At a Distance, Spring is Green (멀리서 보면 푸른 봄) is a wonderful coming of age series. The 12-episode KBS drama about young university students just trying to keep up with everything life throws at them is a charming and captivating slice of life. A stellar cast brings to life the joys and pains of youth in between adolescence and adulthood. With fascinating hints at something that could have been truly groundbreaking, the series is nonetheless one of the year’s most emotionally satisfying series.
The core group of friends are some of the most engaging and multi-dimensional characters you’ll see in a school-centered drama. Our lead three includes handsome and popular freshman Yeo Joon (Park Ji Hoon), humble and timid third year student Kim So Bin (Kang Min Ah) and the smart, serious Nam Soo Hyun (Bae In Hyuk) who has various part-time jobs to support himself and his family.
Though Yeo Joon comes from a wealthy background, his family life is far from perfect. Especially when it comes to his relationship with older brother Joon Wan (Na In Woo). On his first day at university, he is drawn to the reserved Soo Hyun and admittedly clings to him with some hope of breaking that cold exterior. Joon too grows closer to So Bin as the three of them work together on a class project.
Through that project, they learn more about themselves and each other. Most especially between Yeo Joon and Soo Hyun.
Add in So Bin’s childhood friend and playboy Chan Ki (Choi Joong Woo), Soo Hyun’s kickass friend Young Ran (Kwon Eun Bin) and So Bin’s roommate Min Joo (Woo Da Vi) who, like Young Ran, has eyes for Soo Hyun; you’ve got a diverse group of characters that effectively portray the struggles of navigating this challenging period in anyone’s life.
The series is based on a popular webtoon and has been in development since 2017. And its poignant title is in reference to the idiom “Grass is always greener on the other side of the fence.” The series opens with the characters speaking on the perception that this time in their life should be a green, blossoming spring. Yet, for them, that is far from the case. At least, from their point of view.
Our main characters deal with the pain and struggles in different ways. Some try to put on a brave, happy face in front of others while some keep their hardships to themselves in order to not burden others. Keeping those pressures and insecurities bubbling deep inside may not be the easiest or most healthy thing to do. And we see our main characters fight to be brave even when deep down, they may be afraid and longing for a hand to reach out to them.
The period between adolescence and adulthood is always an interesting foundation for story. Love, family, friendships, school, career; it is ripe for material with universal and relatable themes.
At a Distance, Spring is Green may so strikingly depict the darker moments during this time, but it is even more effective in showing the light and hope that exists as well. The series brings about the idea of a found family. Friendships that are formed for various reasons and bonds that end up being stronger and more meaningful than ones that are blood-related.
Nothing is perfect. It’s not always a rosy picture. But it’s a hopeful one. And that hope is brought about by the relationships formed between these characters.
That includes long-time friendships that come to unexpected realizations now that they are older like those between So Bin and Chan Ki or Soo Hyun and Young Ran. Or a blossoming, sweet romance such as that between Yeo Joon and So Bin.
But the series’ most impactful and most captivating relationship has to be that between Yeo Joon and Soo Hyun. It has to be one of the most dynamic friendships I’ve seen in a long time in a Korean drama. The growth they experience in themselves as well as the bond formed between them is such an engaging story. From beginning to end, the journey they embark on together is some excellent writing and even more powerful performances from the two actors.
There’s a sense of kindred spirits being drawn to each other somehow. Both with their own inner struggles and emotional scars. Neither we the viewer nor Joon and Soo Hyun are quite sure what it is that draws them together. At first seeming opposites, but later more in common than they ever anticipated. There’s an unmistakable connection that helps them grow closer while also grow up as well.
They find each other at the right moment in their lives. When they both need someone who can understand them and perhaps offer the support that they might not willingly accept. At least initially.
It’s also important to point out the not-so-subtle subtext that exists throughout the series. Joon and Soo Hyun’s relationship can be one typically labeled as a “bromance.” A sincere friendship with some older brother-younger brother type of dynamic. But it is hard to ignore the very overt implication that the feelings they have for each other go beyond simple brotherhood.
In reading about the original webtoon, I learned that it does include a romantic relationship between two young men. A storyline that fits within the increasingly popular BL (boys’ love) genre.
Though this television adaptation doesn’t explicitly depict such a relationship (it has actually modified quite a bit of the source material), there are moments between Soo Hyun and Joon in-series that can be seen as much more than just a platonic friendship. That may not have been the series’ intention. But it’s also hard to imagine they would not realize such an interpretation would be plausible based on what they present on screen.
I think a big part of it is the chemistry Park Ji Hoon and Bae In Hyuk have. But the writing and directing provide more than enough material to support such a provocative (for Korean television) theme. And to be honest, I would have loved to have seen it. It would definitely be a groundbreaking story if they pursued a romantic relationship between Joon and Soo Hyun.
Their journey through the series fits the typical Korean drama mold of enemies to friends to lovers. And for much of the series, I honestly thought they were really going there. Especially when the mid-episode title card specifically featured this version of the series’ official poster:
Without going into analyzing every single scene of the series, regardless of whether or not the production actually wanted to pursue such a storyline, especially for the two lead actors, this can be one instance where it can be up to the audience to take it as they see. There’s merit in seeing either or both interpretations of the relationship between Soo Hyun and Joon. And neither takes away from enjoyment of the entire series.
The series features such a strong, charismatic and charming cast. You kind of wish they got four more episodes to bring it to the standard 16 for them to get more opportunity to show off that charm and talent.
Though they are in supporting roles to the main three, Choi Joong Woo, Kwon Eun Bin and Woo Da Vi nonetheless make a memorable impact in each of their respective roles.
Woo Da Vi first introduces Min Joo as a bit of a high maintenance snob as she moves in to the dorm as So Bin’s roommate. But she quickly gets the chance to add layers to her character, revealing a much deeper and multi-faceted young woman.
Kwon Eun Bin similarly does so well revealing the softer, more caring character beneath the rough, kickass exterior of Young Ran. As Young Ran wants to help her friend Soo Hyun while also hiding her feelings for him, Kwon Eun Bin effortlessly makes the character one that is relatable and admirable.
Hong Chan Ki is perhaps the series’ most surprising character. And a welcome one at that. Choi Joong Woo does an amazing job at endearing us to this playboy with a heart of gold. At times an amusing scene stealer, other times delivering unexpectedly emotional moments.
Na In Woo as Yeo Joon’s older brother Joon Wan is also a standout. He is having a breakout year, no question. And his role here is just another excellent example of his strong talent.
Kang Min Ah finally gets a lead role and she does an excellent job. As So Bin, she is able to represent what many young people today are feeling. Struggles and concerns that may seem simple on paper, but can weigh heavily on a person. Especially on youth who are forced and pressured to grow up too fast. Though a big chunk of So Bin’s story arc involves her romance with Yeo Joon, the most engaging part of her character is her own path toward finding confidence and comfort. Kang Min Ah easily makes So Bin a relatable and endearing character on her own.
Park Ji Hoon also gets his first lead role after smaller roles and a recent supporting role in Flower Crew: Joseon Marriage Agency. That first lead role can prove to be a challenge for any young actor. He gets some of the series’ heaviest material. But his natural charm and handsome charisma are a perfect contrast to the legitimately darker aspects of the story and his character’s history. He is able to deliver in those difficult scenes as well as easily take care of lighter moments. He shares a good chemistry with Kang Min Ah and an even stronger chemistry with Bae In Hyuk. And together, they help fill out Yeo Joon’s difficult path to healing.
And for Bae In Hyuk, he is such a commanding presence. It’s one of the most emotionally affecting performances I’ve seen in a while. To have to convey so many different emotions and feelings over the course of 12 episodes and do so more than effectively is a major accomplishment. From the first moment we meet Soo Hyun, we are immediately drawn to him and his story. When paired with strong writing, Bae In Hyuk’s excellent performance is just so captivating. Soo Hyun’s own 12-episode journey is absolutely magnetic. And it would’ve been even more amazing had they followed through with the direction they so obviously wanted for his character.
But as much potential as the series had for something very different from the usual on Korean television, At a Distance, Spring is Green is still an excellent and affecting series. The hint of nostalgia and dreamlike atmosphere frames one of the more sincere and grounded depictions of Korean youth. The series uses strong writing to create well-rounded and distinct characters. Those characters come together for an engaging and emotional slice of life story. And the outstanding cast brings those characters to life.
Overall, At a Distance, Spring is Green is one of the year’s strongest and most satisfying series.