Record of Youth: Episodes 11-12 Review

We’re not allowed to put spoilers in this part of the post, so I’m just going to go ahead and tell you guys that this week was a week of drama where drama happened. Hye-joon had drama. Jung-ha had drama. Hae-hyo had drama. Some of them had drama together. Some of the drama was all in their heads. You know the drill: we hit the Episode 12 wall of Everything Hits the Fan, but with a curious side of Tempest in a Teapot.

This week’s review is a therapy session for me and Paroma as we try to suss out the direction and purpose of all the drama, and whether it will end in sunshine, rain, or screaming into the ether.

 

Paroma: What did I just watch? I’m just generally pissed off about this whole Jung-ha/Hae-hyo arc as well as the whole dumb scandal. I feel like Jung-ha was meant to be a very self-assured character, so she has all the dialogues of a self-assured character, but her actions are all extremely insecure. And it JUST DOESN’T MAKE SENSE. But that ending was just the cherry on top of a fast wilting cake. (Can a cake wilt?)

Saya: I AGREE and I $%*&ing hated that ending. HATED IT VICIOUSLY. I can’t decide what is worst about it—the point where the curtain dropped, or the way we arrived at that moment, or in fact, the moment itself. We’re definitely meant to THINK that Jung-ha and Hae-hyo are about to do something, but even being left to speculate about whether they crossed that line feels unexpectedly sordid. Does that even make sense? And part of that is because of my absolute frustration with Jung-ha as a character. Right now I am struggling to sympathise with her even though I can fully see how she arrived here, sodden, upset, and lonely.

At the same time, though we know with our heads that Hae-hyo is spending a lot of time with her, we never see a real, mutual relationship build between them. So when I see the two of them obviously on the cusp of something like this, I can only really hate it, and them, for a) being dumb characters, and b) screwing Hye-joon over.

But then also it might be nothing. This show specialises in false lead-ins and fakeoutery.

Paroma: Agreed. I think it’s a fakeout. But why create such a weird arc anyway? This is the kind of manufactured tension you don’t expect of a mature writer. What is this accomplishing?

Saya: I’ll tell you something. I dropped from watching it in HD to watching it in SD this week. And if you know me at all… 😂

Paroma: That is damning indeed. We know a drama has lost favour when its pixel density loses importance in Saya’s eyes.

Saya: I always struggle at this point in any romance show—the episode 12 angst—but on top of the usual stress of the angst, I just felt so much exhaustion with it. Like I said last week, this show has never been plot-heavy, but now it’s graduated to manufacturing conflicts out of NOTHING and it is VERY wtf. Can we just stop now, show. Stop. If they are better apart, then let them break up, why are you doing this teen drama cosplay.

Paroma: Yeah I felt that exhaustion too. ‘Cause it wasn’t tension that had any real conflict behind it. It’s all stuff that can be resolved with one conversation. It’s like Writer-nim can’t commit to making Jung-ha insecure or Hae-hyo petty, but both of them have to live through arcs where their actions are driven by those motives. There’s this dissonance in their scenes that makes me want to fast forward out of them.

Saya: I don’t even want to talk about Jung-ha anymore because I’m beginning to realise she was never real. She’s a collection of promises without foundation, that don’t stand the test of real life. But I did appreciate that she called out Hye-joon on some of his “heroism” and shutting it right down when he started his little speech about wanting her to only have good things. That was a good moment for her character. It’s a shame that it doesn’t get follow-through from either of them.

Paroma: Right, I did like that her patience with his reserve broke. I wish the drama had done a better job in showing that her “formula” for a good relationship, where neither party is a burden to the other, had started losing its lustre while she grappled with distance from Hye-joon. Instead, the show seems determined to frame every single line Jung-ha drops and give every statement equal weight. Like, she never says anything rash and regrets it.

Saya: It’s like she thinks if they keep telling themselves and each other that they’re solid, they are solid, like it’s a magical invocation. But the reality is that to be solid, you really need to communicate and each let the other into their heads, and also be willing to be imperfect and messy, and maybe even a little ugly. If you only keep lacquering over the cracks repeatedly, at some point, they become scars and lumps and the reason everything breaks.

Paroma: And all the flash-forward and back didn’t help much either. It would take some serious rewatching to figure where and why Jung-ha started feeling distant from Hye-joon. So, major fail in directing there. This is where slowing down would have helped establish the relationship’s timeline, since that’s the conflict they’re wrestling with in the second half.

Saya: I realised that this show feels like a live theatre production to me—the staging is too deliberate, and with the stylisation you’ve observed already, it adds up as jarringly contrived. Like if you notice the way the scenes are blocked, how and in what formations characters hold themselves, it’s very unlike the natural movement we expect from dramas, and much more like a play.

So I’m really confused about what director Ahn Gil-ho is doing here. Maybe he needs to stick to thrillers. I’m hesitant to lay blame on the actors because I feel like the problems of this show are rooted in the writing and directing.

Paroma: No, I won’t blame the actors either. They have no control over how their scenes are organised and what order they’re shown in. But if they were building up to the distance between a young couple as one of them becomes famous as their primary conflict, then they should have actually shown the relationship a bit better. Feels like we went from them flirting to Jung-ha looking wistfully at Hye-joon post award ceremony and walking away.

Saya: YES, THANK YOU. Like, can you tell me what happened?? Also how WEIRD was Episode 11 in the way they kept Hye-joon and Jung-ha apart without any comment or explanation whatsoever? And then finally when he turns up at her place halfway through the episode…was I meant to feel elated? Joyful? I felt a bit of relief, like, oh they’re okay!, but then I had to wonder what the purpose of keeping them apart like that was if there was no conflict?

Paroma: Also, at some point Ae-sook mentioned that it’s been a year now that Hye-joon has been working as an actor, and I realised that it’s been at least that long since Hye-joon and Jung-ha started dating! It doesn’t feel like a year! It feels like months max. Also, WHAT HAPPENED TO INTRODUCING JUNG-HA TO HIS MOM?

Saya: I FORGOT THAT! Basically, what happened AT ALL in this missing BUT CRUCIAL time? It’s such a weird choice not to show that.

The real relationship conflict I felt this week was between Hae-hyo and Hye-joon, who had what seems like their first real fight, and it was over something real, and they have a history to fall back on. They also seem to have been given some of those traditionally romantic beats, like narrowly missing each other and stuff, which I did enjoy and appreciate, and we could have spent more time with. I think one of the big problems with everything in this show is that nothing gets enough time.

Paroma: True. I’m glad the focus finally shifted a bit towards the trouble under the surface of their friendship. I want them to be brutally honest with each other, but I guess a first, tepid outburst will have to do for now. Can’t say I’m satisfied.

Saya: Oh I’m not happy with it, but I felt like it had more foundation and organicity.

Paroma: Definitely better than the romance anyway. I was actually pretty engrossed with how Hae-hyo’s and Kyung-joon’s lives changed in relation to Hye-joon. While our boy tried to keep up with his punishing schedule, the friend and brother who were held up to be better than him were suddenly realising what being compared to Hye-joon feels like.

Saya: I like what we’re getting of Kyung-joon, and in this, I think it’s that actor Lee Jae-won has the charm and bluster to make you really be present with him in all his moments, big or small. A little humour goes a long way, and Byun Woo-seok has almost none. In fairness, he also has less to work with, and Hae-hyo is a languid, often limp kind of character, so even though he has flashes of something real, it never sustains itself long enough to settle into your heart.

Paroma: How do you feel about what they’re doing with Dad now? I feel like it’s a low tactic to make him physically hurt so he becomes more sympathetic to the audience after all he did to Hye-joon.

Saya: Ha, is that why he’s more sick? Lol. So…I’m not more sympathetic to him necessarily, but I’ve always understood that he’s got a really complicated relationship with his own dad. I quite liked seeing those two having their bonding moment (and then it going sideways—seems like that’s their fate), and the thing I couldn’t forgive him for was the way he projected his feelings about his dad onto his son. Though he seems to have finally let himself believe Hye-joon’s success, and he takes his side in arguments, I don’t think he’s really changed in the way he’s been most problematic towards his sons. And in fact, his whole family. The man is an encyclopedia of unresolved issues.

Paroma: Am I being too unforgiving then? If he can only see his mistake now that Hye-joon has succeeded, then I feel like he hasn’t really grasped what he did wrong. He quite literally made Hye-joon’s life miserable when he was trying to attain the life he has now. So, every bit of pride he feels in his younger son is undeserved. He doesn’t have any rights.

Saya: See, I don’t think he’s seen his mistake. He still fully believes his own rightness (he hasn’t shown any evidence of repentance or even awareness of just how awful he’s been to Hye-joon), he just also believes the evidence of the paycheck. That’s real. So you’re not being too unforgiving, I think you have read him exactly right. But also he knoooows he has no right to bask in any of Hye-joon’s success. Even Ae-sook knows that. Notice how she purses her lips and holds her peace when the topic comes up?

Paroma: Ha, yeah. My love for Ae-sook is deep and abiding.

Saya: Her tears really got me. When she gets Hye-joon’s message recalling his promise to her. The guilt I can feel her feeling 😭 Like, I think she did the best she could supporting him while caught between the men of her family, but it’s her disappointment in herself that is so real.

Paroma: The actress playing Ae-sook, Ha Hee-ra, really pulls me into these emotions. On the one hand, the practical side of me feels like it’s excessive, but then I see how her face crumples at the thought of everything Hye-joon had to go through, and I’m like, yeah, okay, this is a very mom-like guilt to have. I’m sold. XD

But you know what’s surprising me? I thought by now Ae-sook and Yi-young’s love-hate relationship would have been driven into open conflict, but I’m not really seeing it.

Saya: Oh that’s interesting—I see their relationship as always being tightly regulated under fake smiles, because of the employer-employee nature of it, but also because of their sons’ friendship and the long connection between their families. Explosive fights are very much not mom-territory, I think! They always tend to peacemaking and conflict management.

Paroma: True. Also, no matter how they feel about their sons’ relative successes, Ae-sook and Yi-young seem to like being around each other. So, making all that subtext text would ruin what is otherwise an easygoing work relationship.

Saya: But I learned true fear this week with Yi-young and her blazing smiles. If you thought she was bad with Hae-hyo, how she is with her daughter Hae-na is absolutely…terrifying? “I own you”? “Yay have fun and date! Just don’t get pregnant! Also you can’t marry [Jin-woo].” The woman is mad. Utterly nuts. “Learn how painful it is to have a relationship that has no future”? ALL WHILE SMILING THAT GIGAWATT, YOU-KNOW-YOU-LOVE-ME SMILE.

Paroma: Sheesh. She’s… kinda cool in how insane she is. It’s also an extension of the conflict Hae-hyo is currently facing. Hae-na was also brought up in a world where everything was handed to her. She doesn’t know what it’s like to not be privileged and she’s self-aware enough to have started her relationship with Jin-woo with the “line” clearly drawn. But having her mom redraw them for her was a shock.

Saya: “Which would it hurt you more to lose? Credit card or car?” 🤣

Paroma: Pfft. I laughed in that scene, but wow.

Saya: Yi-young I agree is a GREAT character. But she scares the fluff out of me, while also triggering me in Very Asian ways, with that tug-of-war of personal agency that you have no idea how personal it can be. 🤣

Paroma: Coming back to Jung-ha for a moment. The one aspect of her arc that I felt quite painfully was feeling the consequences of the boys taking her on as their make-up artist early on, and her being sidelined professionally once Hye-joon’s career took off.

Saya: Do you mean that little scene where Min-jae sort of apologises for dropping her as Hye-joon’s main?

Paroma: Yeah. That was all kinds of mishandled on Min-jae’s part. She’s not just a makeup artist, she’s his girlfriend. It shows how little importance Min-jae gives to Jung-ha as an integral part of Hye-joon’s life. Like, she absolutely doesn’t expect the relationship to work out.

Saya: Surprising too, because you’d expect Min-jae to be…better than that? Especially when the two women are actually friends. I kind of get her treating Jung-ha as a satellite of Hye-joon, and her priority is Hye-joon. What I find harder to accept is Min-jae treating someone she herself likes and respects so poorly.

What is happening to allll the charactersss, is stardom ruining everyone? Speaking of, I felt like where last week gave us the shiny beautiful side of stardom, this week really went all-in on showing its dark and ugly side. Also I could do with no more Reporter Kim ever again. GO AWAY.

Paroma: Yeah, that reporter needs to go find herself some other target or maybe just go on a long holiday. Come back a nicer person.

Saya: A hobby, she needs a hobby that isn’t smirking superiorly.

Paroma: Muahaha.

Saya: How do you feel about where the Charlie Jung angle landed? (Me: UGH FOR GOD’S SAKE STOP.)

Paroma: That’s the part that tanked this week for me. Really? REALLY?! Not only was the man killed off screen for unknown reason, after trying to reach out to Hye-joon—which makes one wonder if he committed suicide due to depression and if it was related to how he felt for Hye-joon. But instead of any of that being dealt with, all we got were two episodes of, BREAKING NEWS: HYE-JOON MIGHT BE GAY. Way to reduce an interesting character to his sexuality just to show how kind and humane Hye-joon is.

Saya: I also feel like the intention of the Charlie Jung storyline is meant to be a kind of pro-Charlie messaging (i.e. so what if he’s gay?), but it ends up kind of shooting itself in the foot by messing it up on the representation level.

Paroma: Nah man. A plot thread can’t be pro- someone when that person literally gets killed off off-screen and everyone else is only interested in not being maligned by association. Not once did any of our characters seriously ask why Charlie Jung’s dating life is remotely anyone’s business. They were too busy being virtuous and indignant and hoping that the TRUTH SHALL COME TO LIGHT! Cause, ya know, being gay is a crime that Hye-joon could never commit. (Okay, end rant!)

Saya: His mom was really sweet about it, though, at least. Everything about the “scandal” storyline just wore me out and I was begging for it to stop. I think this is partly where it steps on my personal feelings about celebrity and private lives, and WHY are people so obsessed with other people? Given that context, I fully get why under no circumstances does Hye-joon want to expose Jung-ha.

I am also just at this point where I don’t understand where the show is going, what it’s doing, or why. Like we are on a bus and nobody knows the destination, not even the driver. And understand I say this as someone who takes the bus A LOT. So do our characters. We need a destination, I think we can all agree on that.

This is a super negative review, isn’t it?

Paroma: Well… we’re trying to keep loving it. There are so many things I still like about this drama, but I think for our squees to have weight, we need to be equally honest about what makes us arrrrgh. ← There. That’s good use of the English language for you.

Saya: Gold stars for you! 😄 But hey at least we got that very enjoyable Lee Sung-kyung cameo, huh? (Where she plays a star actress called Jin Seo-woo, the name of her Doctors character.)

Paroma: Oh yeah! She was such a delight to have on screen even for a few minutes.

Saya: I forgot how funny she can be!

Paroma: She’s a riot, and the best thing is that she’s funny with her whole body, so it always feels like she’s inviting you to laugh with her. I hope she’s in a great drama soon!

But also, can I make a super superficial comment about Park Bo-gum?

Saya: Always. I am always here for your superficial comments about pretty boys, haha.

Paroma: Please stop putting him in those gangster suits. He’s a skinny boy. He needs his oversized sweaters or loose buttoned shirts to look grown up. XD

Saya: WHAT. I’m sorry, I can’t agree. I mean, I love the puffy hoodies, but the sharp suits and dark glares are the next best thing to hanbok and a crown prince.

Paroma: But he looked so…stiff in that suit when he was doing the aggressive chaebol boyfriend role. Also, WHO casts Park Bo-gum as a chaebol boyfriend? That’s not his vibe! If this was a real drama, I would already be panning it. Heh.

Saya: Okay, I agree that faux-scene was TERRIBLE, but I think deliberately so, for the overblown melo! I was so relieved when Lee Sung-kyung broke character and just lol-ed.

Paroma: Right? A Park Bo-gum who doesn’t smile much is just wrong.

Saya: Also. I’m sorry I keep saying this, but Park Bo-gum’s romantic hero presence is still pretty close to zero. I’m sorry.

Paroma: Hahahaha. He’s such a baby.

Saya: Okay, are we ready for the highlight reel?

Paroma: Yup! Can I go first?

Saya: Yes, go!

Paroma: So, my favourite moment from this week is definitely when Hae-hyo bursts his mom’s bubble about getting him cast in that movie through favours when it was Do-ha’s doing all along. I ADORED how shocked she looked.

Saya: Oo that ties closely to one of mine: aren’t you SO entertained by how obsessed/confused Do-ha is with Hae-hyo’s inexplicable SNS follower numbers?

Paroma: I am! I love how his petty jealousy is founded on real understanding of how fame and followership actually happens.

Saya: And Do-ha, like Hye-joon, is the real deal, working his way to stardom from nothing, and doing everything the hard way with nothing being handed to him. I almost feel like he’s entitled to his brattiness.

Paroma: So do I. Especially since he pretty much admitted to respecting Hye-joon’s struggle and being unable to like him because of it. I understand quixotic characters like that.

Saya: You nearly got your wish this week! Points to you for picking up on Yi-young’s secret hand behind the SNS thing being such