes, Bo Gum still has room for improvement. An example would be when Hye Jun's dad hit him and he was crying inside the truck. It didn't look that natural to me. While he was not as awkward as Hyun Bin in Crash Landing on You, he can still get better at it. 

But when it comes to the cutesy stuff, Bo Gum has definitely mastered this. He's perfected it. If you found him cute in Reply and in Encounter, you'll love him even more in this drama. 

During the first few episodes, I found Bo Gum's acting so much better here compared to Encounter but it was still not as good as Taek in Reply '88. As the show progressed, however, Bo Gum impressed me with his transformation. Now I'm wondering if the lame acting in the earlier episodes was deliberate to show that he was insecure. Because when Hye Jun began getting breaks, Bo Gum's acting improved tremendously. He bloomed and he got so much better. 

I read some reviews that said Bo Gum was also great in Love in the Moonlight. But I'm not sure if we're ready to watch period dramas so I might not be able to confirm that. In any case, Record of Youth is totally Bo Gum's show. He owned it and it was a perfect send off for his enlistment. 


One of the best things about this drama was Hye Jun's character. I loved how grounded he was despite his fame. His priority was still protecting the people around him - even those who were not that dear to him. He refused to release Charlie Jung's messages because he respected his memory. But don't take this to mean that Hye Jun was a push over. He learned from his mistakes and he knew how to set boundaries when it came to abusive people like Lee Tae Soo. Over all, however, Hye Jun was an awesomely good person who definitely deserved all the nice things that came his way. 

Park So Dam as Ahn Jeong Ha


When I was beginning to feel disappointed with Bo Gum during the first few episodes, it was So Dam who tided me over. You can't really say anything bad about her. While she does not look like your typical female lead, there's something very charming and appealing about So Dam. And the best thing about her is that she acts so well. I loved how Jeong Ha was both respectful but feisty at the same time. Although she looked meek and kind, she never allowed anyone to bully her, even her superiors. I also loved how she was so independent that she refused help from the people around her. She did end up disappointing me with her decisions towards the end of the show but I'll save that for later. 

Hye Jun and Jeong Ha


I liked the easy way Hye Jun and Jeong Ha gravitated towards each other. They started out as friends and their relationship came naturally. I also loved how honest they were with each other about how they felt. They didn't lie to each other and beat around the bush like most K drama couples. 

I was hoping they won't break up to make it a bit different from the usual predictable shows. Or if they'd break up, I hoped it won't be because of some predictable reason like they can't handle the pressure of fame. But of course that didn't happen. True to K drama form, they broke up and in a way, it was because they couldn't handle the pressure. 


I wished Jeong Ha were more patient and understanding. Although the show made it appear that she was breaking up with Hye Jun because she cared about him, she also said later on that she was just starting out while Hye Jun was already famous and she wanted to get to her destination by herself. I was quite confused about what she really wanted. I never got the impression that Hye Jun was holding her back in any way. In contrast, Hye Jun was always there for her, even if it was very challenging for him. He always found ways to be with her. 

When Hye Jun and Jeong Ha broke up, I did not shed a lot of tears because I was confident they would get back together. Well, I was wrong again. The show gave us an open ending but I was quite fine with it. Things seemed well between Jeong Ha and Hye Jun during that final scene and we can predict that they could still end up with each other. 

Depiction of the Entertainment Industry

I love reading entertainment news. Although I am not insider, I can say that I know a number of things about showbiz. This drama was a good way of confirming some of the things I knew, with some extra info on the side. 

Connections are very important. Sure, some make it on their own. But most of the time, connections really matter. Charlie Jung knew and used this to woo Hye Jun. But Hye Jun was a very principled person who did not want to take advantage of Charlie. 

Crab mentality is also very rampant. People only care about themselves and all the rest don't matter. And once you offend someone, be ready to suffer from their revenge forever. Lee Tae Soo and Kim Su Man were perfect examples of this. Oh and Park Do Ha (Kim Gun Woo) too, that cocky, popular actor who thinks he's better than everyone else. As an aside, Kim Gun Woo's acting was so convincing that I'm beginning to wonder if he's actually a lousy actor in real life. :D

And some reporters can just be very unethical. Only ratings matter. Never mind if the report is unverified and it can ruin someone's career or reputation. 

The drama also showed a very sad reality of how much celebrities give up in terms of their personal space. News about them are released without their approval or against their wishes - even by their managers like when Min Jae released Charlie Jung's messages despite Hye Jun's refusal. Their consent and feelings have to be set aside because rebuttals need to be released immediately. 

Record of Youth is a good reminder, especially to keyboard warriors, that celebrities are also humans.  They get hurt too. They have families who get offended when we bash them. We don't get a free pass to be vicious towards them just because they're celebrities. They are definitely not asking for it simply because they're public figures. 

Parents and Their Children


I loved how pretty the moms were in this show. Ha Hee Ra could be an older sister of Son Hye Jin. She may be in her 50s but she still looks so fresh. As a mother, Ae Sook was a very hardworking, loving, caring, and gentle one. Although she had a tough life and she had to work as a housekeeper for the family of her son's friend, she remained positive because she knew her family needed her. 


Yi Young, Hae Hyo's mom, was your typical helicopter parent. Parents would probably understand where she's coming from but she did go overboard a lot of times to the point that Hae Hyo accused her of stealing his self-esteem. And that was a very sad thing. 

Hae Hyo also articulated it perfectly when he said that parents are the problem because they assume their kids see them as perfect. They use this to manipulate their kids' lives with the mentality that they always know better. Unfortunately, parenting never works that way. It's a never-ending learning process for both parents and children. Both are prone to make mistakes and they need to acknowledge this and apologize. Both need to adjust to each other. 

I was not super happy with the ending but one of the few bright spots for me was when Hae Hyo left for the military without telling his mom. I felt Yi Young's remorse after realizing how she overstepped her boundaries as Hae Hyo's mom. 

Other Characters I Loved


I loved Hye Jun's relationship with his grandfather. They supported and helped each other survive their crazy family. Grandpa must have felt guilty because Hye Jun had to share a room with him for the longest time. But Hye Jun never showed any resentment towards his grandfather. He genuinely loved being with him. I liked how Hye Jun enrolled his grandpa in a modeling academy to help him achieve his dream of having a job. 


I loved Min Jae because of the things she went through to help Hye Jun. She was there when nobody believed in him and her loyalty really paid off. She's proof that while connections and money matter most of the time, hard work and good intentions are rewarded as well. 


Hye Jun's brother, Kyeong Jun, was annoying most of the time. But he had his funny moments too. Although he was considered the brainy one in the family, he was mostly gullible and clueless. He was so rigid. But he won me over when he began attacking the trolls bashing Hye Jun. It was nice to know that while they were always bickering, he did care about his brother. 


Initially, I did not plan on writing about Hae Hyo. However, I realized that he's the second male lead and I need to say something about him. Yes, I felt bad about how his mom treated him. However, his acting did not move me. He was not that bad so he still deserves this spot in the Good category. But I just didn't feel his presence that much that would allow me to say a lot about him. So even if he was second lead, I felt that this show was really written for Bo Gum and Hae Hyo was more of a supporting character. 


I loved the cameos in the show. Park Seo Joon was a presenter for Hye Jun's Best Actor award. 


Hyeri of Reply '88 was there too as one of Jeong Ha's clients. I believe there were some other cameos but these were the two I'm most familiar with. 

Music

Music seemed to have been used sparingly in this show but the few songs they used were catchy, like what you'd normally expect from a K drama. Here's one of my favorites. 


The Neutral and/or The Bad

The romantic scenes in this drama were not that well-executed. I guess I expected more because it's supposed to be a romantic drama. I didn't get that swoony feeling when Hye Jun confessed to Jeong Ha. It even felt anti-climactic. 

The sweet scenes between Jeong Ha and Hye Jun also felt a bit contrived and orchestrated. They didn't seem natural at all, like the scene where they danced while it was raining. This is quite disappointing because I know Bo Gum and So Dam are perfectly capable of making us giddy and they could have done really well given the right material. 

The constant bickering in Hye Jun's family during the initial episodes was also very exhausting. The viewers could have gotten the point that they were not a very peaceful family after two or three arguments. The show did not need to rub it in by having these scenes like every other episode. The time wasted here could have been spent in tightening or wrapping up other parts of the story. 

Some scenes also felt as if they came out of nowhere. Like that scene where Jeong Ha's dad broke down because he said Jeong Ha has not forgiven him. However, based on Jeong Ha's story, it appeared that she's always favored her father and they seemed to be on good terms for a long time already. So I'm not sure if her dad genuinely felt that he has not been forgiven or if he was just guilt tripping Jeong Ha into accepting his offer of helping her with her make-up studio. 

As I mentioned above, I was not so happy with the ending. And it was not because it was open ended. I just felt that the story was not that cohesive over-all. I got the feeling that the show was wrapped up hurriedly and I can't help but surmise that it was because Bo Gum already had to leave for his military service. 

I appreciate that the show tied up the loose ends in Hye Jun's family - they were all at peace with each other towards the end. However, some things were left unresolved like Jin Woo and Hae Na's relationship and if karma finally reached Su Man, Tae Soo, and Do Ha. I hope the show just kept the side stories to a minimum if they were unable to sustain them until the end. 

It was also weird that there were no obvious physical changes in Hae Hyo and Hye Jun after their military service. A simple change in hairstyle or hair color would have probably sufficed. But even Bo Gum's reddish eyes from episode 15 lasted even after he was discharged from the military. I surely hope the real Bo Gum won't disappoint us after 18 months because we're all expecting a Bogummyummier gift from the military. :D

I also felt bad that Jin Woo's mom (Park Sung Yeon), who was a huge fan (and even a fan club member) of Hye Jun, was not there when the two families had a send off lunch for Hye Jun before he entered the military. It just didn't make sense that she was there for the simpler get togethers but she could not make it to the big one. 

So, yes, I felt as if somebody yelled time's up and the show realized that they didn't have any time left so they just ended the drama that way. 

Having said that, I still enjoyed Record of Youth for the entertainment value. It made me want to watch other currently running dramas. I like the week-long wait before the next episode because it gives me more time to reflect on things. And I'll surely miss having Bo Gum and So Dam on my TV on Mondays and Tuesdays.

I am definitely looking forward to Bo Gum's upcoming movies, especially the one with Gong Yoo, Jung Yu Mi, and Choi Woo Shik. 

Oppa says...4.3. 

Noona says...4. 

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