If you’re on the market for a coming-of-age story that leans more subtle, raw, realistic and.. melancholic, than most teen stories, then this little mini series, that’s just 4 episodes of 30 minutes each, might work nicely for you.
I went into this not quite knowing what to expect, but ended up liking it quite well.
Psst: Links to watch are at the end of the review!
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
Min Jae (Yoon Chan Young) and Seo Yeon (Park Si Eun) are two relatively ordinary 17-year-old high school students, who each have struggles of their own.
They keep crossing paths, and inadvertently find solidarity in each other.
MANAGING EXPECTATIONS / THE VIEWING LENS
Here are a couple of things that I think would be helpful to keep in mind, to maximize your enjoyment of your watch:
1. This story leans raw and measured.
What I mean is, it’s got a rather quiet, thoughtful vibe about it, which some viewers might find slow or boring. Being in the right mood for this is quite critical, I find.
2. This is not designed to be a romance.
Rather than a romance, this is more of a coming-of-age story, where two struggling souls unexpectedly find solidarity in each other.
3. Not everything is tied up nicely, by the end.
Show doesn’t provide answers to all the questions that we might have, and that’s ok.
Those are left open to our interpretation, and aren’t critical to our key point, which is the coming-of-age of our two main characters.
4. Trigger warning – slightly spoilery, so highlight to read:
There is some form of self-harm in this, along with suicide ideation.
STUFF I LIKED
1. Yoon Chan Young & Park Si Eun as Min Jae & Seo Yeon.
I felt that both Yoon Chan Young and Park Si Eun did very solid jobs of bringing their very different characters to life.
Despite our shorting running time, I found that I got a sense of their different personalities very quickly. I also found their run-ins, which give rise to their fascination with each other, pretty organic as well.
Also, what a fun fact, that they’ve previously acted opposite each other in the lovely Thirty But Seventeen, where they play younger Yang Se Jong and Shin Hye Sun respectively.
2. Show’s rather gritty yet thoughtful vibe.
Although our drama world does feel a little stylized, it is far enough from the polished glitz of fairytale-esque rom-coms to lean a little gritty, which makes this drama world feel quite real.
At the same time, I appreciated Show’s thoughtful vibe. Even though our characters are young, they are full of thoughts and aren’t acting out for the sake of acting out.
3. Our story isn’t very predictable at all.
What I mean is, there were times when I was genuinely taken by surprise, by the direction that our story took. This feeling, of not quite knowing what Show was going to do, was rather refreshing.
THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]
By the time I reached Show’s final stretch, I’d become clear that Seo Yeon was prostituting herself as a form of self-harm, and using it as an outlet for her deep frustration with her life, which she’s seen as meaningless for a long time.
That’s a really sad thought, that a girl so young, would feel so disillusioned and jaded with life.
Of course, there are many others who suffer more than Seo Yeon does, but comparison isn’t the point. The point is, she felt invisible to her own mother, the person to whom she should matter most, and she hated her life enough, to want to hurt herself.
I felt sorry for Min Jae too, because in his own way, he’s feeling as lost as Seo Yeon.
In his case, I felt his isolation a lot, along with his disillusionment, and his feeling that everything is meaningless. And, I also think that he felt like he was a burden to his parents; that his parents’ lives could be different – happier – if not for him.
The fact that both Min Jae and Seo Yeon reach the point of actually wanting to do something about their suicidal thoughts, is very sobering.
The scenes of them gathering their things, and taking the train to Oido, because they’d decided to die together, were this show’s darkest, most melancholic moments, I feel.
What a relief, that they don’t actually go through with their plan to die together.
I do think, though, that the confronting idea of their deaths actually going from imagined fantasy, to reality, jolts them both, a little bit. There’s no going back, after all, once you actually pull the metaphorical trigger.
The way they hedge for time, by telling each other their honest thoughts, feels needful and cathartic, and I think that this mutual sharing plays a key part, in them having a change of heart.
After sharing their most painful wounds with each other, I think it becomes clearer, that they aren’t actually alone, and I think that’s why they choose not to die, after all.
I like that instead of blowing themselves up, they decide to blow up the money and the music scores, which symbolize Seo Yeon’s pain. In blowing that up, it’s like they’re blasting Seo Yeon’s wounds away, and clearing the way for her to have a fresh start.
Sure, it’s simplistic, and Seo Yeon will likely need some form of therapy to fully heal from the emotional wounds that she’s suffered, but it’s a good start.
And it’s heartwarming to see that as Min Jae and Seo Yeon make their way back to Seoul, they finally relax into each other’s presence, and fall asleep together on the train.
I really like Min Jae’s final voiceover, as we see both him and Seo Yeon returning to their daily routines, where he describes Oido as neither an island, nor a true part of the mainland, and how that’s exactly what it’s like, to be seventeen.
At seventeen, you’re neither a child, nor a true adult, and it’s a state of limbo that you have to go through, until you actually do find your feet, and grow into an adult.
It’s at about this point, that Show’s title starts to make sense to me.
At seventeen, the things that you face can feel so big, that they feel like everything to you, but at the same time, they can also feel like nothing. It’s that in-between state where things can be everything and yet nothing to you, at the same time.
I’d imagined, earlier in my watch, that Min Jae’s mom (Seo Jung Yeon) wasn’t actually having an affair, and that perhaps Min Jae had been mistaken, and the thing is, Show isn’t super explicit about what the truth is.
And, as we close out our finale, and Min Jae resolutely chooses to turn the corner, instead of walking parallel to his mom, like he’d been doing, it feels to me that Show is saying that the truth really doesn’t matter.
It’s not so important whom Mom is meeting, and whether Mom is having an affair.
What’s more important, I think, is that Min Jae finally sees that the direction and quality of his life isn’t determined by his mother’s life. It’s something that he can choose to walk, all on his own.
There’s no bitterness; just a simple, matter-of-fact observation, that he’s growing up to become an adult, and that, I think, is in itself, a sign of maturity.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
Thought-provoking and ultimately hopeful.
FINAL GRADE: B+
You can check out a teaser on YouTube here.
WHERE TO WATCH:
You can check out this show on Viki or Kocowa.
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I loved this little gem. So sad and angst-y, but so true to a seventeen-year-old’s sensibility. Seo Yeon’s cry for help hurt this mother’s heart! What I just don’t understand is how the adults are not held up to their responsibilities of being proper parents. Granted, this is beyond what the show is about, but it totally irks me that they get away with ruining their children’s lives, especially in Seo Yeon’s case. I guess this is what the line “everybody is just trying to live” is about!
Glad you enjoyed this one, Ms. M! It really manages to bring out the seventeen-year-old sensibility, as you so aptly put it! Yeah, this one isn’t really about the parents.. Perhaps if this were a longer show, they might’ve been able to focus on that a bit more, but with just 2 hours of screen time, I can see why they chose to streamline the narrative focus.