Review: Youth Of May

THE SHORT VERDICT:

Set against the Gwangju Uprising of May 1980, our story is primed not to be an easy one, from the outset. However, Show does a fantastic job of bringing its story to life via our characters, their experiences, and their relationships.

I felt invested almost immediately, particularly in our OTP lead characters and their burgeoning connection, thanks to the thoughtful, tight writing, and also, the wonderful performances by Lee Do Hyun and Go Min Si, who are likable, sympathetic and so naturally easy to root for, both separately and together. Although the OTP was my personal highlight, I also wanted to mention that our entire cast is strong, to the extent that the arcs of some more minor characters managed to be surprisingly affecting, even.

A rollercoaster of emotions that’s not easy by any means, but that’s completely worthwhile.

THE LONG VERDICT:

Some time ago, when I wrote my post about underrated gems that deserve more love, Natalia had reluctantly predicted that Youth Of May would become an underrated gem too; a show that’s really good and really solid, but just doesn’t seem to get the attention that it deserves.

Now that I’ve watched Show for myself, I can vouch for the fact that it really is excellent and very worthwhile, but I can also understand why many drama fans might not be drawn to it. After all, it isn’t a fun rom-com, or a delicious makjang. There is a strong romance in this, but this, simply, is not an easy watch.

However, I am also here to vouch for the fact that for those who are courageous to invest their time – and their hearts – in this story, it is a worthwhile venture indeed.

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while reading the review. Generally speaking, I found the OST very solid and effective. I found that it added to my watch experience, without ever feeling like too much, or too little.

If I had to pick a favorite track, it’d be Track 5, Starry Night. There’s just something about this one that I feel leans hopeful, and yet, there’s a tinge of wistfulness about it, which I feel suits our story very well. Here it is as well, in case you’d like to listen to it on repeat instead. Just right click on the video and select “Loop.”

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS

Here are a handful of things that I think will help to maximize your enjoyment of this show.

1. This is a melodrama, so expect a certain amount of heft and weightiness to our story.

2. Although this is a melodrama, there are some lovely moments of whimsy to be enjoyed, particularly in Show’s early episodes, so the journey’s not all hard.

3. There is a somber undercurrent to our story, thanks to the Gwangju Uprising being this story’s context. Be prepared for things to turn dark, at some point.

4. Even when things turn dark, there is a stirring element of hope and resilience that runs through our narrative.

STUFF I LIKED

General handling & execution

I really like the handling and execution of this show, on several fronts.

First of all, it’s clear that Show always knew where it was going, with its story. At no point did I feel like Show was spinning its wheels, or buying time, or unsure of what to do next. This was obviously a story that had been fully conceived, from the very beginning.

Secondly, the execution of our story is really tight. There are only 12 episodes instead of Dramaland’s typical 16, and each episode is only an hour long (vs. some of the movie-length episodes that we get nowadays), and yet, I consistently felt like so much happened, in each of these 60-minute episodes. That’s impressive.

Thirdly, I am very impressed with how Show takes us back to 1980, for our story. From what I understand, the production basically built an entire town, to recreate what Gwangju was like, in 1980. I’m no expert on the matter, but as a viewer, I thoroughly believed that our characters lived and breathed in 1980. The fashion, the hair, the sets; I didn’t think any of it was out of place.

Also, because I didn’t know where else to put this, I wanted to mention that, as we see from the screenshot above, the hanja for Gwangju is 光州. This literally translates to state or province of light. There’s a lot of dark irony there, considering what we know is going to go down in Gwangju, in our story, isn’t there?

Lee Do Hyun as Hee Tae

As you guys probably already know, I was completely smitten with Lee Do Hyun after watching his amazing performance in 18 Again (such a lovely show, please watch it if you haven’t!), and he’s one of the main reasons I decided to tune in to this show.

Let’s just say that Lee Do Hyun did not disappoint, in the least. I loved him as Hee Tae, from start to finish.

From the very beginning, I felt that he manages Hee Tae’s carefree facade well, while managing to inject that facade with more serious, complicated layers. During the more romantic parts of our story, I was flailing all over the floor, over how melty Hee Tae is, and during the more serious parts of our story, I felt Hee Tae’s angst so acutely. Really well done, I say.

I really loved Hee Tae as a character, because the more we get to know him, the more we realize that he’s a truly decent, good and loyal person, who always sincerely wants to do the right thing, and who always desires to stay true to his heart. He basically had my heart, from hello, all the way to goodbye. ❤️

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. I am amused at the humor of Hee Tae managing to answer honestly, that Soo Ryeon (Keum Sae Rok) left a strong first impression on him. Ahaha. Can’t say that he’s lying, considering how they’d met at an activists’ meeting.

More than that, I love that Hee Tae is honest and upfront with Soo Ryeon, that he likes Myung Hee (Go Min Si). I like that this sets the record straight right away, so even if Soo Ryeon somehow develops feelings for Hee Tae later on, she can’t accuse him of leading her on.

E3. The conversation that Hee Tae has with Hye Gun (Lee Kyu Sung) later, really gives me pause for thought. To Hee Tae’s question of what he’d do if he knew that the woman of his dreams would go away for good in a month, Hye Gun answers that he’d give up immediately because he’d rather live in regret than miss her for the rest of his life. The fact that Hee Tae struggles with Myung Hee’s impending departure, is because he’d rather miss her for the rest of his life, than live in regret. Oof. That thought hits me hard. 🥺 It’s so tragically romantic.

E3. I have to admit that I find it quite squee-worthy, that Hee Tae decides that enough is enough, and talks to Soo Ryeon about taking definite steps to end the ruse. “It’s true; you should never force yourself to do what you’re not used to. If I keep forcing myself like this, I may actually fall ill. Let’s end this here.”

Somehow, the idea that it’s been tough for Hee Tae to fake-date Soo Ryeon is quite swoony to me. It makes me fee like his entire being is affected by his feelings for Myung Hee, which is quite a romantic idea.

E4. For the first time since we met him, we see a lot more of the angst, pain and turmoil that Hee Tae hides beneath his cheerful facade, and that makes me sad. I think the thing that makes me sad, is the realization that the breezy, confident, optimistic Hee Tae that I’ve come to love, isn’t really that confident or optimistic after all. In actual fact, he’s suffering from debilitating nightmares and a crippling guilt, that’s holding him back from being that excellent doctor that he’s capable of being.

I’m sure he’s been hiding this all along, while turning his attentions to Myung Hee, and it totally adds a layer of heartache to everything, because he’s absolutely not as ok as he makes himself out to be.

It’s so heartbreaking to see via flashback, that Hee Tae really had only been helping out his friend Kyung Soo (Kwon Young Chan), by reluctantly treating the injured activists that he brought around to Hee Tae’s apartment. He’d done his best to save Seok Chul (Kim In Sun), and now that Seok Chul’s in a bad state, he blames himself and calls himself the offender, when people ask him what how he’s related to Seok Chul.

Hee Tae is so hard on himself, and while I appreciate his sense of responsibility, it makes my heart pinch, to realize that he’s punishing himself like this, for so long.

I feel that the reason Hee Tae is reluctant to share this information with Myung Hee, at least at first, is because of how ashamed he is, of himself. I don’t think it’s because he doesn’t trust her, although I can see how this would make Myung Hee feel like he’s keeping a distance from her.

E4. I understand Soo Ryeon’s request of Hee Tae to keep up the dating ruse, even though I don’t like the way she practically demands it, instead of asking nicely. Either way, I’m glad that Hee Tae is so unequivocal in his stand, that he doesn’t want to keep up the ruse. “Let’s tell the truth… and take responsibility equally. We shouldn’t cross the line just to save ourselves for now. If you need someone to beg for forgiveness with you, call me.”

I love how clear he is on what he wants, and the options that are available, to get him there.

E5. Despite Hee Tae’s reluctance to get engaged to Soo Ryeon, I must say that he’s still a really decent guy. I mean, the way he steps in to protect Soo Ryeon from her accusing activist “friends” is really quite gallant, and I couldn’t help but feel a sense of gratification, that he manages to frighten them off so effectively.

E6. Soo Chan (Lee Sang Yi) tries to confront Hee Tae about his relationship with Myung Hee in a nice manner, but it isn’t long before he’s lost his cool and is raising his voice at Hee Tae. Props to Hee Tae for keeping calm in the face of Soo Chan’s anger, and even managing to ask a very pertinent question: Is Soo Chan really angry because of Soo Ryeon?

Ooh. Touché. Clearly, Soo Chan’s more upset because it’s Myung Hee, but he’s not about to admit that. Hee Tae’s response to Soo Chan pretty much sums up the difference between the two men, “You can be responsible and do your duty. What’s more important to me is not having any regrets later on.”

Ack. Hee Tae says it matter-of-factly, but knowing what we know about the situation, this statement comes preloaded with a strong undercurrent of pathos and futility. He knows that he’s headed for heartbreak with Myung Hee, and he knows that he risks the ire of his father (Oh Man Seok) and Soo Ryeon’s father (Uhm Hyo Sup), but even so, Hee Tae stands by his choice, because he’d rather suffer heartache, than regrets. 😭

E6. I kinda love that Hee Tae shows up all drunk, to teach Jin Ah (Park Se Hyun) math, and then promptly passes out. To be clear, this is completely unprofessional, but tipsy Hee Tae is just too cute – as is the bedhead he wears the next morning, with the rebel curlicue of hair threatening to leave his scalp. Tee hee. It’s just adorable. 😆

E6. The conversation between Hee Tae and Jung Tae (Choi Seung Hoon) after their outing, as they’re walking home, is so poignant. Poor Jung Tae. I hadn’t realized it before, but his angst makes so much sense now that we know that Hee Tae is the one who was born out of wedlock. And yet, it’s Jung Tae’s mom (Shim Yi Young) who’s gossiped about as “the mistress.” That’s terribly unfair, especially from Jung Tae’s point of view.

Hee Tae’s answer is matter-of-fact but quietly comforting, “You’re right. No matter how hard I try to hide it, I can’t change the fact that I was born out of wedlock, and you’re the legitimate son. So you don’t need to be anxious. Okay?” That’s true. Nothing will ever change the fact that Jung Tae is his father’s legitimate son, no matter what people think or say. There’s wisdom in Hee Tae’s words, and I feel like, perhaps a bit of resignation too, at his own unchangeable identity.

E7. It was hard to watch Hee Tae go around looking for Myung Hee, oblivious to the fact that she’d been kidnapped by none other than his own father. Well, technically, her kidnappers were people that Dad had sent, but still, he was the one who was behind it.

I do appreciate that Hee Tae gets a niggling feeling that something’s wrong, and goes so far as to attempt to report Myung Hee missing at the police station, and then going all the way to her family home in Naju, on the off chance that she’d gone home because of an emergency.

While it’s nice that Myung Hee’s family receives Hee Tae warmly, I couldn’t help but wonder how Dad (Kim Won Hae) would feel, if he knew that the young man in front of him, was the son of the very man who had ruined his life, as well as the lives of his family members. Knowing the history between the two fathers, I just had this sinking feeling, even as I watched Mom (Hwang Young Hee) happily ply Hee Tae with food, and delight in the knowledge that he’s studying medicine at Seoul University. There’s just no future for our lovebirds, any way we look at it, is there? 😭

E7. Poor Hee Tae. The moment he realizes that his father is behind Myung Hee’s suffering, he tries to change his father’s mind, first by pretending to make light of it, and then, ultimately, tearfully begging on his knees. Unfortunately for Hee Tae, Chief Hwang is turning out to be a force to be reckoned with, and he has no choice but to accept Dad’s demand, that he leave for Seoul at once. This, with only a sliver of hope, that Dad will relent and allow Myung Hee to leave the country, if Hee Tae manages to please Dad with his best behavior. Dang, that’s hard.

E9. I feel for Hee Tae; he always seems to find himself in a position where he’s expected to treat and save patients, even though he hasn’t even graduated medical school yet. Given the trauma he’d suffered from his experience attempting to save Seok Chul, I can imagine the mental and emotional toll it’s taking on him, to don that doctor’s coat and treat the emergency patients in the hospital. I’m proud of him for steeling himself for it, for Myung Hee’s sake as well as the patients’ sakes, but I have to admit that I felt a deep sense of foreboding, when it came to Hee Tae working to revive Jin Ah.

What a resounding echo, to the time Hee Tae had worked to give Seok Chul CPR, desperately trying to revive her. This was a great callback on Show’s part, but I have to admit that I was half afraid that Jin Ah wouldn’t make it, which would have only deepened Hee Tae’s trauma around emergency care and CPR. Thankfully, Jin Ah comes to (PHEW), and I’m really relieved and glad for her, and for him.

E10. I so appreciate the levity of the idea that the nurses in the emergency room still have the presence of mind to gawk at Hee Tae as a fine specimen of a man, even though there is literally a disaster happening around them. Ha. I guess such is the powerful appeal of our Hee Tae? 😅🤩

[END SPOILER]

Go Min Si as Myung Hee

I really, really enjoyed Go Min Si in her role as Myung Hee.

Right away from episode 1, I found myself quite quickly drawn to Myung Hee as our female lead. There’s a softness and steeliness about her that makes for a very interesting combination, and which I think Go Min Si delivers very well. There’s vulnerability in her strength, and conversely, there is strength in her vulnerability; I liked that a lot.

I also found Myung Hee a very sympathetic character, so I was very quickly fond of her and rooting for her – even before I got to the end of our first hour. I can totally see why Hee Tae would be drawn to her too, heh.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. Myung Hee’s in a complicated and difficult position, balancing her dream of going to med school abroad, with being the main breadwinner of her family. The way she works herself regularly to the bone, already triggers my compassion for her. She is not having an easy time at all, and to make things worse, her colleagues gossip about her because they’re upset that her hardworking ethic is making them look bad, and it seems that she’s also regularly harassed by unreasonable patients while on the job. I’m already exhausted, just imagining what it’s like to be her.

She has spirit, though, and I admire that about her. The way she doesn’t flinch at the skeevy patient’s inappropriate advances, and makes a stand for herself, even though it gets her into trouble, is pretty darn badass. She’s no-nonsense because she literally has no time for it, and she strikes me as a sort of delicate bulldozer.

E2. It’s so poignant to hear Myung Soo (Jo Yi Hyun) say to Myung Hee, that he wishes she and Dad would get back on good terms, like in the old days, and that back then, Myung Hee had smiled a lot at home. Even though Myung Hee doesn’t say more about it, there’s a sadness – a wistfulness, perhaps? – about her, as she listens to Myung Soo.

E6. I like how Myung Hee is firm but gentle, in how she stands by her choice, when Soo Chan confronts her about her relationship with Hee Tae. She doesn’t back away from her choice; she only says that she’s finally mustered up her courage to make a choice for herself (vs. for others), and therefore she will stand by that choice, even if people bash her for it.

She is, essentially, choosing to be a bad person, which echoes what Hee Tae had first blurted out to her before, when she’d asked him to get engaged to Soo Ryeon. She might not have wanted to be the bad person in turning down Soo Ryeon before, but she’s certainly doing what she can, to make up for it, by choosing him now – as twisted as that looks, through some lenses.

E7. What a shock it must have been for Myung Hee, to come to, only to realize that the person before her, is Hee Tae’s father, whom she recognizes from the engagement ceremony. And how truly devastating, that he basically informs her, quite pleasantly, that she will not be going to Germany, because her father had once confessed to being a communist, and to violating the National Security Act.

What a cruel life Myung Hee is living right now; this is the opposite of how it should be, when you officially meet your boyfriend’s father for the first time.

The cold reality must start seeping in, when Myung Hee approaches Soo Chan for help, and he confirms that her passport, which had been on the verge of getting approved, is now on hold indefinitely. Chief Hwang really has her in his grip, doesn’t he? 😬

Myung Hee’s tearful rant at her father, is utterly heartbreaking.

“Why did you never tell me? I had no idea. I’ve blamed myself for everything all my life. I’ve regretted everything I’ve ever done. You could’ve… You could’ve told me it wasn’t my fault at least once.” … “If only you’d told me… If you’d only told me… why I must live in silence, once. Then I wouldn’t have gotten my hopes up for nothing. Why did you have to make a fool out of me? Why do I have to get shoved into the ground without knowing why?”

The tragedy of Myung Hee’s life, where she’s suffered unbelievably harsh consequences for reasons unknown, all these years, is just starting to sink in for me, and it’s excruciating to simply imagine myself in her shoes. How wretched, hopeless and alone, Myung Hee must feel. 😭

E8. It makes my heart pinch, to see how Myung Hee’s so focused on busying herself, in an effort to distract herself from the reality of Hee Tae and Soo Ryeon leaving for Seoul together. She’s pushing herself so hard, that she’s literally gone pale, and I honestly worried that she’d collapse from exhaustion.

Through it all, what strikes me is that the main thing we see from Myung Hee isn’t anger, or a sense of being wronged. Instead, as she continues to smile weakly at the people around her, the main vibe I’m getting from Myung Hee, is resignation. Even when Soo Chan literally begs her to allow him to help her, Myung Hee smiles and declines. I find it heartbreaking, honestly, that there is no trace of anger of bitterness in her countenance, as she accepts her fate.

[END SPOILER]

Hee Tae and Myung Hee together

I will unashamedly say that the story of our OTP is THE highlight of the show, for me. It was what drew me into the show to start with, and it was what kept me glued to my screen, all the way through to the end.

My sister had expressed a bit of concern, about whether it’d be weird seeing Lee Do Hyun and Go Min Si play a couple, when they’d recently played siblings in Sweet Home. I personally had having no problems with this whatsoever. I boarded this ship as early as episode 2, and never once thought of disembarking, heh.

When our OTP is allowed time and space to be cute, they are adorably endearing, and we get a nice amount of sweet couple moments. And when the angst sets in, the love between them is deep, stirring and enduring – and thoroughly moving.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E1. Even though Myung Hee’s mission is to get dumped by her (well, technically Soo Ryeon’s) blind date, it looks like it’s going to be an uphill task, since Hee Tae, who recognizes her as the feisty badass nurse from the hospital, already seems charmed by her. This is where we end our first episode, and I have to admit that I am very keen to see how this blind date unfolds.

E2. I love how all of Myung Hee’s efforts to turn off Hee Tae fall so flat; it’s like there’s nothing she can do, that will disgust him, or make him think less of her, or snuff out his interest in her. Instead, he remains genial, and matches each of her attempts with good humor. Augh. That is so melty to me, honestly. I love – just LOVE – how delighted he is, by her. I love this idea, that because he’s seen her as herself, nothing she does now, can deter him from wanting to get to know her better. This appreciation for her, just as she is, is just the sort of thing to make my heart race. Squee! 😍

I like how Show intersplices Soo Ryeon’s careful coaching on how to get dumped by her blind date, with Myung Hee’s valiant efforts to follow Soo Ryeon’s advice – with unexpected results. It’s cute and I find it all rather amusing.

I love how polite and considerate Hee Tae manages to be, even while he’s overturning Myung Hee’s efforts to ruin the blind date. When he asks to have a sip of her (supposedly shocking) beer, he’s careful to pour the beer into his mouth without touching the lip of the bottle. Would this be called.. manner lips, after the famous Korean manner hands? 😆

I love that not only is Hee Tae unfazed by Myung Hee’s apparent shopping habit, he notices that her shoes aren’t comfortable for her, and buys her a better fitted pair. GUH. Can Hee Tae be any more thoughtful, kind and sweet? 😍

Also, I love how he is clearly thinking of this thing with Myung Hee, in the longer term. I’m sure this has to do with Myung Hee herself, and not because he’d promised his father to do well on the blind date; this isn’t just a blind date he wants to get done and over with. He really does want to get to know Myung Hee better. And yet, he’s patient and good-humored about it. When Myung Hee asks why he chose not to graduate, he merely muses with a smile that he’ll tell her when they’ve gotten closer. Uff. In Myung Hee’s shoes, I’d be a melting puddle of toast; he’s just so warm and lovely.

Plus, he writes music, because he’s just that inspired by the time he’s spent with Myung Hee? Flail.

Of course, there is a cloud that hangs over this delightful meeting of our OTP. For one thing, I can’t help wondering what will happen when Hee Tae becomes faced with the inevitable, that Myung Hee isn’t the person Dad wants him to marry, and Dad is adamant that Hee Tae marry Soo Ryeon?

And for another, what about Myung Hee’s plan to pursue her studies overseas? That is literally her life’s dream; surely she wouldn’t give it all up because of a boy she’s just met? There is a distinct touch of wistfulness about Myung Hee, as she puts the shoes he’s given her, back into their box, and pushes them under her vanity, out of sight.

E2. I had to giggle at the slo-mo romantic scene of Hee Tae pulling Myung Hee out of harm’s way on the street, because not only is that very tropey, it’s exactly what Lee Do Hyun did in 18 Again too. Twice. And it’d been part of 18 Again’s promotional trailers too. I guess Lee Do Hyun’s just very good at rescuing ladies from oncoming vehicles..? 😆

Jokes aside, I really love how persistently good-natured Hee Tae is, in trying to make a connection with Myung Hee. She keeps trying to keep him at a distance, and he keeps on being persistent, but in the nicest, most decent sort of way. And how practical that he supplies her with bus tokens, when she’s all out of ’em.

And how about the way he leans into the bus and invites her out on a date the next day, in front of everyone? Tee hee. It’s all so amiable and warm, and he comes across as so harmless and cute, that I can see why the other passengers on the bus can’t help chuckling at the goings-on.

E2. Gosh, I love how considerate Hee Tae is, of Myung Hee. When he notices her uncertainty around the cutlery at the fancy restaurant they’re at, he asks the waitress which fork they’re supposed to use, as if he doesn’t know the answer himself. Seriously, how sweet is that?

It’s a bit much that he pours water on the head of the obnoxious doctor at the next table for talking trash about Myung Hee, but well, I guess Obnoxious Doc had it coming, from the rude things he was saying.

I do like how Hee Tae scoops up Myung Hee in a princess-carry, after she falls and sprains her ankle. It’s all very gallant, and how cool, that he has the skills to treat her ankle himself, when she insists that she absolutely cannot go to the hospital.

Their little accidental date at the park is so pretty and atmospheric; it feels almost magical, with those pink blossoms floating in the air. What I like even more, though, is how the conversation between Hee Tae and Myung Hee finally becomes more serious and honest.

When Myung Hee asks if Hee Tae’s being forced by his father to keep meeting her, I love Hee Tae’s answer, “To be honest, it wasn’t my first time seeing you at the hotel. I witnessed the car accident in front of the hotel. The whole time I was waiting for Ms. Lee Soo Ryeon in the coffee shop, I was thinking, ‘Gosh. Who cares about this date?’… ‘I should’ve talked to that girl from earlier.’ But then you walked in as my date. You didn’t have to be Lee Soo Ryeon, the daughter of Changhwa Industrial. Even if you were Ms. Song Mal Ja… or Ms. Kim Bok Soon, it would’ve made no difference to me.” Melt. ❤️

And then, when Myung Hee asks Hee Tae why he’d chosen not to graduate, I do like Hee Tae’s gently teasing reminder, that if he tells her the answer, it would mean that they’ve gotten closer. And Myung Hee nods! Eee!! She’s letting him in, and no longer holding him at a distance!

E3. I love the small, reassuring smile Hee Tae gives Myung Hee on the side, at Soo Ryeon’s house, so that she’ll know that he’s not mad at her for lying. And I love that he does whatever he can, to reinforce that assurance, from the kind way he looks at her, to the way he says that he doesn’t mind, when Myung Hee hesitates to stay for dinner. Everything about him gives off a strong soothing sort of vibe, and I am so drawn to that, seriously.

Tee hee. I love the way Hee Tae narrows his eyes with jealousy, even while keeping his composure, when he sees Soo Chan rest his hand on Myung Hee’s shoulder.

I love that the first chance he gets of being alone with Myung Hee, Hee Tae asks if her leg is ok. Augh. His laser-focus on her melts my knees. 😍 I love how he doesn’t even care to ask why she’d lied to him or anything around that. He only expresses concern for her well-being. How can she not fall for him, honestly?

And then, that beat, where he tells her that he’d missed her, and reaches for her hand, is quite thrilling. Even though it’s true that he doesn’t let go of her hand even when she tries to pull away, and therefore it can be argued that he’s overstepping her boundaries, somehow, this feels ok in context.

I think it’s because Hee Tae’s established again and again, just how decent and sincere he is; it’s abundantly clear that he means no harm toward Myung Hee, and respects her as a person. In this situation where she feels like she has no right to be there, and appears to want to disappear through the floor, it actually feels a little empowering, to have Hee Tae grab onto her hand, like he’s telling her that she has every right to be there; that he likes her just as she is. The warm, assuring smile that he wears, as he looks into her eyes, definitely helps. 🥰

E3. I love how warm and earnest Hee Tae continues to be, when Myung Hee meets him at the cafe. He’s so matter-of-fact about how he hadn’t been deceived by her, and how he just wanted to continue to meet her – just like he still does, now. Aw. I would be a helpless puddle in Myung Hee’s shoes; he’s just so appreciative of her, just as she is. 🥰

I also love how Hee Tae shrugs off Myung Hee’s protests that she’s from a penniless family, by stating outright that he was born out of wedlock. Ahhh. When he says that his mother was a nightclub singer, what he’d said before, about growing up eating other people’s leftovers, suddenly makes a lot of sense. His father’s undercurrent of disdain for him also makes sense.

I have to admire Hee Tae for how nonchalant he manages to be about this, since this is the kind fo stuff that can really affect you, as a kid. Instead, he tells Myung Hee that their pasts have made them into strong and interesting people. YESS. That’s such a great perspective. Could I love Hee Tae any more? Apparently I can. 🤩😅

E3. The scene where Myung Hee tells Hee Tae that they should stop seeing each other, is so poignant even though they really barely know each other. I love how Hee Tae doesn’t care about all the complicated situations that Myung Hee talks about, and only cares about how she feels, and what she wants. “Forget me and Soo Ryeon. What about you? Tell me how you feel, and I’ll make everything simple.” Augh. Swoon.

Even though Myung Hee cuts things off between them, there is a lot of sincerity in the way that she bids Hee Tae goodbye. “..let’s not do anything we’ll regret later on. Let’s end this here… so we can only remember the good things.” … “I’m glad to have met you. I really mean it.” Ack. I can practically hear Hee Tae’s heart breaking, as he lets her words sink in. At the same time, I feel like Myung Hee’s breaking her own heart too, in service of staying true to her career aspirations. 💔

E3. Even though Myung Hee’s cut things off with Hee Tae, these two just can’t help but care for each other, as we see during Soo Chan’s launch party. Hee Tae gets upset seeing other people treat Myung Hee as if she’s some kind of hired help, and Myung Hee gets upset at overhearing those same people gossip about Hee Tae’s birth secret. I kinda love the petty revenge she takes on the men, by putting loads of sugar in their coffee, when they’d asked for none. Ha. 😆

I also like how Hee Tae is quick to excuse himself, right after Myung Hee herself leaves the party. He’s so focused. 🤩

E3. It’s kind of tropey, but still very cute, how Hee Tae gets a job as Jin Ah’s tutor, and therefore gets to see Myung Hee at the boarding house. At this point, I’m unlikely to complain much at all, if Show manages to find a way for Hee Tae and Myung Hee to spend more time together, heh.

To add a bit more flavor to the scene about the apples, the word “apple” (사과; sagwa) in Korean is homonymous with the word “apology.” This is why Hee Tae keeps saying, “Is this a sagwa?” … “It is a sagwa indeed,” during the scene. To the casual observer, he just seems oddly obsessed with the plate of apple slices, but really, he’s teasing Myung Hee about offering him an apology.

Although I do think it’s rather thoughtless of Hee Tae to start fiddling with a guitar in the middle of the night while everyone’s sleeping, I do really like that scene where Myung Hee comes out to sit with him in the courtyard. I love how quietly matter-of-fact and honest Hee Tae is, as he tells her, “After what you told me, I thought hard about the remaining month. And I realized, it’s not the month we have that I’m afraid of, but how much I’ll be hurt after that month is gone. I like you, Myung Hee, and I’ll only continue to like you more and more.”

And then, as he plays on the guitar, and we see flashbacks of the various moments that he and Myung Hee have spent together, I can’t help but be reminded of the implied message of his struggle; that he’s rather miss her for a lifetime, than live in regret. And so, when Hee Tae articulates his request to Myung Hee, “Whenever I think of you, Myung Hee-sshi, I can’t help but sing.” … “Myung Hee-sshi. Do you want to go out with me… just until the end of May?,” I can’t help but swoon at the way Hee Tae is choosing to lay his heart bare, and be vulnerable, even though he knows that loving Myung Hee will inevitably lead to heartbreak.

AUGH. My heart. I’m a crying puddle. 😭 Flail.

E4. Hee Tae is so cutely enthusiastic about going on a date with Myung Hee, even though he has no idea where they’re going. It tickles me that he has an actual glass bottle of soda in his bag for the occasion, ha.

It’s great to see Hee Tae overcome his anxiety and give the kids the check-ups that they need, and therefore, it’s all the more heartbreaking, to see him frozen in panic, when that kid with gastroenteritis becomes ill after eating the bread he shares with her. In this moment, it feels like he’d made one step forward, only to fall two steps back. However, I’m glad that this incident becomes the catalyst which causes Hee Tae to share his backstory and related anxiety with Myung Hee.

And, I love how encouraging and supportive Myung Hee is, when she learns what had happened.

“You know, we don’t decide who lives or dies. That decision is up to the Almighty. All we can do is do our best within the lines drawn by the Almighty. And if I may share my opinion as someone who’s working in the same field, I know for a fact… that you’ll be a great doctor. You’re beating yourself up like this because you’re a very responsible person. And people like that are hard to come by.”

Such wise words, which I believe are just the things that Hee Tae needs to hear.

E4. Poor Hee Tae. This has got to be the biggest blow that he didn’t see coming. To think that he was waiting with eager anticipation, to hear Myung Hee say that she’ll date him, only to have Myung Hee make that request, that he get engaged to Soo Ryeon. Oof. That’s gotta hurt. 💔

E5. It breaks my heart that Myung Hee asks Hee Tae to get engaged to Soo Ryeon, not only because this hurts her, but also, because this hurts him as well. I know that Myung Hee sincerely likes Hee Tae, and will likely carry this heartbreak with her all her life, but I don’t know if she realizes that with that one “favor” that she’s asking of Hee Tae, it’s literally going to ruin his life in intimately and permanently wounding ways.

Given that in Korean culture, breaking off an engagement is as taboo as divorce, and given that this is set in the ’80s, between influential families, the pressure to follow through with the engagement would be even greater than for the average person. This means that Hee Tae will be fully expected to marry Soo Ryeon, and produce children from the union. It boggles my mind, that in one fell swoop, Myung Hee’s asking Hee Tae to ruin his entire life, and it breaks my heart, that Hee Tae agrees, needing only to hear that this is what Myung Hee truly wants. Ack. It’s too much for my heart to process, at its full magnitude. 😭

However, taking into account the flashback that starts off the episode, we see that Myung Hee herself has had a similarly life-changing request made of her, when she’d been in school. She’d taken the fall for being involved in activist events (which had involved Soo Ryeon, it seems), and this had resulted in her dropping out of school. Later in the episode, we see that this was a request that her father had made (I’m guessing probably under duress as well), and that Dad had told her to live quietly from that day onwards. Ack. How awful and heartbreaking.

It might not be the same thing, but it’s similar. Dad’s one request had changed Myung Hee’s life in deep and permanent ways, and she’s still living with the consequences of that request. Seen against the harsh reality in which they live, it’s not hard to understand how people might get pushed into a corner, and end up having to make certain decisions. These are not things that they want; these choices are made for the sake of survival.

I suppose this is why it’s top on Myung Hee’s mind, that she needs to help Soo Ryeon ensure the survival of her family. And I suppose with her mind full of survival, this could be why she doesn’t see – or doesn’t allow herself to see – the extent of the hurt that she’s asking Hee Tae to endure.

Given the full implication of Myung Hee’s request of Hee Tae, I can completely understand why he would suddenly have that “dead inside” vibe about him, whenever he sees her. I feel that he’s very hurt by her request, and also, probably hurt that she doesn’t seem to grasp what she’s really asking of him, and beyond that, also hurt by her implicit rejection of his affection, all in one.

And, poor Hee Tae, getting the wrong idea about Myung Hee going to Seoul with Soo Chan, when she’d only met Soo Chan by chance. The way Hee Tae confronts Myung Hee about it, is so poignant. There’s so much pent-up emotion in his eyes, as he asks Myung Hee if she’d gone to Seoul with Soo Chan that day. Poor Hee Tae. He’s so hurt by the thought that she’d asked Soo Chan to go with her, when it isn’t even true.

It’s rather ironic that Hee Tae blurts out to Myung Hee that she just doesn’t want to be a bad person, which is why she keeps saying that there’s nothing she can do. The truth is, by allowing him to think that she’d asked Soo Chan to go with her to Seoul, when she hadn’t, isn’t she purposely being the bad person? It’s all a matter of perspective. She’s being a bad person to him, but not to Soo Ryeon.

E5. Ack. How very, VERY awkward, when Myung Hee agrees to help Soo Chan pick out clothes as a return favor, only to run into the bridal couple at the same shop. Yikes. The way Hee Tae looks at Myung Hee, and the way she looks at him, then averts her eyes, I can practically feel their hearts cracking through my screen.

E5. Augh. Hee Tae looks so dashing in his suit and poufed up hair for the engagement, but he literally looks like a moving statue, not only because of how chiseled he looks, but because of how stony his expression is. Dang. This must so hard for him. 😭

E5. After the engagement party, when a despondent Myung Hee runs into an equally dispirited Hee Tae, and he realizes that she’s wearing the shoes that he’d given her, it feels like all the ice instantly melts away. The way he asks, with tears in his eyes, if she’s ok; the way she replies, with tears in her own eyes, that she’s not ok; that she doesn’t want this May to pass by without him in it; it’s all so honest and vulnerable.

I love the slow, deliberate way Hee Tae walks over to Myung Hee, and then takes her hand, smiling at her. Although the fact that he runs off with her feels reckless, it’s clear to see that he makes that decision in a very intentional manner. He takes her hand and takes off running with her, knowing that it’s a big step; knowing that this would very likely lead to trouble. But he takes it anyway, because it will give them unadulterated freedom and joy together – if only for a moment.

I hate to think of what kind of consequences face Hee Tae and Myung Hee afterwards, but for now, I just want to drown for a little bit, in the sight of them being happy together.

E6. There’s this tension between what’s “right” on the surface, versus what feels “right” to Hee Tae and Myung Hee. Neither of them actually wants this engagement between Hee Tae and Soo Ryeon, but they go along with it because it is perceived as the “right” thing to do. Myung Hee feels it’s “right” to step aside to help her friend’s family, especially since she’s due to leave Korea soon anyway, and Hee Tae feels it’s “right” to abide by Myung Hee’s wishes.

On the other hand, Hee Tae and Myung Hee match each other so well, and like each other so much, that it just feels “right” to them at a fundamental level, when they are together.

This tension between these two opposing stances is unrelenting, honestly. When I’m watching Myung Hee and Hee Tae together, I can’t help but notice the judgment of the other “right” hanging over them, and then, when they are abiding by their responsibilities and duties and going along with the engagement, I can’t help but feel the pathos of these two soulmates being separated by social pressures.

That scene where Hee Tae and Myung Hee exchange tokens of affection is all kinds of swoony, though, I have to admit. He’s so sweet, and a touch cheeky, as he muses about why people write song lyrics, and then almost caresses her cheek, as he reaches to touch her earring, to ask for it as a keepsake, so that he can think of her, when he looks at it.

And then, when Myung Hee reaches for his untied bow tie, which is hanging around his neck, I feel like the tone of their interaction suddenly shifts gears into something with mild but distinct shades of sexy to it.

The way his shirt collar is open; the way she slowly pulls that bow tie off his neck; the way she looks at him, as she quietly says, “I’ll take this.” ..It almost feels like she’s on the cusp of undressing him. Gulp. It’s no wonder he starts to move in, to kiss her – until the moment is interrupted by a patrol officer, who tells them to go home already, if they’re not going to get a room. Ha. Well. I guess I’m not the only one who reads the air between them as.. full of portent?

E6. The date that Hee Tae and Myung Hee go on, with both their little brothers in tow, is really cute, and quite amusing. Jung Tae’s quite the sharp little guy, isn’t he, all, “If you’re just friends, why are you so inseparable?” Good point, little guy! I found Hee Tae’s sputtered retort really funny too, “What about you and Myung Soo? You two are just as inseparable even though you’re not engaged.” Ahaha. Fair point?

E6. Hee Tae and Myung Hee are really cute together on their date, and I find it quite touching, that Hee Tae notices the sadness in Myung Hee’s eyes, even as they spend the day doing fun things, and asks her about it. Myung Hee’s answer is a sobering one, that she thinks of the many people who are suffering, for the sake of her happiness. I can see how this would be difficult for her, especially since she’s spent her whole life putting other people first. It’s sweet that Hee Tae and Myung Hee then agree to share everything, including their pain.

What a sweet first kiss they end up sharing, too. I like the mirroring that we get, that Myung Hee notices too, when Hee Tae seems out of sorts, and he confesses that he feels anxious, because he’s not used to being this happy. Aw. Poor guy. I like that Myung Hee takes the initiative, and steps forward to kiss him on the lips, to comfort him. And I like even more, that Hee Tae takes a moment to drink it in, before reaching out to a bashful Myung Hee, to kiss her back. Such a sweet, gentle, tender kiss, savored with such a sense of quiet wonder. ❤️

E7. I’m actually surprised that Hee Tae takes a while to clue in to the fact that there’s something really wrong, with Myung Hee, when he meets her while she’s on her way back to her family home. I mean, she looks like death warmed over, and I’d expected someone as caring as Hee Tae, to clue in right away, that something really bad has happened. Instead, he goes off on her for a fair bit, for making him worry. That felt out of character, to my eyes. Maybe I’ve developed too much affection for Hee Tae, and built up his character strengths in my head too much?

E7. The goodbye scene between Hee Tae and Myung Hee, is really heart-wrenching to watch. The way Hee Tae carefully keeps a distance, so as to allay Myung Hee’s fears (and probably also to keep things clear to anyone who might be spying on them), is such a stark contrast to how he’d so recently been smiling at her and holding her hand.

The heartbreak in Hee Tae’s eyes is so evident, as he tells Myung Hee that he’s leaving and likely never coming back; that the last few weeks that he’d spent with her, were the happiest times of his life. It’s so sad, the way he returns her broken earring, and ruefully remarks that that’s just how he is; anything that comes close to him just ends up getting broken. Guh. There is so much regret in his words, as he says the words.

I do appreciate the hopeful note on which he chooses to end his goodbye speech though, “I hope you continue to bravely go down the path that you wanted to take. You are… a strong person that no one can break.”

And, I’m grateful that Myung Hee lets down her guard enough to reply in a similar vein, “You too. I hope you stay strong and live bravely.” The sadness in her eyes is so evident as well, as she says these last words to him.

Last but not least, what a heartbreaking callback to the earlier scene, when Hee Tae had wished for Myung Hee to turn around. Before, he’d been giddy with delight, at having spent time with her, but now, his eyes are full of tears, and his voiceover is heart-rendingly emotional as well, as he wills her to turn around, turn around, turn around.. but she doesn’t. Ack. 😭

This scene is so well done, I feel. What a masterful voiceover by Lee Do Hyun, coz I can literally hear Hee Tae breaking down on the inside, as he ekes out his silent plea for Myung Hee to turn around. And then the sound of Myung Hee closing the gate behind her has such a resounding finality to it as well. It’s so hard to see them both break down crying afterwards; he, standing right there on the street outside her house, and she, crouching right at the very bench where he’d first asked her to date him. The irony of this detail, is so stark and cruel.

It’s only now that we see that Chief Hwang had basically threatened Myung Hee with the wellbeing of his own son; that he would ruin Hee Tae’s life, if she stayed next to him. It’s so tragic to realize that Myung Hee’s deal with Chief Hwang, to break up with Hee Tae doesn’t actually contain any condition that will improve her own situation. She still doesn’t have a passport, and she still can’t go to Germany to pursue her dream.

The only thing she can achieve by breaking up with Hee Tae, is to keep him out of danger from his own father. And she does it anyway. What an awful, unfair deal that Chief Hwang cuts; it only benefits him and him alone. And what a selfless love Myung Hee has for Hee Tae, that she would choose to protect him, even though there is no way for her to protect herself. Sob.

E8. Myung Hee breaking down in tears during her conversation with the priest in the church (Yoo Soon Woong), is really heartbreaking to watch. The way she softly laments that she’d actually found a reason to stay in Korea, but now, that reason is gone, along with her ability to leave, she feels so.. broken. Poor Myung Hee. 💔

In the light of this, I can believe that Myung Hee would throw caution to the wind, when she comes face to face with Hee Tae afterwards.

Augh. This scene is just so full of heartache. The way Hee Tae’s voice gets so tight, as he says, “I know. I already heard why… you had no choice but to say no. I know I shouldn’t have come. Whenever I think of you, I know… that I’ll eventually cause you pain. But I want to be with you and stay by your side. Can I come closer, Myung Hee-sshi?,” makes me feel his dilemma and heartbreak so acutely.

Even though alarm bells to do with Hee Tae’s dad are going off in my brain, my heart can’t help but feel a measure of vicarious relief for Hee Tae and Myung Hee, as they tearfully embrace. It feels like any sort of assuagement is worth it, in this moment, no matter how risky or impermanent.

Afterwards, the scene of Hee Tae and Myung Hee preparing to consummate their relationship, is so heartachey. This ought to be a beautiful, joyful moment in their relationship, and instead, as they cleave to each other, there is so much quiet heartbreak that comes across, as Myung Hee’s tears fall. It feels like there is no future for their relationship, and this singular moment is all that they have to offer each other. It also feels like as they cling to this moment, it’s slipping through their fingers anyway. So much heartache, and so much love, wound up together in one. 😭💔

To my ears, Hee Tae’s words, “You really… don’t have to be scared of anything anymore,” sound more like an earnest hope, than a confident declaration.

E9. It’s a very poignant thing, to watch Hee Tae hold Myung Hee to himself, after having spent their first night together, and the only thing I see written in his face, is worry. I appreciate that they plan to leave Gwangju together, but the more they work towards leaving, the less confident I feel, that they will actually manage to get away.

E9. I know I wish that Hee Tae and Myung Hee had managed to leave Gwangju before things got so crazy, but at the same time, I think it’s testament to their characters, that they would make those small decisions out of concern for others, that eventually led them to stay. Despite Hee Tae’s sense of urgency about leaving, Myung Hee’s concern, first for his head injury, and then for all the emergency patients flooding the hospital the next day, is valid.

If they’d left, he would have left with a concussion, which could have gotten worse, if he’d been trying to deal with it on his own, while on the road. Additionally, even though Myung Hee could have technically left with Hee Tae the next morning, what would that have said about her character, that she was able to see a deep and urgent need, and walk away from it? It’s not wrong to prioritize yourself, sure, but that’s just not the kind of person that Myung Hee is, and that’s part of the reason that she is who she is. Her staying to tend to patients in need, is her staying true to herself.

I’m glad that Hee Tae and Myung Hee spend some time talking, at the end of the episode. I’m also heartened that, even though they don’t end up leaving, Myung Hee’s all dressed and packed to go, like she’d promised Hee Tae. That’s give and take, right there, even in the midst of a very difficult situation, and I’m glad for it.

I’m also heartened to hear Hee Tae tell Myung Hee, when she apologizes for being stubborn, that it’s thanks to her stubbornness, that Jin Ah lived. That’s so true. Jin Ah could well have died, if Hee Tae hadn’t discovered her when he did.

I appreciate that Hee Tae tells Myung Hee that thanks to her, he didn’t run away from “lightning,” and instead, stayed. And, it does feel like the less dangerous of two options, when Hee Tae suggests that they stay in Gwangju until the worst is over. After all, they’d missed the safer window to leave, and leaving in the midst of the military raids sounds terribly dangerous.

However, Hee Tae’s final voiceover this episode, is so full of foreboding.

“We had a belief that we could handle anything together. And that inexplicable belief trumped all warning signs. The lightning was also nothing more than a warning sign. What was actually coming toward us was a tremendous storm. In the face of the storm, the only thing we could do was… hold each other’s hands so that we wouldn’t lose each other.”

Gulp. It feels like things are going to get even darker and harder, from here on out.

E10. It’s nice to see Hee Tae look out for Myung Hee, so that she doesn’t end up being taken advantage of by the other nurses who are unwilling to do the more unpleasant tasks. The way he interjects with a completely new and random task for Myung Hee, then leads her out of the emergency room by the hand, is such an obvious message to the other nurses, heh.

E10. This episode, Myung Hee struggles with the idea of hypocrisy.

In the first instance, she talks to Hee Tae about how, if they leave, she’s worried that everyone else will have to do a lot more work because of them. Hee Tae’s counter-perspective is an interesting one, “If you really want to be good, you must put yourself first. If you put others before yourself, that’s hypocrisy, I think.”

He acknowledges that other people would normally call this a sacrifice, but, he says, to someone who loves her, it’s hypocrisy. I think this refers to how, if Myung Hee loves Hee Tae back, she’d be concerned with her wellbeing, the way he’d be concerned for her wellbeing.

The other instance, is when Myung Hee looks at the face of the crying child on the street, and feels relief that it’s not Myung Soo. She feels like a huge hypocrite, for feeling relief, because even though he’s not Myung Soo, he’s as precious to his family, as Myung Soo is, to her. I’m glad that Hee Tae is there to give her comfort and perspective, that it’s normal and human, to wish for their loved ones to be well.

[END SPOILER]

Keum Sae Rok as Soo Ryeon

I have to admit that for a fair stretch of our story, I wasn’t quite sure of what to make of Soo Ryeon, as a character.

I was curious to know how deep her apparent passion for democracy runs, for her, because even though she appears to be full-on serious about it, there is also that layer of her being from an influential family. I couldn’t help wondering if she was in it just to “be cool” like her friends.

I also couldn’t figure out whether to dislike her, because there are times in our story where Soo Ryeon does things, which lead to other people getting hurt. At those times, I couldn’t help feeling frustrated with her.

To Keum Sae Rok’s credit, because her delivery of Soo Ryeon definitely helped to keep her from being unlikable, and also, to Show’s credit, for the writing around Soo Ryeon, I actually came around to respect Soo Ryeon by the end of our story.

[SPOILER ALERT]

When I felt perplexed about Soo Ryeon

E4. On the one hand, I do chafe at the idea of Soo Ryeon coming between Myung Hee and Hee Tae – because obviously she will – and I only want good and happy things for our pair of cute almost-lovebirds. On the other hand, it’s true that she’s under a lot of pressure from her father; he’s literally telling her that the future of their entire family rests on her marriage to Hee Tae.

And it’s true that Soo Ryeon doesn’t actually want to marry Hee Tae. If she could have her way, she’d happily live having nothing to do with him. Plus, she doesn’t yet realize that Myung Hee likes Hee Tae, and so she’s making requests of both Hee Tae and Myung Hee, without knowing that the feelings between Myung Hee and Hee Tae are mutual. For her, she only sees this as a matter of survival. Given how darkly ominous Hee Tae’s father is when he interrogates her, and how exasperated and desperate Soo Ryeon’s own father is, after getting her out, I can see why Soo Ryeon would feel under pressure to at least pretend to marry Hee Tae.

Also, my sense is that Soo Ryeon might well be a lot less bold and reckless about her activist exploits, if she knew that she didn’t have an influential father who would be able to get her out of any mess that she might land in.

Overall, having weighed all that, I’m still leaning towards frustration towards her as a character, though I don’t outright hate her.

When I became convinced of Soo Ryeon’s heart

E8. Seeing Seok Chul in her hospital bed seems to stir something in Soo Ryeon; I think it’s the idea that Seok Chul had been afraid, but had still done what she felt needed to be done. It seems that this gives Soo Ryeon a fresh spurt of courage, because it’s immediately after this, that she bids goodbye to Hee Tae, after telling him to go to Gwangju, to be with Myung Hee.

This episode, I appreciate that Soo Ryeon’s actions reinforce the impression that I’ve had thus far, that she is not a bad or hateful person. There’s an earnestness about her, even though she can be misguided. And the way she tells Hee Tae about her conversation with Myung Hee, and urges him to go to Myung Hee, shows that she does want to set things right.

E9. Even though she knows that nothing she does can change the situation, and even though Soo Chan urges her to come home, Soo Ryeon chooses to stay with the activists, and tend the injured, because she believes that the little that she can do, is still worth something to someone.

At this point, I’m convinced of Soo Ryeon’s heart. Before, I’d been doubtful about her sincerity; I’d assumed that she was thinking of her influential father as her backup plan for whenever she got into trouble. But here, in this very terrible time, Soo Ryeon is painfully aware that it is a highly unusual and dangerous time where even her influential family might enjoy no protection. Yet, she chooses to do what she feels is needful, in spite of her fears. She really is walking the talk, and I have a newfound sense of respect for her.

[END SPOILER]

Soo Ryeon’s friendship with Myung Hee [SPOILERS]

Even though we are introduced to Myung Hee and Soo Ryeon as besties, it’s not long before we start to realize that there is a lot more underneath the surface to explore.

On one hand, I found Soo Ryeon self-centered and inconsiderate of Myung Hee. There are multiple occasions in our story where we see her take Myung Hee for granted.

For example, in episode 3, even though she does make sure to check in with Myung Hee on whether Myung Hee has feelings for Hee Tae, which makes her look like a good friend, it’s hard to ignore the fact that Soo Ryeon had gone ahead to say something to Hee Tae about Myung Hee seeing him for money, which she’d assumed would put a stop of any interest that Hee Tae might have in Myung Hee. This means that she’d taken steps to cut off any potential relationship between Hee Tae and Myung Hee, even before Myung Hee had had a chance to tell Soo Ryeon how she felt.

Having said that, I do get the sense that Soo Ryeon is more self-focused than anything, and just isn’t as considerate or empathetic of a friend, as I would like, ie, I don’t think she’s actively taking advantage of Myung Hee.

It’s in the daily things. If Soo Ryeon really cared about Myung Hee’s feelings, she’d put more effort into asking Myung Hee about them, rather than wait for Myung Hee to volunteer that information, especially given Myung Hee’s reticent, self-sacrificing nature. Instead, Soo Ryeon seems to consistently take Myung Hee’s patience and good nature for granted. Even when we take Hee Tae out of the picture, just the way Soo Ryeon keeps Myung Hee waiting in her room, and then forgets to apologize and explain what had happened, seems to be a matter of habit rather than exception.

On the other hand, we eventually learn that there is a lot of hidden angst in their friendship as well. Myung Hee had secretly believed for years, that she had shouldered all the blame for something that had involved Soo Ryeon, and had dropped out of school, while Soo Ryeon had escaped any censure altogether. This turns out to be a huge misunderstanding, so ultimately, Myung Hee isn’t blameless either, in this friendship. She had kept bad feelings and assumptions towards Soo Ryeon for years, around this.

Ultimately, though, by the end of our story, I do believe that the friendship between them is sincere and real, in spite of both of their flaws. And, I’m glad that Soo Ryeon is there for Myung Hee, when Hee Tae disappears in episode 11.

Kim Won Hae as Myung Hee’s Dad [SPOILERS]

When we first meet Myung Hee’s dad, his relationship with Myung Hee is already strained to the point where Myung Hee finds it difficult to even speak with him.

The deeper we get into our story, though, the more we see that Dad does care very much for his family; for Myung Hee and Myung Soo in particular. In episode 2, even though his relationship with Myung Hee is so strained, he does look longingly at a pair of ladies shoes, like he wishes he could buy them for Myung Hee, so that she’d be able to stop wearing sneakers.

When we eventually see how Dad has suffered so much from being wrongfully accused of being a communist, and how helpless he feels, at how this misfortune is extending to Myung Hee’s life. It’s heartbreaking to think about, honestly.

Even though Myung Hee blames Dad for never having told her, there’s really not much that he could have done, really. It’s pretty much a case of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. Myung Hee would have suffered either way. And it’s awful that as a parent, Dad knows that there’s nothing he could have done, and nothing that he can now do, to change that. 💔

I’ll talk more about Dad’s fate in the spotlight on our penultimate episode, but for now, I just want to say that Dad’s life is so terribly tragic, and his love for his children, so incredibly selfless. 😭

Myung Soo and Jung Tae

I found myself growing quite a soft spot for Myung Soo and Jung Tae, over the course of my watch.

They are both children of unfortunate circumstances, albeit in different ways, and it was heartwarming to see them overcome their differences and become friends.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E2. I am particularly fond of Myung Soo, for how innocently cute he is, like the way he calls Myung Hee on the phone, all excited about being in Gwangju; it’s really endearing. The way he lights up when he sees her at the stadium is really heartwarming too. And what a little champ he is, managing to come in second place, even though he lost a shoe during the race.

E5. It’s so cute how the boys muse out loud about what engagements are, then practically pummel Jung Tae into agreeing to bring them back food from the party. It’s great to see Jung Tae actually smiling, as they pummel him. You only get pummeled and tasked to sneak food, if you have friends, after all. These kids are so cute.

E10. The arc of Myung Soo and Jung Tae sneaking out of the training camp to go to the comic-book store, was difficult to watch. I was so worried that they’d get shot or detained. I’m so relieved that they make it back ok, and my heart is warmed at the idea that it’s credit to Jung Tae’s quick thinking and bravery, that they make it back safely.

I wouldn’t have blamed Jung Tae, if he’d run off, leaving Myung Soo behind, because he’s just a kid, caught in a very scary situation. But he goes back for Myung Soo, even though he’s obviously scared, and I’m so proud of him for that.

[END SPOILER]

Shim Yi Young as Jung Tae’s Mom

Jung Tae’s mom is one of those characters that snuck up on me. At the beginning of my watch, she’d seemed like an inconsequential minor character, but by our later episodes, I really came around to respect her, as I grew to understand her better.

Here’s the spotlight on episode 8, where I thought she was pretty awesome.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E8. The conversation between Soo Ryeon and Jung Tae’s mom, is the first time we’re really hearing anything that tells us more about Jung Tae’s mom, and I’m pleasantly surprised by the hints of history and depth, that we get in her words. “Soo Ryeon-sshi, you remind me of myself when I was young. If you let fear rule your life, you’ll be daunted by more and more things, to the point that you can’t do anything. And if that happens, you’ll become even more fearful.”

I really like how kind and empathetic Mom comes across in this scene, and given what we know, that she’s been gossiped about as “the mistress” all her marriage, I can only imagine the kind of difficulties she’s faced, and the kind of quiet resilience she’s cultivated, over the years. The fact that she can be kind and empathetic despite going through something as corrosive as that, says a lot about her character.

I appreciate how Hee Tae apologizes to Jung Tae’s mom, for how his presence must have made her uncomfortable, and I appreciate, too, how Mom doesn’t appear to take it to heart, and even asks Hee Tae to take care of Soo Ryeon instead. I’m really starting to respect this lady.

[END SPOILER]

Special shout-out:

Jung Wook Jin as Officer Choi [SPOILER]

E9. I’m really gutted by the arc around the policeman who helped Soo Ryeon. He’d appeared to be such a peripheral sort of secondary character, that I hadn’t paid much attention to him. But this episode, he leaves such a deep impression, for how he stepped in to save that crowd of detained townspeople, despite knowing that he was putting himself in serious danger by doing so.

That scene where Soo Ryeon finds him in a dark alley, beaten so badly that he’s barely alive, is so tragically haunting. With his last breath, he still asks for Soo Ryeon’s name, because he never got to know it. Augh. That’s so sad. Poor Mr. Policeman. I don’t know if he knew that he would end up dying, for that act of kindness and mercy, but he is surely a hero in his own right. 😭

STUFF THAT WAS OK

Lee Sang Yi as Soo Chan

I have Soo Chan in this section because, while I didn’t find him the most interesting among our characters, I did think that he charted an important growth journey, in Show’s final stretch. I also want to credit Lee Sang Yi for delivering really nicely, in some of Soo Chan’s more difficult moments.

[SPOILER ALERT]

Excellent delivery

In episode 6, Soo Chan tries to find a reason to break off the engagement between Soo Ryeon and Hee Tae, not only in the interest of his business, but also, because he himself is nursing feelings for Myung Hee. That all goes horribly wrong, however, when Hee Tae’s Dad targets Myung Hee, and not only kidnaps her, but also cuts off her passport and visa application, thus crushing her dream of going to school in Germany and starting a new life.

In episode 8, Lee Sang Yi’s delivery of Soo Chan’s growing desperation and guilt is really excellent. I can sense that this desperation and guilt is bearing down on him so hard that it’s crippling him. I do feel sorry for him in this moment, because we’ve all done something while blinded by emotion, only to regret it afterwards, when nothing can be done to reverse it, and this is exactly what’s happening to Soo Chan right now. To make things that much worse for him, is the fact that his emotional actions have ended up hurting the girl that he clearly likes.

Soo Chan’s awakening 

I think Soo Chan’s privileged background led him to falsely believe that he would remain untouched by the chaos ensuing from the martial law, even if other people were affected by it.

What a rude shock it must have been for him, to get beaten up and detained in episode 9, for trying to dissuade a pair of soldiers from harassing a schoolgirl. I don’t want to wish suffering for anyone, but I have to admit that a part of me feels a touch of satisfaction, that Soo Chan’s no longer living in his bubble, and is waking up to reality.

However, it is hard to see Soo Chan being tossed around like a bloodied rag doll, while in detention. What an awful awakening this must be for him, not only to be treated like this by the soldiers, but to also be treated like this by Chief Hwang himself, when Chief Hwang has him released. I imagine that he must feel so helpless and powerless now.

That scene in our finale, where he tells those parents that their missing son is alive, gives us such a different Soo Chan than the one we’d met at the beginning of our story. We see a lot of pain and brokenness in his eyes, because of all that he’s suffered to get to this point, but now there’s also realization and empathy, where before there’d been privilege and oblivion.

[END SPOILER]

The thing with Soo Ryeon and Hee Tae [SPOILERS]

Soo Ryeon and Hee Tae’s engagement doesn’t have them spending all that much time together, but I thought that episode 8, where they go to Seoul together, was so well handled, that it deserved a bit of a spotlight.

Episode 8

The scene at the railway station is so understated, and so well played. I can see the uncertainty and trepidation in Soo Ryeon’s body language, and the studied, low-key glassiness in Hee Tae’s gaze tells us so much, about how he’s numbed himself in order to go through with this. It’s sad to watch, because an engagement is supposed to be a happy event in one’s life, but in this case, this engagement is a form of imprisonment for both Hee Tae and Soo Ryeon.

I do think that the way Show portrays how Hee Tae and Soo Ryeon behave in relation to each other, after their departure from Gwangju, makes a lot of sense.

From the way Hee Tae is reticent but responsible, I can feel that he’s doing his best to manage his own misery, and do what he’s promised. To my eyes, he’s trying to make the best of a bad situation, and although I don’t think he’s got the future figured out, I do think that he’s trying to be a decent person to Soo Ryeon. He doesn’t see himself as being close to her, nor does he attempt to foster any kind of closeness between them; I think to him, they are just two people caught in a bad situation together, who need to make their way through it, somehow.

The more we see Hee Tae going about his business in Seoul, the more apparent his wretchedness becomes. From the sadly matter-of-fact way he tells his activist reporter friend to go ahead and spread the news that it’s dangerous to associate with Hee Tae because of who his father is, to the way he breaks down in sobs in that taxi while thinking about Myung Hee, I can feel Hee Tae’s pain so acutely, as it comes surging to the surface.

At the same time, I can feel Soo Ryeon’s uncertainty, because she’s going to an unfamiliar place and leaving her friends and family behind. The only person she knows, really, is Hee Tae, and therefore he immediately becomes her anchor. She looks to him for guidance, acceptance, help, direction; everything, basically.

Therefore, when Hee Tae doesn’t offer more than the most basic of connections, it makes her feel lost, like she’s been cast into the sea to float about aimlessly, and it’s scary for her. While this is going on, there’s also a lot of guilt at work within her; she believes that this is all her fault, and the thought that Hee Tae, Myung Hee and both her family’s and Hee Tae’s family are in this situation because of the lies that she’d told, must be suffocating her, so much.

That scene where Soo Ryeon finally bursts out at Hee Tae, blurting out all of this, feels very organic to me. It feels like a culmination of a lot of pent-up anxiety and guilt. I think it’s very decent of Hee Tae to tell Soo Ryeon that he’s never blamed her. Given how awful he feels, and how Soo Ryeon’s all ready to take the blame, it would have been too easy for Hee Tae to blame Soo Ryeon too. But he doesn’t. Instead, he tells her that he doesn’t blame her, and even starts to include her as he takes care of matters regarding Seok Chul’s transfer to Gwangju. That’s awfully decent of him, I feel, especially since he himself feels so wretched.

At the same time, though, I do wonder at the folly of Soo Ryeon and Hee Tae running away from their families. It kind of negates the whole importance of the marriage alliance, and how much their families’ expectations and wellbeing weighs on them both, if the both of them just essentially run away like this. I do think that both Soo Ryeon and Hee Tae are overwhelmed by their emotions, and acting on said emotions, and I also think that it’s believable that they might be overwhelmed and act impetuously. I just.. worry about the consequences. 😬

Hee Tae’s friendship with Kyung Soo [SPOILERS]

The friendship between Hee Tae and Kyung Soo doesn’t get a lot of screen time, but it is clearly a friendship that endures.

In episode 10, we finally get some context for Hee Tae’s friendship with Kyung Soo, and even though it’s just one flashback scene of them having a conversation at a cafe, I feel that it does tell us one important thing: these two see each other for who the other person is. Kyung Soo can see that Hee Tae isn’t the bad guy that everyone else thinks he is, and Hee Tae can see that Kyung Soo isn’t the nice guy that everyone else thinks he is – but a strong person, which Show only fills in towards the end of the hour.

That feels like a pretty strong foundation for an enduring and meaningful friendship, though, doesn’t it? And, it only makes this chasm between them, that we’ve seen all series long, where Hee Tae can’t seem to reach Kyung Soo, no matter how hard he tries, all the more poignant.

It’s a pretty great twist, actually, the way Show plays with the idea that Kyung Soo’s not a nice guy. He puts in the bullets backwards in his rifle, because he doesn’t want to shoot people, but gets harshly schooled by not only his angry sergeant, but even by the only friend that he has in camp, that he’s not being nice, because if he won’t shoot, he’s forcing other people to shoot.

It’s only at the end of the episode,  when Kyung Soo gets a jolt of clarity, and remembers that Hee Tae had told him he isn’t nice, he’s strong, that Kyung Soo gets the courage to lean into that strength, and state that the reason he couldn’t shoot, was because Myung Hee’s a nurse, and clearly not a rebel. Wow. I love that it’s Hee Tae’s words, that ultimately give him clarity and courage.

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH

Oh Man Seok as Chief Hwang

For the record, I think Oh Man Seok is great as Chief Hwang. It’s just that Chief Hwang himself is so unlikable, that I just had to put him in this section. (Also, where has the time gone? Oh Man Seok is now old enough to plausibly be cast as Lee Do Hyun’s father? 😳)

Chief Hwang does a lot of terrible, reprehensible things in our story, so much so that he sort of functions like a Big Bad in our drama world. He was the guy that we should all love to hate, pretty much.

While I found it believable that Chief Hwang would be this way, as a product of his ambition as well as his environment, I felt that the way Show chose to wrap up Chief Hwang’s arc, lands rather weak, and is therefore one of Show’s weaker links.

Here’s a quick look at a sampling of Chief Hwang’s Resume of Terror, as well as my quick thoughts on the wrap-up of his arc.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E4. Chief Hwang seeking out Myung Hee’s father at his watch kiosk, and basically threatening Myung Hee’s safety, if she doesn’t behave herself, is just the sort of stuff that makes the skin on my neck crawl. He’s so menacing, even when he’s pretending to be friendly. I totally believe that he would do something bad to Myung Hee, if he sees her being chummy with Hee Tae.

E6. I winced at the way Dad wastes no time in hitting Hee Tae the next morning. While Dad may have told Hee Tae that he’s free to see other women after marriage, embarrassing Dad in front of others – like disappearing from his own engagement, for example – is absolutely unacceptable. And Dad is quick to establish that the next time Hee Tae disappoints him like this, it will definitely not end with a simple slap. Dang. And you know Dad’s not exaggerating or anything either; he is full of nefarious possibility.

E6. Even though Chief Hwang hadn’t seemed to have intended to interfere with Chairman Lee’s company, it doesn’t take much persuasion from Man of Influence Han Suk Joong (Lee Hwang Eui), before he’s pushing Han Suk Joong’s cousin as a candidate to jointly manage Changhwa Pharmaceuticals. And when Chairman Lee protests that this is robbery without a gun, Chief Hwang outright informs Chairman Lee that it is, in fact, robbery with a gun. Yikes. And he manages to threaten Chairman Lee, while appearing perfectly reasonable and polite, too. I’m.. guessing Chairman Lee starts regretting this engagement right about now. 😛

E6. Chief Hwang telling Soo Ryeon and her family, in response to the accusation that Hee Tae’s seeing someone else, that he’ll take responsibility and sort out everything, is so full of foreboding. I can hardly believe that he actually has Myung Hee kidnapped. Not only that, he puts a stop to her passport and visa application process, all for the purpose of manipulating Hee Tae to do his bidding. It’s truly awful.

E7. That flashback that we see, that Myung Hee’s dad had been innocent, and had been forced to make that confession, after Chief Hwang’s people had beaten him up and ruined his knee, is so hard to watch. I find it hard to wrap my head around how nonchalant and cheerful Chief Hwang looks in the flashback, as he persuades Dad, saying, “If you end up with more injuries, your mother will be so worried that she’ll fall ill again.”

E10. I’d thought that Chief Hwang was the worst, but this episode, we see that his supervisor, General Choi (Kim Joon Won), is even worse. The way General Choi pushes Chief Hwang, not only to be personally involved in all meetings, but to keep an eye on his son (with a thinly veiled threat embedded, to boot), I’m starting to feel like Chief Hwang may not be as bad as we’d thought? As in, maybe his heart hasn’t been as into his work as we’d thought, because at least part of that dedication, was because he was likely being pushed by people like General Choi?

To be clear, I’m not saying that Chief Hwang is blameless. He’s definitely personally invested in all this, because of his ambition.

E12. I just wanted to say that Chief Hwang’s awakening in our finale, did not land with a great deal of oomph, for me. It felt rushed and convenient, as in, I couldn’t quite believe that he actually had that much care in him, to be as horrified as he was, when Jung Tae got shot, and his family left him.

[END SPOILER]

Some stuff is hard to watch

Because the Gwangju Uprising is the context of our story, we inevitably see military brutality at work, in our drama world. This was really hard to watch, and this difficulty was further amplified by the knowledge that these are all things that are based on true events.

The thought that just being a young person of college-going age – never mind whether you were actually involved in protests, or even went to college at all – was enough to earn you detention and torture, sends chills down my spine. That’s a really frightening situation to be in, and it was horrifying to see how things likely unfolded that fateful day, not that long ago.

On the other side of the coin, it feels like the soldiers themselves have been so schooled and so bullied into the routine of brutality, that it becomes a reflex, where they are violent to others without even stopping to think about whether the person they are targeting, is actually a rebel.

Knowing that real people had suffered on both sides of this terrible equation, just a few decades ago, adds a strong sense of raw horror, to the watch experience. 😭

Perceived missteps [SPOILERS]

Aside from how Chief Hwang’s arc is wrapped up, I thought there were two other occasions where Show could have done better.

E3. Given how good-humored and decent Hee Tae’s come across – even when he’s suddenly faced with the sudden attentions of a random girl at a cafe – I thought that his bickering scenes with Soo Ryeon were a little OTT. I tried to rationalize that this just goes to show how aggressive and unreasonable Soo Ryeon can be, where she even kicks Hee Tae while at the hospital, and therefore I can’t blame Hee Tae for losing his patience with her, I.. still found the treatment a little too broad for this show’s overall tone.

E10. I’m actually curious to know how Hee Tae manages to get Myung Soo’s shoes, to hand to Myung Hee. I mean, they’d only seen one shoe, during the trip to the town center that we saw them take. And, they hadn’t taken that shoe when they’d seen it. Does this mean that Hee Tae took another trip out afterwards, and looked around until he found both shoes? That feels implausible, if the soldiers were guarding the place as aggressively as we saw? He’d have been shot at, before getting to that first shoe? Where did these shoes magically appear from?

THEMES / IDEAS [SPOILERS]

Aside from the ones I’ve already mentioned in this review, here are a few more themes and ideas that I noticed during my watch.

Children as resources

E2. There’s this idea that’s coming to the fore, about children being sources of income. First, there’s Myung Hee, of course. But there’s also Hee Tae’s friend Seok Chul. This episode, it’s really quite startling how Seok Chul’s mother reacts, when she hears that her daughter is in the hospital. Instead of being concerned for her daughter’s health, she’s more interested in what this means for their family income. Dang. That’s cold.

There’s the other side of the coin as well, of the idea that Show’s been serving up, that kids are resources. Soo Ryeon and Hee Tae aren’t their families’ breadwinners, but they are still depended on, when it comes to the family’s finances. Their marriage is something that their parents are counting on, for gains that include power and money.

That scene where Hee Tae’s father entertains his important guests, the entire family is expected to put on a good show, such that they appear to be a picture-perfect happy family.

Us vs. Them

E1. In the 1980 timeline, it quickly becomes clear that there are two broad categories of people in this world; those who protest against martial law, and fight for democracy, and those who don’t. At least, that’s the way the protestors see it; you are either with us, or against us, whether you’re part of the regime, or simply don’t care enough to get involved.

E2. Soo Ryeon’s shocked by the cold reception she gets from her activist comrades, after their release from jail. The questions that her friends ask her, indicate a suspicion that stems from us-versus-them sort of thinking. Even though she’s the one who got them released, they can’t help asking why she’d gotten released before everyone else, and how she’d managed to get them out.

From what I can tell, this all boils down to her father and his connections, and I think, because they see this as her secondary connections as well, they now feel like they can’t trust her like they used to, when this hadn’t been on the table.

Staying in your lane vs. crossing the line

E4. This episode, there’s a lot that’s said about staying in your lane and not crossing the line. But it’s Jung Tae’s words to Myung Soo, that seem to contain an important nugget of wisdom; that there are times that you can and should cross the line and move out of your lane, if you’re going the distance. I feel like this is going to be significant to our key characters.

There are two sides to every story

E10. Even though Soo Ryeon’s horror at the activists handing out rifles makes sense, that other protestor has a point too; with the soldiers now shooting at civilians, it’s hard to justify not finding a way to protect themselves. And yet, when Chief Hwang mentions to General Choi that the rioters have robbed the armory, General Choi remarks that things are going according to plan. It’s just like Soo Ryeon said; they are trying to make the protestors look like mere rioters. Ugh. What a difficult situation, honestly.

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]

Oof. I feel like I’ve had the wind knocked out of me; this episode was as difficult as it was moving to watch, and I’m a little afraid of what the finale has in store for my poor heart, because it doesn’t look like our story is going to get any easier for our characters.

Before we get back to where our story had left off last episode, I just wanted to say, it’s interesting that Show begins the episode back in the present, where we’d first started our story, with the apparently homeless man at the train track, because, while we still don’t know who he is, we now know that the person whose remains were found, had been in possession of Myung Hee’s dad’s pocket watch.

This adds a layer of tension through our episode, because each time that pocket watch was taken out, I kept wondering whether Dad was going to give it away to the person he was talking to, and therefore, whether that person would end up being the skeleton unearthed at the construction site in Gwangju. Where we end the episode, it’s Hee Tae who’s holding on to that pocket watch, and I can’t help wondering if the skeleton is him, and if so, how he’d died during the Uprising. Ack. It’s hard to think about, on top of everything else that Show serves up this episode.

First of all, we get confirmation that Hee Tae’s disappearance was indeed engineered by Chief Hwang, and it is such a disturbing sight, really, to see that Chief Hwang is transcribing Bible scripture, while waiting for Hee Tae to regain consciousness. I’m pretty sure the Bible doesn’t endorse fathers injuring and kidnapping their sons, and then holding them captive the way Chief Hwang is doing to Hee Tae. It’s mindboggling to think that Chief Hwang considers himself a faithful and religious man. 🤯

I don’t think Chief Hwang is even kidding, when he considers Hee Tae’s question, about whether he’s planning to blow up the hospital, to erase any evidence that Hee Tae was ever there. I honestly think Chief Hwang has it in him to do something like that. Also, it’s really inhumane, how Chief Hwang keeps Hee Tae gagged and tied to that chair, with not even a drop of water to drink. He might actually be serious about letting Hee Tae die, I think.

While it’s horrible to think that a father would kill his own son, we see later in the episode that Chief Hwang doesn’t actually see Hee Tae as his son; he only sees Hee Tae as an orphan that he’d adopted (never mind that Hee Tae actually has his DNA). Which makes it that much easier for Chief Hwang to dispose of Hee Tae, once he perceives that Hee Tae is of no further use to him. It’s deadly, it’s cold, and it’s not at all out of character for Chief Hwang, honestly.

Meanwhile, poor Myung Hee’s going crazy with worry for Hee Tae, and in this moment, it actually feels like a relief of sorts, that Soo Ryeon happens to show up, and is able to offer at least a little bit of encouragement and a listening ear. I feel quite touched, really, that when Myung Hee says that there’s nothing she can do, Soo Ryeon earnestly tells her that of course there is; that Myung Hee needs to wait for Hee Tae. I actually love that Soo Ryeon’s able to frame that waiting as something active, for Myung Hee; that’s sure to give Myung Hee some consolation.

I feel like, now, in this crisis, any last doubts that might have still been lingering in my mind about their friendship, effectively melt away. The moment Soo Ryeon realizes that Myung Hee’s in some kind of personal distress, her concern comes across as immediate and sincere. I believe that for all of their difference in personality and circumstance, the heart of the friendship between Soo Ryeon and Myung Hee, is real.

It is so like Myung Hee, to choose to stay put in the hospital, even though it will likely expose her to greater danger. Hee Tae is just that important to her, that she’d be willing to risk her safety, for the chance of being reunited with him again.

Dad’s urgency in wanting Myung Hee to leave with him and Myung Soo, makes a lot of sense to me; it’s clear that it’s not safe for Myung Hee to stay in Gwangju. To my eyes, this makes Dad’s ability to understand Myung Hee’s need to wait for Hee Tae really quite remarkable. Even though it takes some time and arguing, Dad is eventually able to see that Myung Hee really has found something – someone – who is so important to her, that it’s worth risking her life for. That’s profound.

It must be so very difficult for Dad to leave Myung Hee behind, as he makes to depart Gwangju with Myung Soo, and yet he eventually does it, with an inner grace that I find utterly moving. The way Dad explains it to Myung Soo, in a way that Myung Soo can understand, is so touching as well.

I find that the way Myung Hee explains to Soo Chan her decision to stay and wait for Hee Tae, using a simple analogy that he’ll be able to understand, similarly touching. There’s something deeply moving about these people moving beyond their instinctive fears, and letting go of their own desires, to respect the desires of their loved ones, even if those desires put those same loved ones in danger, that I find very affecting. It’s like, I know I might lose you because of this, but this is what you truly want, I will respect and honor that. Oof. 💔

I’m really quite surprised that Jung Tae’s mom eventually agrees to free Hee Tae and let him go, but then chooses to stay behind to face the consequences. That seems really dangerous, given the kind of violent man that Chief Hwang is, and how important it is to him, that Hee Tae be kept out of sight in Gwangju?

I would have rather had her free Hee Tae, and then taken Jung Tae and fled with him. But I rationalize that Chief Hwang is such a powerful person, that he’d have probably been able to track her down anyway, and then things might have worked out even worse, for her? At any rate, the sounds of breaking glass, as Chief Hwang confronts her for what she’s done, are quite alarming. I hope she’ll be ok.

That scene of Chief Hwang threatening Hye Gun was really hard to watch. It’s clear that when Chief Hwang warns Hye Gun that he’ll have Hye Gun’s family killed, Hye Gun decides that the better thing to do, is have himself killed, in order to keep his family safe. Ack. The way he draws on the memory of his conversation with Hee Tae, to fuel his own demise, is so painful to watch.

Hye Gun knows that bringing up his connection to Hee Tae will only make Chief Hwang furious, so he leans hard into it, and clings to Chief Hwang, so that Chief Hwang will be sure to beat him to death. Gurgle. The violence in this scene is so savage, honestly. 😖 It’s horrifying to think that this is probably how people actually died for real, while being tortured. And, it’s so heartbreaking that Hye Gun dies like this, and it’s so tragically moving, that he actively pursues his death, in order to protect his family. 😭

I’m so glad that Hee Tae and Myung Hee are reunited, and that Hee Tae gets some much-needed treatment from the wounds that he’s sustained, not only from the accident, but from his captivity as well. Those scenes of Hee Tae knocking his head against hard surfaces, in an attempt to get someone’s attention, were particularly difficult to watch; I seriously worried for the wellbeing of Lee Do Hyun’s skull.

It’s really poignant to see Dad speak gently with Hee Tae, and give him the passbook for the bank account where he’s been saving all the money that Myung Hee’s sent him, along with the money that he’s been saving for her college education. Augh. So that’s why all the money that Myung Hee had sent home had appeared to be missing; Dad had been keeping it safe for her, all this time. Along with the passbook, Dad also asks Hee Tae to give Myung Hee his pocket watch. (Gulp.)

It’s so bittersweet to hear Dad tell Hee Tae that the money isn’t much, but will be enough for Hee Tae and Myung Hee to get settled, and tells Hee Tae that he and Myung Hee should forget the past and live happily. These are such kind, caring words, and yet, I can’t shake the feeling that this feels like a forever kind of goodbye.

I’m relieved that Hee Tae and Myung Hee manage to find refuge at the church, and I’m glad that they get some much-needed time to talk. I also found it sweet and poignant, that Myung Hee tells Hee Tae that he isn’t alone in the world, and that she’ll be his family.

I mean, putting aside all the tension of the circumstance, it is pretty cool that she’s the one proposing marriage to him. And, I’m glad that this brings the both of them a measure of comfort and joy, in the midst of very difficult circumstances.

However, I have to admit that it’s Myung Hee’s dad who has all my attention, this last stretch of our episode. The way he loves and cares for Myung Soo is so selfless, from the way he gives the bigger rice ball to Myung Soo, to the way he covers Myung Soo with his own body, while they are hiding from the soldiers.

Even though the soldiers don’t find them in their hiding place, I believe that Dad goes out there, telling Myung Soo to stay hidden, because he guesses that the soldiers won’t stop searching until they find the person that they’d spotted. He goes out there, to end the search, so that Myung Soo will have a chance of survival. Ack.

The final moments Dad spends with Myung Soo are so fraught with emotion; the anxiety that Dad feels in wanting to protect Myung Soo, and the fear and dread that Myung Soo feels, about Dad going out there, is so palpable. Even though Dad promises to come back, I feel like Myung Soo probably senses that there’s a good chance Dad won’t be coming back, and I can only imagine how terrifying and difficult this must be, for the both of them. I’m absolutely gutted. 😭💔

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

I’ve been thinking about why Show chose to start in the present day, with the discovery of the skeleton in Gwangju, and I think that besides adding an undercurrent of foreboding to our story right from the start, even when things were innocent and hopeful, it also has the effect of helping my heart brace for the worst.

Because I knew that that skeleton would likely turn out to be one of our key characters, I’d already steeled myself to expect tragedy, in this finale. And because I knew this, and had braced my heart for it, I.. felt it less, ironically.

However, that is not to say that Show didn’t do an effective job. I’ve also been thinking about Show’s purpose, in all of this. Was it simply to tell us the story of the people who’d lived and died during the Gwangju Uprising? Now that I’ve seen Show in full, I don’t think so. I think that perhaps Show’s intent, all along, was to shine the spotlight on those who have to live with that tragic loss, after the fact.

As awful as it is, that Myung Hee dies so senselessly like that, bleeding out from a gunshot wound in the middle of a forest, it is arguably worse for the people whom she leaves behind.

It makes me wonder what Myung Soo has had to live with all these years, knowing that his father, and then his sister, had separately both given their lives – in eerily similar situations, no less – in order that he might live. That is a lot to bear. And, given that Myung Hee’s death might have been prevented if Myung Soo hadn’t taken it into his head to go home to Paju in a bid to give Mom and Grandma a chance to say goodbye to Dad, it must be a lot of guilt to work through, as well.

Keeping all of this in mind, I feel that it is a fitting choice, that Myung Soo becomes a pastor / priest. It feels like without faith to hold onto, it all might have been too much, and too difficult for Myung Soo to bear.

On a related note, it feels fitting too, that Jung Tae becomes a psychiatrist, who helps people to process loss and trauma, because he himself has been so intimately acquainted with these himself.

I’m glad to see that Soo Ryeon and Soo Chan – and Seok Chul! – are alive and well, but most of all, I am glad to see that Hee Tae is being the excellent doctor that Myung Hee had once assured him that he is. It is especially touching, to see how Hee Tae’s providing encouragement and perspective to a young intern, who’s shaken at losing a patient, just like he himself had once been.

My heart hurts for the dreams that Hee Tae and Myung Hee shared, because their time together was so fleeting. Even before their brief wedding ceremony is complete, their lives are thrown into turmoil, and, as we’ve seen, are never the same again.

What moves me, though, is how wholeheartedly and unreservedly they loved each other, with all that they had, in the little time that they had. They didn’t know what the next day would bring – or if they would have a next day at all – but they dedicated themselves to each other in selfless and sacrificial ways that I found completely affecting.

I grieve Myung Hee’s death, but I am comforted that she was able to see her father’s heart in his letter to her, before she died. It is tragic that their relationship had been so strained for so long, when the foundation of it all, had been a deep misunderstanding. And it pains me to think about Dad dying without having experienced that reconciliation with Myung Hee. However, it is definitely a consolation to know that when Myung Hee died, she knew that she’d been loved, not only by Hee Tae, but also, by her father, in deep and unfathomable ways.

My heart goes out to Hee Tae, who understandably goes through hell on earth, after losing Myung Hee. The flashbacks that we see, of Hee Tae, completely gaunt, giving out missing person flyers and crying in that restaurant, and then, eventually, trying to drown himself in the sea, are really painful to watch. I can only imagine the pain that he had to go through, before he was able to be the functional human being that we see in the present.

I am comforted that Hee Tae and Myung Hee had gotten one last proper embrace together, before they were separated for good. It must have been such a scary thing, to hold each other in that moment, knowing that the situation was literally dangerous enough, that this might be the last time they held or saw each other.

It is poetically, heartbreakingly beautiful, that Hee Tae’s life has been, and continues to be, an unfolding answer to both the prayers that he and Myung Hee had prayed, for their marriage. I do feel that Hee Tae’s prayer, that he experience worse pains than Myung Hee, is true, in a manner of speaking. While Myung Hee’s pain was intense, it lasted for a comparatively brief time, while Hee Tae’s pain, in having to navigate life in the wake of her loss, has been extensive and penetrating.

On a related note, this is a subtle but perfect echo of what Hee Tae had once said to Hye Gun; he did ultimately choose to miss Myung Hee for the rest of his life, rather than live in regret for never having loved her at all. 💔

What a perfect bookend to Hee Tae’s prayer, though, is Myung Hee’s prayer, when Hee Tae finally gets to see it, 41 years later.

(On a tangent, I just want to say how grateful I am to Show, for allowing us to see 1980 Hee Tae reacting to all this, because I feel so much more connected to him.)

Myung Hee’s prayer, that the one who gets left behind, will be able to have the courage to swim safely through life, is the gift that Hee Tae needs, to now look toward the future with a new comfort and a new hope. I’m glad that Hee Tae is now able to let go of the what if’s, and own the choices that he’d made, to go to Gwangju, and love Myung Hee with all of his heart, and I love that Hee Tae now resolves to live strong for the rest of his days, in Myung Hee’s honor – until they meet again. 😭

Such a deep, unwavering love for the ages, which I’m sure goes unnoticed by the people around him, even as he does his doctor thing and saves patients and interns alike. It really makes me think about the reservoirs of pain and love that the people around us might carry in their hearts. They might be survivors, just like Hee Tae. They might have a story, not unlike Hee Tae. What a moving, paradigm-shifting thought. This, I think, is the gift that Show wanted to give us. ❤️

THE FINAL VERDICT:

Deeply stirring and bittersweet, with an undercurrent of hope and resilience.

FINAL GRADE: A

TEASER:

MV:

PATREON UPDATE!

The next drama I’ll be covering on Patreon, in place of Youth Of May, is My Roommate is a Gumiho. I think I need something light and cute, after putting my heart through the very worthwhile angst of Youth Of May! 😅

If you’d like to join me on the journey, you can find my Patreon page here. You can also read more about all the whats, whys, and hows of helping this blog here. Thanks for all of your support, it really means a lot to me. ❤️

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Natalia
Natalia
2 months ago

Dear K, by reading other comments I realize that I should have used spoiler tags in my previous comment. I am so sorry, I thought that since there’s already the review, no spoiler tags were needed. Plus, I have no idea how to hide what I wrote now. So, fellow reader, if you see a post by me just below, please be aware that it’s FULL OF SPOILERS. Again, I apologize!

Natalia
Natalia
2 months ago

K, your post on underrated gems was more than 2 months ago, and I had already watched about half of this show. It took me 2 months to finish it. I have been stalling and stalling…

Everything is excellent about Youth of May. The script, the cinematography, the acting, the direction, the OST. Also, it’s 1980 and it looks so, so real. The OTP is touching, the actors are wonderful, all of them, but:

I think I have spent at least the 3 last episodes tearing up every now and then, and actually sobbing in the last episode. I have to give it to the show, the viewer is warned, I mean you pretty much expect what’s going to happen, but even if that’s the case, it is still heartbreaking. And also, infuriating, seeing what happened to so many people not so long ago, for absolutely no justification.

My favourite characters (not that there were characters I didn’t like, except from Hee Tae’s father, for obvious reasons): Officer Choi (💔) and Soo Chan – the latter certainly had the most striking coming of age, starting off as a pleasant rich kid and seeing all of his beliefs crumbling down.
Also, I must add Hye Gun – at least he got some sort of revenge by undermining Chief Hwang’s position. And last but not least, Kyung Soo. I really felt for him. Like, the wrong man at the wrong place. Poor, poor Kyng Soo, no wonder he couldn’t go on after all that. I was glad that his mate in the army, also a pretty decent kid, seemed to handle all this better (and saved Hee Tae’s life with a lot of style and utter coolness). Oh, and Dad!(💔💔)

I totally agree with you, K, this was a show not only for the victims, but also for the survivors. Myung Hee, Hye Gun, Officer Choi, Dad and so many others died an unjust, premature death. Hee Tae, Myung Soo, Kyng Soo, they had to live on with their pain and regrets.
And now I’m almost crying again, so I’ll just stop.

beez
2 months ago

In my mind this is Youth of Misery or Misery of Youth. While I can’t deny the quality of the show, I was hoping for more details of the lives of protestors. More of people like SooReon who are middle-aged now. Like why they felt so passionate about breaking martial law to the point of risking their lives. Were they able to return to college to get degrees after all that? Did they? What exactly was the problem with the professors whose dismissal they were calling for? Yes I’ve googled about the Gwanju uprising but I’m not getting all the details nor the feel of it besides the horrible violence. I guess I’ll have to eventually finish Sandglass to find out what I want to know. Or it could be like this show – there’s an assumption, as expected, that the audience already knows this history.

This show’s romance was bittersweet but it was also hard to sit down and queue up the next episode because of the misery that I knew was coming. I had to let days go by and then I could only get started again by telling myself “it’s only 12 episodes”.

Kay
Kay
3 months ago

Another one on my watch list. I think I would watch Beyond Evil right now before this one though since I know what a tearjerker it is. It sounds heavy throughout. I’m sure I would love it though and do plan to check it out someday. Great review!

CarpControl
CarpControl
3 months ago

Ohmygod, KFG!. I too started this YoM for DoHyun, but stayed back for everything else! At this point, I think homeboy is incapable of picking bad-scripts! :3 Did you also spot the 18-Again meta-references? 😊

YoM had everything I wanted: an idyllic Korean town in the 80’s as our backdrop (why is everything set in Seoul again?), a grim political setting entrapping our love-birds, stunning cinematography (became a FAN of the sepia color-grading compared to all the pink and green-toned dramas airing currently), an ensemble of veteran cast (powerhouse actors for the three fathers), a decent closure for almost every minor character (writers often forget they even exist, lol!), bluesy throwback music (‘Winter of May’ still succeeding in making me weep, even today), and of course, the period sets and vintage fashion. Oof! Never thought 12 episodes would pack SO much punch, but they delivered! 😎 I’m terribly sad for YoM though, because like you said, it WILL go underrated, since most people are allergic to

spoiler
MC-deaths. But it’s like watching a WW-II movie and expecting all the characters to make it out alive.  😒
That said, MH was Jack-Dawsoned so bad (a phenomenon I have named after Titanic’s ML dies a convenient, sad, anonymous, and quiet death for the sake of the bigger narrative) and it leaves me enraged for the disservice done to the MVP of our story. MH was *nothing less than a hero*!!! But I guess, that *was* the purpose- the writers wanted to drill in the fact that many such MH’s died nameless deaths that May- deaths that were completely 😭 unnecessary- leaving behind people who carried scars for a lifetime.

The true success of the show was that they not only made us fall in love with the two leads but kept us rooting for them to escape unscathed from all the madness, despite how *unlikely* it was- the odds were always against them given the context of the Uprising. One of them was bound to have met the

spoiler
macabre end that was foreshadowed in the initial moments of the show
, but our love for the MCs kept us in denial to the very end. Throw in a pocket-watch (of doom) that was the ultimate red-herring (gave me anxiety every time it changed hands) and you have a story that could maintain a decent build-up and keep the suspense going on till the last scenes of the show.  ✨
A beautiful but a heartbreaking watch. Thank you KFG for this review! 💕

Last edited 3 months ago by CarpControl
Carulhein
Carulhein
3 months ago

I loved everything about this show.

Spoiler
But I have sad ending phobia, so will never love the ending. Plus, I kind of expected it so it just annoyed me. Now if they didn’t kill off half of the main cast, I might have liked it and watched it multiple times but no thank you now. 😩

Eugh. I just felt a litlle meh at the end.

Last edited 3 months ago by kfangurl
Nati S
3 months ago

Excellent review as always Kfangirl!

Ending Spoiler
I think someone from the main cast had to die and I agree with your very good observation that “Show’s intent, all along, was to shine the spotlight on those who have to live with that tragic loss, after the fact.” So, Myung Hee had to die, I’m fine with that (even though I cried a lot) and I find it coherent with the rest of story.

But the way she dies I find very unbelievable: Myung Soo running to the woods, for a second time, for such a reason as bringing Mom and (mentally unstable!) Grandma so that they can say one last goodbye and properly bury Dad? I know he’s just a child but how dumb is that kid?! Can’t he see what happened the last time he went into the woods?! Can’t he read the room and see what is happening all around him?!

I rated the show with a 9 instead of a 10 on Viki because of this. 

Last edited 3 months ago by kfangurl
Shahz
Shahz
3 months ago

So glad we watched this on Patreon. I needed those conversations to download and process.

Heartbreaking but oh, so beautiful. 💔 . Such a shame that the show didn’t get the universal acclaim it deserves. I certainly wasn’t aware of the uprising and the devastating impact.The show is so much more than a love story.

Spoiler
And that last episode 😭. It still haunts me, especially Myung Hee in the forest. How hard for Hae Tee and through him you really begin to understand how that period affected survivors of that period and the resilience required to carry on as that is that is what does And I was so angry when I saw the conspiracy banner.

And the fact that Seok Cheol survived and lived a good life thanks to Hae Tee felt such a huge achievement but so difficult in comparison to the fact that Myung Hae’s life was cut so brutally short.

Choi Won-young was the perfect choice for LDH. The fumbling with the phone the way he deals with that terrible patient. We normally see LDH playing the younger version of senior actors so it was fantastic to see Choi Won-young get LDH pitch perfect. And like you I am glad we got LDH for the note as it was so important.

As for the boys so pleased that they choose careers/vocations that supported others through trauma. And a shout out for the young actors who did such a great job. I was so worried about Myung Soo but was oh so proud of how concerned he was for Hae Tee when Myung Hae was found. I am sure Myung Hae would have been so proud.

Yes this was a hard watch but this weaved it it’s way straight into my heart.💖

Last edited 3 months ago by kfangurl
Baobab
Baobab
3 months ago

I cried after reading your review. No chance I will watch it. Even though I wanted to because of the ML. I absolutely hate stories without a happy ending. And even though this seems to end on a hopeful note I am sure this show would linger with me for too long.😢
I always wait for shows to be completely aired before I watch just in case the writers take a turn at the end and mess things up. 🙃 I even check if a drama has a happy or sad ending before my watch. Without getting details about the ending of course. Am I crazy? 🤪 maybe.

pickleddragon
pickleddragon
3 months ago

Thank you for this pitch perfect review for a pitch perfect show. I relived the show through your review, and found myself nodding every now and then in complete agreement with your assessment.

Youth Of May is easily the best drama of the year for me, and I can’t see anything in the works that will outshine this in 2021. Every element of the drama was on point – casting, costumes, OST, dialogue, art direction…

The 12-episode length also helped keep the script tight. I also appreciate that the writer did not waver from the original script to pander to audiences, as I am informed has happened on occasion. From a storytelling POV, besides making us aware of a truly horrific episode in modern history, the show kept the suspense going till the end, which was masterfully done and definitely enhanced the viewing experience.

BE
BE
3 months ago

There are spoilers in this, but it seems wrong to interrupt the flow of my commentary by blocking them out. I apologize, but be forewarned.

I have said it elsewhere, and I will repeat it here. To my taste, Youth of May was far and away the best K Drama I have seen of this year’s productions, and to go one step farther, the best new drama I have seen since My Mister. Elements of this show are why I started watching K Drama to begin with: the elevated seriousness of the script, the absolute courage to look tragedy in the eye, a tremendous ensemble, including excellent supporting leads and minor characters, and extremely appealing leading man, Lee Do Hyun, who does not have to be someone balls out and macho to credit with being someone who in every way rises to the occasion, from his gentle warmth to humor, to his unwavering commitment, to his actual courage in the face of being seized by post traumatic stress, and a female lead that even with all that mops the floor with everyone else, a true tour de force performance.
Go Min Si’s passionately enacted performance as story’s hero, and make no mistake about it, she is the hero of the story, Myung Hee, restrained but powerfully emotional, soft. tender. but fiercely strong, Myung Hee’s hands, those hands, vulnerable but so in the clutch capable, utterly down to earth, completely present, serious, but touchingly humorous, co worker, comrade, friend, lover, sister–yes we can completely understand when she tells Myung Soo, who has already lost his father. that his noona always keeps her promises, he believes her: Myung Hee keeps her promises. (More on her character below)

I agree that this show will tend to go under the radar. Part of it is that as a show not part of Netflix, it will not get the kind of international attention that Navillera received. If Navillera had not been aired on Netflix, I am certain it would have fallen much farther into the cracks. And show deals with one Korea’s great modern historic traumas. One that, as show highlights with that banner in the final episode, is one a great deal of contemporary south Koreans still cannot credit (having lived through similar events during my college years I can testify such has been the same with those I witnessed first hand. Show is about a horrific set of events in recent history, that we now know because Korea’s most prestigious film maker internationally made a riveting movie with a world wide audience that covered it pointing out that it was almost an accident of fate that the news of those events ever got out in Korea let alone the rest of the world. As blunt and polemic as show is, I am certain that even in S. Korea, this was not a wildly popular piece of entertainment. Tragedy is not everyone’s cup of tea, even tragedies that salute the human spirit in face of them.

That said, show will have a very, very long shelf life. Most of all because of the writing, direction, and acting, but also because the writers put structural elements and universal themes in this show that are timeless and timely over a period of decades and did so with a distinctly South Korean pov.

From a universal and for my part a “western” pov (despite Korea being distinctly to the west of me), show dips into the pretty ancient kinds of story telling themes, beginning with Romeo and Juliet. Star crossed lovers Myung Hee and Hee Tae, from before they ever met. And while Myung Hee was not from a rival family nobly placed, Hee Tae’s father was without question, her father’s mortal enemy. And in line with this, the story of Saturn eating his children most horrifically portrayed by the Spanish painter Goya. The theme of Shakespeare’s tragedy that has broken the hearts of young people and been imitated for centuries and the underlying motivation of Goya taking on the Saturn story, a story that will be true for as long as human beings exist: how the older generation uses the younger generation to work out its own mortal sins blasting them out of their innocence.

The very minor sub plot concerning Kyung Soo is a perfect example of this:
as a young man and song writing collaborator and friend of Hee Tae, he is depicted as an almost too good and very innocent young man. I believe story hints at his conscription resulting from engaging Hee Tae to medically assist protesters who are injured in various demonstrations, because of Hee Tae’s father’s complete and desperate need to cover up any connection his son might have with the protestors. In the army, we can see set up in this martial law brought on by the military regime as a rationale for those involved jockeying for power after the fall of the previous President, he is repeatedly shattered by having to carry out evil deeds, nearly betraying his closest friend, and then knowing he has taken part in the cold blooded killing of his closest friend’s lover. The final time we see him, not as someone who seems to have been mended by time gone by as the others seem to be, even Seok Chul, but as a shell shocked, vagrant utterly lost in the world. I had friends like that, they could have been so great… And of course, we can think of the scene when Jung Tae witnessing the slaughter in the streets sees his father pistol in hand leading the massacre.

Also from a western perspective: Youth of May was an Aristotelian tragedy. From the beginning show given the set of events it was covering was going to inevitably lead to a tragic end. Period. And in doing so, as with Aristotelian tragedies the fundamental purpose is to provide a sense of catharsis for the sufferings of life. Certainly for those who actually suffered through those actual events, but also for those who have suffered similar events all over the world over the course of the last seventy years or so, and in fact, not so very far from South Korea, are currently in the throes of such a tragic set of events.

If the plot had not been set up to keep a dramatic interest going by manipulating the McGuffin of the time piece (talk about a symbolic McGuffin, the time piece Myung Hee’s uncle, who in some ways set off the whole chain of events by choosing to fight for the north, gave to her father upon leaving), it should have been obvious that the tragedy was the tragedy of Myung Hee. Show could have been titled Myung Hee, the South Korean, A Tragedy. From the time her father was taken and tortured, shaping the whole way she was raised and how she had to deal with taking the rap for Ryun Soo, Myung Hee was the literal embodiment of the idea of han, the collective sense of grief and anger at the hopeless of the situation of being prey to political forces they could do nothing about. The scene where Myung Hee, returning home after having been bossamed by Hwang’s henchmen and put to it, finds out about what had happened to her father, and then goes and rages at him for never telling her the truth…could there be a truer expression of such a feeling, unspeakable sorrow expressed as unbreakable rage in the face of a kind of hopeless no one, especially no one so young, can endure without breaking down. It is the very senselessness of Myung Hee’s death and the utter wrongness of it that made the killing of her, left to die alone in the woods by a gully, her lover unaware of what was going on being marched away at gunpoint, her final witness a man who would be driven into uselessness for the rest of his days. The truth of these things is, that yes while history records the heroism of those young people who led the idealistic fight, the fcuk of history is that these events crush in unforgettable ways all those who by happenstance are near phone booths when lightning strikes. Myung Hee, A Tragedy: Youth of May!

But also: the very Korean dramatic principle: in tragedy, heroism. What attracted me to my first K Drama, Mr. Sunshine, was just that, despite the tragedy, its characters in the end were heroic. I loved that combo–the courage to be honest about tragedy but also finding solace in the heroism therein. Korean tragedy does not stop with nihilism. The note she left, her wedding prayer, so much Myung Hee, not what she wished for herself, except for the funny line about not wanting to be buried alive, but rather that those who lived beyond her, should that have come to pass, live well, have courage, live for others. Hee Tae on and off realizes that about her, his stubborn Grandpa Myung Hee, she is the one who redeems him. Her spirit is the heroic spirit of the country who over and over and over has faced such tragic outcomes, and yet…here we are just forty years later, and in a televised serial drama, we see how so many characters in such a drama lived on themselves, were living meaningful lives, and show is there in the spirit of Myung Hee changing the urine bag no one else wants to mess with.

Show too is a modern sageuk. We have seen these characters in sageuks. The horrific Hwang, a familiar villain, but made more meaningful by proximity in time. We may think such a villain is hyperbolic in a show that covers ground a century or more ago, but hard as it is to face, someone was calling the shots in Guangju; my first experience witnessing such was via television when the Selma, Alabama sheriffs let loose the dogs on the non violent protestors marching there. We see it all over the world, the ruthlessness of power hungry authoritarians, and also like Hwang, lower down the pecking order, snapping like animals at their prey, to establish their alpha hunger. As I also noted, there was also the implicit commentary about torture and kidnap by bossam in which audience does not have the distance of centuries to be confronted by such human indignities, violations.

All these elements because they were so brilliantly executed insure that there will always be a following for this show, even if by and large it goes under the radar as popular entertainment. A story with legs, well written, well directed, unbelieveably well enacted by the entire ensemble. Special shout outs especially to Geum Se Rok, Park Se Hyun (Jin Ah), Lee Kyu Sung (Hye Gun, whose final scene was simply blistering), and Lee Sang Yi. And for me, one more shout out: Go Min Si. She tore my heart out.

Last edited 3 months ago by BE
BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  BE

just tried to block out spoilers but cannot do so any more. I apologize.

Natalia
Natalia
2 months ago
Reply to  BE

What a wonderful review, BE.
You said all that I wanted to say – and did, in my own limited capacity.
I would just like to add on Chief Hwang: He looks like the epitome of evil, but it’s heartbreaking to think how many Chief Hwangs are out there, even now, everywhere in the world. And they are so cruelly evil, that Chief Hwang’s seeming regret when he realizes that his wife and kid don’t want anything to do with him seemed, to me, quite out of character.

kx
kx
3 months ago

Hello! I love the deep dive and analysis you shared in this review. I couldn’t get enough of this drama and have read several reviews but it’s such a treat to read your thoughtful treatment of YOM.

About Hee Tae’s OTT regarding Soo Ryeon at the hospital after her head injury, I didn’t feel it was OTT perhaps because he initially treated her quite calmly when meeting her at the rooftop and then it escalated to him threatening her when she was hardheaded, and yet she proceeded to ignore him. Offscreen, she was then dragged to the hospital by him and couldn’t leave because of his persistence to keep her there. I imagine it must have been a nightmare to actually get her to the hospital (perhaps with a lot more threatening involved and maybe even physically moving her) that I could see it culminating to him losing his temper. In fact, their vibe felt more like siblings during their bickering moments and it clicked that he can be pretty childish towards Jung Tae too (briefly as seen during the 4-way date), although we know he’s still considerate and cares (covering for Jung Tae being at camp).

The director shared some stills of deleted scenes and although I thought those were interesting, I wouldn’t change the number of episodes or what we currently have in the official cut since for me the highlight of the show will always be our OTP and the story moving along. Viewers were given hints of more backstory, and those were very important to our characters, but the actors played their parts so well showing us depth, strengths, and flaws, that I thought it was enough because it left us with good pacing and enough details to get it. This included Hee Tae’s upbringing with his poor mother and her sickness that made him cheerful but aloof (and maybe pushing him to live life without regrets), and the childhood connection between the fathers. I especially appreciate that you emphasized Hee Tae’s “no regrets” motto as I’ve seen some question how he can be so straightforward in his affection and in pursuing Myung Hee knowing who his father is, but it just makes sense when it comes to Hee Tae. Anyway, I just love Lee Do Hyun who embodied this character and made him feel so right. Also I think Go Minsi portrayed Myung Hee’s coldness but kindness, weakness but also strength so well. It’s hard to find that balance where you might find a character inconsistent, and yet Myung Hee as a character makes so much sense because from episode one she feels dimensional.

Btw, I had read the soompi article about what the director had wanted to highlight and I think you definitely hit the nail on the head with what the show was striving for. I know some viewers wanted an extended epilogue about the other characters but (aside from wishing to have one mention of Jin Ah) I thought they gave just enough of the other characters to appease my curiosity and then I most appreciated that it focused on Hee Tae and moving onto the heartfelt but quieter ending this drama deserves. Concluding the drama with a neat bowtie to everyone’s stories wouldn’t have been as fitting for me with the context and reality. Also the fact that there are still missing people and survivors today, the focus on Hee Tae’s loss and his strength felt right. I don’t have much interest in a political show (unless it’s a good chess game for a fictional throne) so while I appreciated the snippets, I’m glad it wasn’t the focus of the story like a few other viewers wanted it to be and instead on the ordinary lives of Hee Tae and Myung Hee and the people around them.

Sorry this got very long!

Trent
3 months ago

Great review, as always. Thank you for the time and effort.

This was a really really good show; well-written, well-acted, it brought the goods, so to speak. An “A” grade is right on the money, I think.

Just a couple of additional thoughts. I pondered occasionally while watching it that even though it isn’t constantly foregrounded by the show, the overall narrative is really on a truncated timeline. It all happens in a matter of weeks, and not a lot of weeks at that. Because we know from the start that at some point the Gwangju uprising will be our backdrop, that gives us a hard deadline: May 18th, and so every time we get a glimpse of a newspaper or calendar (and there were a few times in earlier episodes), it’s with a sense of foreboding–how close are we to approaching doom?

I think it’s that truncated timeline that causes (not to mention demands) show and its writers to essentially do everything right with our central romance from the beginning. Not only–as I observed as we were watching it–to give us such sweetness and sentimentality up front, so as to heighten the pain and depth of feeling when the inevitable sweep of history catches up to our couple. I still think that’s a valid observation, but it’s also because show needed us to believe, feel, and understand the deep bond between these two characters, and it had to be formed from scratch, quickly, within a really short period of time. Their characters had to mesh; Hee-tae had to be kind, considerate, persistent, while Myung-hee had to be susceptible, able and willing to open up and respond. To show’s (and the actors’) credit, they pulled it off; they sold the romance, and opened the door for the rest of the story to unfold.

The other comment I had, I often don’t like the long leap forward to the present because it can be poorly handled or seem like a cop-out.

Ending spoiler
But I think it really added to the overall effect here. Myung-hee’s death, alone in the forest, was terrible and tragic, but I didn’t really have the depth of feeling, the true punch to the gut, until those last few minutes with present-day Hee-tae.

That really brought it home, for me at least. (Also, shout out to Choi Won-young for his cameo as present-day Hee-tae; I really liked him in SKY Castle–also playing a doctor!–and if I ever see Mystic Pop-up Bar, he’ll be a big reason).

Last edited 3 months ago by Trent
Trent
3 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

Lee Do-hyun and Go Min-si were both really impressive. I really feel like Lee Do-hyun has come a long way from the first time I saw him, as the past-life boyfriend in Hotel del Luna, a role the I thought was fairly forgettable (to be fair, that was more the show/role, than him personally).

Thanks for catching me with that spoiler. I was charging forward full steam ahead, should have paused to cover up the more obvious/blatant revelation(s).

Trent
3 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

I know, you’re in the majority, I’m definitely in the minority (of one?) re: Hotel del Luna and Lee Do-hyun’s role. Most people seem to think he was a highlight. To be fair, I didn’t think Yeo Jin-goo had any sort of chemistry with IU, either. As you know, I thought YJG was leaps and bounds better in Beyond Evil, where he really had a meaty role and he rose to the occasion.

But I don’t really fault the actors in Hotel del Luna; I fault the writers for that show’s shortcomings. In my view, the real MVP in Hotel del Luna is IU’s wardrobe, which was amazing….

ETA: I haven’t managed to get to 18 Again yet; I’ve been overburdened with dramas the last 2-3 months, and I am just finishing them all up and clearing them out of the queue (except for the group watches) so as to be able to finally pick a new one or two. I want to try something meaty, I’m thinking of finally maybe getting to My Mister or Be Melodramatic or something…

Last edited 3 months ago by Trent
BE
BE
3 months ago
Reply to  kfangurl

I apologize for so many spoilers in my commentary. I could go back and block them out, but they were exemplications. I do think this K, in some ways your pov was seeing Tae Hee through Myung Hee’s eyes, while I was seeing Myung Hee through his and her father’s eyes.

Snow Flower
Snow Flower
3 months ago

Another excellent review of an excellent drama!

Ending spoiler
I understand the writer’s choice to kill off Myeong Hee for maximum emotional impact, but I think that the chain of events that led to her death felt a little forced.

The 2021 ending though was beautifully and brilliantly written. The acting was also very impressive. Hee Tae and Myeong Hee are probably my favorite couple of 2021, and their brief but pure and sincere love story is one of the highlights of the drama year.

Last edited 3 months ago by kfangurl