After the last two episodes, our Saya decided to take a break from Record of Youth to preserve her sanity. She can be currently found in greener and more nourishing pastures over at the reviews of 18 Again. But I clearly have less sense, so here we are. Volunteering to brave the last two weeks with me is another friend from dramaland, Sadhana. She can be found being funny and analytical about dramas on twitter @sadhanac.
Paroma: Hey Sadhana! Thank you for agreeing to watch and review these with me. You’re one of the few people I know who’re still somewhat enjoying RoY, so I knew I needed you to balance my feelings out a little at this point.
Sadhana: Hi! Thanks for having me here. The first few weeks, I was really really enamoured with the show. I was repeatedly hitting the refresh button on Netflix from 7:00 PM onward, waiting for the episode to be uploaded because there was something about the tone of the show and the premise that was really intriguing. Over the course though, while it was not actively terrible, it lost some (okay maybe a LOT) of that charm it had initially and I didn’t know what the show was trying to be and do. I was still interested enough to see how the ominous future narration we hear from the leads in one episode tied up with the present though.
Paroma: That was such a cool technique to keep us hooked. Especially because they did this neat perspective switch when the show went over the same scene again in the next episode, revealing a lot more information than we got in the last. The characters felt more real, with interesting motivations. But then, at some point, this flash-forward/flash-back trick started to be overused, and instead of just giving us different ways to look at a confrontation, the show started skipping massive amounts of time. That’s when my interest started to wane.
Sadhana: Yeah, and if they had to do it multiple times in order for us to be more empathetic towards their situations, that’s a massive gap in the writing because we don’t need all these gimmicks 😐
When this drama started, I really loved how it set up the two characters with the same dream and the vastly different burdens and roads they each walk even if their destination was the same. How would Hae-hyo achieve his dream? How would Hye-joon? What would their friendship be like then and how would the relationship with others around them change?
We’re seeing all of this but not in a way that holds it together, if that makes sense. There are all these little moments that are great but there’s no glue holding them together. Because we don’t spend enough time that’s effective, showing us what’s going on behind the surface.
Paroma: Exactly. We’ve spent hours with these characters, but I don’t feel like I know them—especially Jung-ha and Hye-joon.
But to finally get to this week – it wasn’t as bad as I’d feared. I would even say it was somewhat fun to watch in parts because we got to see a lot more of the other characters and their struggles outside Hye-joon’s ambit. For instance, I was glad that Hae-hyo finally found out about his fake followers (though what took the boy THIS long is a mystery). I was also glad to see Grandpa and Dad starting to mend their relationship.
Sadhana: Yeah, this week had a lot of great moments for me, which I’m sure we’ll get to in a bit, but to start off from where last week’s episode left off – I really, really disliked the almost malicious preview! For so many weeks the previews made it seem like there was going to be all this contrived drama (Hae-hyo and Jung-ha last week) and then… it turns out to be absolutely nothing. I understand you have to have some mystery and doing this once or twice, but every week? No. The only other show I remember being this annoyed with the previews of was One Spring Night, where the episodes themselves turned out to be fine, but the previews were another matter. I feel like the experience of the show would have been different if we had different previews. Maybe that’s exaggerated, but judging from last week’s preview and this week’s episodes it sure felt that way.
Paroma: Agreed. The previews have a wildly different mood than the actual drama which, I think, works against the drama’s ability to keep viewers loyal. You get us all worked up expecting something horrible and then the drama just keeps on keeping on, implying a—ha! Psych!
And we know the previous week’s preview (Episode 12) caused a fall in viewership for the next episode. (Not to mention the glaring absence of a Saya in this review. 😄)
Let’s talk about our main couple here for a moment. It feels like the writer wants us to see two young people who’re trying the best they can in their relationship, but drama wants us to see leads whose relationship just can’t work. The text tells us that this is life, but you’ll get through together if you’re understanding and considerate towards each other. The direction says that a relationship where you have to be patient and can’t be constantly together has to lead to a break up. These two aspects of the show feel utterly contrary to me. And so, when Jung-ha tells Hye-joon that they should break up after some ace-level interfering by Evil Reporter Lady, I just want to shake them both till they loose that quiet, long-suffering expression on their faces and just talk. As Hye-joon tells Jung-ha at one point, confrontations aren’t a bad thing. So, fight, godsdammit.
Sadhana: I feel like a lot of that is because we don’t really know who Jung-ha is, not really. If they’d spent some more time exploring her character, it’s really believable for me that for someone who’s never dated before, she thinks she wants a certain kind of relationship and wants to be a certain kind of person in a relationship (based on her past traumas and whatnot) but what she actually wants from a relationship and the kind of person she is are different. It can happen! But we don’t see this conflict at all.
Paroma: Right! There was actually a lot of character material they could have explored there! Instead I feel like they keep telling us that Jung-ha feels this or thinks that, but we don’t really see it in the story. If she’s feeling conflict between how she had imagined her relationship would be and how it actually is, we don’t really see it. We just speculate cause she’s sad. However, her current sadness seems unrelated to her belief system. It just seems to be caused by lack of support and time in her relationship. Which would be FINE! Except that it’s disconnected from her character. If you had asked me on Episode 4 what kind of girlfriend Jung-ha would make Hye-joon, I would have said, a brutally honest and realistic one, who would talk to him about her feelings, and if she felt they were unhappy, she would say it. Instead, we get a lot of sound, and no conversation that actually drives their conflict forward.
Sadhana: Yeah, totally—even when Hye-joon picks up on her avoidance of conflict it just gets left there unresolved leaving everyone hanging… which has been a consistent thing in the show. It would have been great to see him push her to open up but instead given her character setup, Hye-joon would never need to do this, if she would have just spoken up.
Paroma: But you know what’s the oddest thing about this show? There is a scene on the playground when Hae-hyo just wants Jung-ha to sit quietly beside him without telling her what the problem is. After half an hour, Jung-ha tells him that she’s sleepy and wants to go home, and that it’s boring to sit there not talking for so long. Hae-hyo gets mad at her, and then on a dime, she turns and smiles at him and asks if he’s less sad now that he’s mad at her.
They… keep doing this. And that’s not how real conversations work AT ALL. It feels fake. Like, Jung-ha meant it when she said she was bored, but then had to look good, so she pretended she was pissing him off on purpose to distract him. It’s like the show tries to make Jung-ha be perfect at all times even at the cost of losing relatability.
Sadhana: It’s like the writers just want sparkly dialogue, and us to forget about character motivations. I remember I heard your first review where you were very taken with the banter but Saya wasn’t such a fan. Here, after many many episodes I think that banter without substance backing it up is really showing.
Paroma: Yeah, Saya doesn’t like that word at all. But I think, at that point, we expected the substance to kick in soon. And in some ways, especially for Hye-joon and Hae-hyo it did. Just not with Jung-ha. I feel bad for the actress, Park So-dam. She deserved a much better character than this.
But to move away to more satisfying arcs: How do you feel about Hae-hyo’s development this week? Especially with mommy-dearest losing her death-grip on him.
Sadhana: It was very satisfying to watch. What was even more interesting to watch was his mother’s reaction to his (very expected) breaking down on learning how much she had interfered. It’s like she expected him to say OK! Thanks mum! Now let’s buy two more million followers! Instead he’s showing remorse and reflecting on his dignity and she’s like… these emotions… how middle class!
Paroma: Hehe. I have to admit Yi-yeong reacted exactly as I expected her to. She was so offended that he wasn’t grateful to her for her meddling. And it says a lot about how she sees her children that she easily admitted to buying the followers because he wasn’t grateful. To her mind, revealing was justified revenge. And that’s… an interesting way of mothering.
Sadhana: What I also liked was that, when Do-ha confronts him about his followers a sort of snobby rich brat attitude immediately comes to the fore (very reminiscent of his mother) when he tells Do-ha, “You’re only an acquaintance.”
Paroma: Ha! I know! It was such an instinctive response. But it was also interesting that to a large extent Do-ha was only interested in being his friend because he wanted to understand that chaebol upbringing better – and to crack the mystery of Hae-hyo’s popularity. It was a simple, self-serving goal. I really like Do-ha.
Sadhana: It was such a burn when he tells Hae-hyo he needs to start appreciating himself more now. He’s done it all by himself. With Hae-hyo, even with the breakdown, I feel like he’s always known exactly how privileged he was but he never chose to acknowledge it or never needed to, but he’s having to reflect on these now, which makes me curious about the next steps. Will he go do the MBA his father wants him to?
Paroma: I honestly want him to keep being an actor, but stop expecting things to happen for him easily. Ideally, he needs space from his parents too. The way I see Hae-hyo, the boy always knew that being rich made him privileged in financial ways, but he didn’t realise that the same privilege extended to giving him advantages in any field he chose to work in. He had always thought he was playing on a level field with Hye-joon, but now that his friend is doing so well, he’s beginning to understand that his background can only take him so far, and he’s never really worked as hard as Hye-joon to chase success. I hope he just learns to work harder now.
Sadhana: One thing I liked from this week’s episodes was this interesting take on celebrity culture—one I hadn’t really thought about before. In a society that prizes filial devotion so much, if you have a wildly successful child, is it considered ill on their part to let their parents continue doing menial work?
Paroma: That’s actually a well explored theme in the last few weeks. While I haven’t forgiven Dad for being as horrible to Hye-joon as he was—especially since Hye-joon wasn’t mooching off him or being a burden in any way—I like that he seems to know that he can’t claim a right on Hye-joon’s success now. And the conversations between Dad and Mom are very real. About how they should be careful not to be financially dependent on Hye-joon, and how they shouldn’t allow themselves to be tempted. This is both wonderful and a little sad. If Hye-joon had a normal salaried job, they wouldn’t feel this kind of hesitation about relying on him.
Sadhana: It’s not just the parents though, it’s like society expects it of them to bask in his success which is why their guilt at not having been supportive enough increases, and we see that they’re even denied opportunities because of how successful he is. I feel like show is trying to explore all facets of celebrity and the costs that come along with it, affecting even those in its periphery.
Paroma: Speaking of society, I wish they would just leave Charlie Jung be. It’s bad enough the man was fridged randomly, they keep dragging him out every week to give Hye-joon one more opportunity to play saint by refusing to defend himself or explain anything in a bid to protect the reputation of the guy. That’s nice, but I don’t need to be beaten over the head with Hye-joon’s perfection—I get it already!—and I would like to stop being resentful of one more gay character being reduced to his sexuality and made into a negative side-plot that refuses to go away. Can’t they just… stop?
Sadhana: Seriously, I only fear that the unpleasant reporter will carry on with more of this in the next week. I hope this doesn’t happen though.
Paroma: Ugh that reporter needs to change her career. Go hike in the himalayas and find herself maybe.
Okay, now to wrap this review up—it’s time for our weekly highlight reel! I’ll go first!
That scene where Hyung is writing a formal apology letter to the mean commenter but he’s actually apologizing to Hye-joon for being an ass for all these years.
Sadhana: For me the highlight of this week, maybe even the show, was Hye-joon crying in his room, saying he’s happy despite it all, because he finally has a room to cry in, by himself. Oof.
Paroma: Yeah that was an excellent scene! Ooh I almost forgot, but I loved that moment when the reporter finds out she was being sued, and her boss just quickly hurries while telling her to give them hell. Hahaha.
Sadhana: And Scumbag Lee thinking quietly to himself that she had it coming when she tells him she’s getting sued 😀
Paroma: Ha, yeah! We call him Evil Ex-manager around here. But Scumbag Lee works too. XD
Sadhana: Evil Scumbag Ex-manager Lee then hahah. That reminds me of the whole misunderstanding between Hye-joon and Hyung about the gift card—which was really well done to show exactly what sort of a relationship they’ve had so far.
Paroma: Yeah. And in some ways, I like how their relationship is developing. In Hye-joon’s previous life as a struggling actor, his brother shared too much of their Dad’s views on his career to be any help. But that scene showed us that Hye-joon didn’t know his older brother very well either. This new family project to protect Hye-joon from the gossiping world outside is bringing out the best in these people, and finally giving them a way to show their affection for the boy.
Sadhana: Yeah, the apology letter sequence was very nice to watch! Their relationship is probably the one that had the most growth throughout the show.
Paroma: Another scene I really liked was the one where Hye-joon had the satisfaction of walking out on Scumbag Ex-manager, while the man almost begged him to stay. I’m glad the show is finally giving us the payoffs that we were looking for there.
Sadhana: I also like how success hasn’t poisoned Hye-joon and Hae-hyo’s friendship (yet) and even though there’s some distance now, there’s still that camaraderie that comes with growing up together—like in the scene where Hae-hyo’s struggling to recite his line and Hye-joon quietly asks for some water to be handed to him because he knows he needs it when he’s stressed.
Paroma: And finally, that scene in grandpa’s room with dad, where he gives his son his paycheck as pocket money and dad starts to cry really felt earned.
And that’s it for this week’s review of Record of Youth. I can’t tell if I’m anticipating or dreading finale week.
Sadhana: I am looking forward to it because those two episodes will determine how I remember this show—wild disaster or middling show that tried and had plenty of shiny moments (and PARK BO GUM) 😀
Paroma: So… no pressure.