I have one big regret after just completing the 2020 tvN drama Record of Youth (청춘기록): That I didn’t watch it sooner. If I had watched the series before December 31, 2020, it absolutely would’ve made my Top 10 Korean Dramas of 2020 list. Perhaps securely at #2.
Record of Youth is a relatable, character-driven slice of life drama. Quite unexpected for me as I went into the series. But very much welcome as I was quickly drawn into the realistic and grounded depiction of families and friends navigating all too-familiar twists and turns in life set amidst a backdrop of an otherwise unfamiliar showbiz world.
The series centers around the aspirations of a group of people in their 20s. Best friends Hye Jun (Park Bo Gum) and Hae Hyo (Byeon Woo Seok) are aspiring actors and Jin Woo (Kwon Soo Hyun) is an aspiring photographer. Through their, at first, part time work in the industry, they meet makeup artist Jeong Ha (Park So Dam) who too dreams of bigger things.
As the title suggests, the series is a visual record of their youth including their developing relationships and careers and the effects both have on their relationship with their families as well.
Record of Youth does an excellent job of setting up the world the series revolves around. There’s the entertainment world (which in Korea, is certainly ripe for dramatic stories). Plus the world of the typical workplace. And of course, the home where families eat, sleep, argue and embrace each other every day.
But the depth of the series deals with relatable, everyday stories involving those families and friends. The unique and diverse relationships that family members and best friends can have with each other take center stage. Those connections and bonds are what can help shape and mold a person as they grow.
The series is a fascinatingly down-to-earth look at growing up, at any age. A great example of showing how we can grow, learn and evolve, regardless of age. How that growth relates to the hopes and dreams that anyone has. And how those hopes and dreams can be as much aspirational as they can be grounded.
Record of Youth‘s character-driven narrative allows for a connection to be forged between those characters and the audience. You get to know each of them very well across 16 episodes. And that is an important accomplishment in order to make the series’ emotional climaxes resonate and land. It is not hard to feel for and with the characters as they go through their journeys which include many difficult challenges. You actually care about them. Plus there is a positivity that reigns throughout the series that you can’t help but get caught up in. And willingly so.
In many ways, the series lays a strong enough foundation that there is even enough material for more than just 16 episodes.
The talented ensemble cast certainly helps elevate what is an already excellent story.
There’s the fun #friendshipgoals of Hye Jun, Hae Hyo and Jin Woo brought to life by Park Bo Gum, Byeon Woo Seok and Kwon Soo Hyun. The #itscomplicated family lives are excellently portrayed by veterans Ha Hee Ra, Park Soo Young, Ha Jin Hee, Lee Jae Won and Shin Ae Ra. Shin Dong Mi is a fun scene stealer as Hye Jun’s manager Min Jae as is her duplicitous rival Tae Su (Lee Chang Hoon).
The relationship between Hye Jun and his grandfather (Han Jin Hee) is one of the series’ highlights.
Byeon Wook Seok gets some of the series’ meatiest and most emotionally affecting material. Especially towards the end of the series. He delivers a carefully nuanced performance that has him taking Hae Hyo in different, but sensible directions over the course of the series. All culminating in one of the series’ great emotional climaxes.
And finally, Park Bo Gum and Park So Dam are just wonderful as Hye Jun and Jeong Ha. They’ve both proven themselves in various projects before, but they are able to highlight their individual strengths in the series. And when coupled with their irresistible chemistry, it’s a thoroughly engaging experience. They are able to make Hye Jun and Jeong Ha’s relationship feel real and natural. It’s a relationship you can imagine one having in real life. It may not be the perfect, fairy tale romance. But there’s just enough of that wistful aura to make the realistic situations exciting and romantic.
You just want to root for them (and, really, most of the show’s characters as well).
Wonderful cinematography, especially with the drama-within-the-drama scenes, are visual treats. And the fun, witty dialogue and banter is something you don’t normally see on Korean dramas.
Overall, Record of Youth is an unexpectedly down to earth slice of life drama series. Well-rounded characters drive familiar and relatable stories. Matched with a stellar cast and strong direction, Record of Youth is another worthwhile experience.