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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