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Record of Youth: Episodes 1-2 Review

This is what you call a drama with ‘pedigree’. It’s got the cast and the crew. The mighty Ha Myung-hee penned this tale, and so of course, its beats have us dancing. We had a lot of thoughts after the first week, but it took us a while to gather and analyze our feelings. We can’t promise a weekly review just yet, but we’re nearly done working on the write-up for episodes 3-4. So, you’ll definitely be getting one more (in case you wanted it). Let us know if Record of Youth is resonating with you as much as it is with us, and where you anticipate the story heading!

 

Paroma: A big reason for my watching this drama was Park Bo-gum playing a character who was already an experienced model, and someone who could therefore give us a jaded, “inside” look of the movie/fashion industries. I really didn’t want another stars-in-his-eyes, newbie story.

Anisa: I hadn’t thought of that before watching, but something that came home to me as we saw Hye-joon spend his day going from one part-time job to another, to the occasional gig, to his awful agency, and then home to face his out-of-patience family—we don’t get to see this story often. K-dramas often do the inside look at the entertainment industry, but usually they’re either rookies, as you said, or veterans past their prime. This reminds me of the stories of actors like Jung Woo (Trash Oppa from Reply 1994) who can labour for over a decade in obscurity, despite great talent, before they finally get that breakout role. The weariness of that has a different quality than the frustrated dreamer or the jaded has-been.

Saya: To jump right into a relevant scene—do you remember when he’s doing the catwalk rehearsal run and the director gives everyone else pointers, but when it comes to Hye-joon, he pauses a moment and tells him he did great. I thought that was such an interesting, loaded scene. On the one hand, you can take it at face value: he’s praised for a good job. But on the other, he’s been doing this a long time, and there’s an undercurrent of tension there, that that beat of silence really brings out. I feel like in that moment, we know everything about his spiritual fatigue, his being locked into this rut when he should have moved on. It’s not to his merit to be a veteran, is what I felt from this, though nobody can/will fault him for a job flawlessly done.

Paroma: Boy, I didn’t even think of what it said about his experience in that scene, but you’re right! He looked so unaffected by the praise—like, of course he’s good at this. How can he be anything else after years of doing it? It’s not even a compliment to him. I feel like, if this drama sticks to this level of emotional delivery, this will be the defining role of his early career. As someone on instagram said: “Wow, he sure can cry.”

Saya: I admit, after Encounter (Boyfriend), there was a part of me that was…not doubtful exactly, but though I enjoyed what I watched of that drama, it didn’t have that dangerous magnetism of, say, his characters from Moonlight Drawn By Clouds or I Remember You. And as I watched him unfolding his character here, I felt a moment of…again, not surprise exactly, but I remembered, oh he can act. Really act.

Anisa: There’s something electric about the way he can just turn it ON in a second. But you’re right, he was a lot more muted in Encounter.

Paroma: That could be because in Encounter, Park Bo-gum was in more of a supporting role. His own arc was less important than Song Hye-kyo’s.

Saya: Yeah, that could be it. His biggest role there was to be a dreamy, pretty pixie-boy. And he did it well, it just didn’t really ask as much of him, or even of us. He was easy to fall for 😅

Paroma: He was! And he was supposed to be the ideal ‘boyfriend’ for our embattled heroine, so that’s forgivable. But it’s so nice to see our baby get to stretch his wings here. I also love just how freely angry he’s allowed to be in his scenes with his family. His hurt and his complaints are obvious, but also very obviously not wholly revealed. You can tell that even as he’s shouting at his dad or pontificating older brother, he’s biting back a lot. It’s insanely well done.

Anisa: He really brings the dialogue—which is already so good, but could feel unwieldy in the mouth of a less talented actor—to glittering, nuanced, heart-wrenching life. He’s saying as much with his face and body as he is with his voice.

Saya: I think his superpower is expressing pain in so many different ways, but what’s really nice to see in this show is not the pain of a haunted, abandoned kid raised by a psychopath or the pain of a lonely crown prince, but the “everyday” kind of pain that comes with family and living alongside people you’re tied to by blood and genes and memories, but who can’t really know you, and let’s be honest, perhaps don’t really want to. Family isn’t about that. Family is about rubbing along as very different people who can’t throw each other away because of these strange, inexplicable bonds.

Paroma: Exactly! The very real pain all of us can feel even as we see it play out on the screen. That kind of writing really needs a deft hand.

Anisa: YES. As much as I’ve loved him in his larger-than-life roles, I’ve been waiting for him to play an everyman. Just a dude with a dream. (Even if his charisma makes him anything but ordinary.) And the script shines in that aspect.

Saya: And this is where I yell: HELLO THERE HA MYUNG-HEE, I HAVE MISSED YOUR WAY WITH WORDS. AND EMOTIONS. AND THE MESSY, UGLY-BEAUTIFUL WAY THEY COME TOGETHER. Okay, I’m done with the all-caps.

Paroma: Is it weird that I saw similarities with Temperature of Love before I realised she was the writer there too? There was something about the way Park Bo-gum and Park So-dam met and immediately started a natural back and forth that was very reminiscent of that drama. I haven’t seen dialogues written quite like that since.

Saya: Oh yes, I think there’s a very recognisable quality to her writing, even though I felt the show distinguished itself very quickly. It has the same bright palette, the same rapidfire wit and feeling in its dialogue, but the characters are a whole new basket of contradictions and complexities. I hate to make this comparison since I’ve gone badly off her, but (peak-) Amy Sherman Palladino (of Gilmore Girls) would be the closest anglophone equivalent, except where ASP fell badly out of touch, I think Ha Myung-hee remains painfully in tune with the strangeness of being a person, living with other people. Though that perhaps brings us to the one characterisation that I did wince at.

Paroma: You mean Charlie Jung of Homme Jung fame? (It’s the name of the man’s design brand and makes me laugh every time I think of it. Man Jung. Keepin’ it simple.)

Saya: I wonder if the Jung part was both a play on his name and the German word for young/youthful—I mean, mixing French and German in the same line is a little weird, but you know…double entendre is always welcome!

Paroma: Ooh, didn’t think of that. That actually makes the names quite apt for a men’s fashion brand! Youthful Man. And honestly, I quite liked Charlie Jung initially and quite dreaded the arc I could see forming from the moment I noted Lee Seung-joon clap soft eyes on Park Bo-gum as the younger man walked down the ramp.

Anisa: Yep.

Saya: I agree, I got that vibe from him pretty quickly.

Paroma: I was hoping it was going to be a cliched unrequited love sub-plot, and not the predatory gay mentor story it shaped up to be.

Saya: What I’m conflicted about is that that kind of predation is definitely rife in the business, and it’s interesting from a storytelling point of view to have a young man subjected to it rather than a young woman. But to represent his identity attached to predatory behaviour is a problem, unless you offset it by having other characters who occupy the same identities but aren’t, you know, bad.

Paroma: I don’t think there is a conflict. Of course men in positions of power take advantage of the vulnerable below them. And you can’t tell the story of fashion and film industries without showing this side of things. But it’s the ubiquitousness of male gay characters in drama who pine for the hero an