REVIEW: Record Of Youth is a refreshing portrayal of life and love

Sa Hye Jun (Park Bo Gum) and Won Hae Hyo (Byun Woo Seok) are fellow models in Record Of Youth.
Sa Hye Jun (Park Bo Gum) and Won Hae Hyo (Byun Woo Seok) are fellow models in Record Of Youth.

By Bryan Tan

This review, which includes some spoilers, covers episodes 1-4 of Record Of Youth, available currently on Netflix.

2020 might be cancelled for most things, but it’s been a spectacular year for Korean dramas. This year, we’ve been treated to shows such as Crash Landing On You, Itaewon Class, It’s Okay To Not Be Okay and, just released last week, Record Of Youth (ROY).

ROY centres on the careers and love triangle of two runway models, Sa Hye Jun (Park Bo Gum) and Won Hae Hyo (Byun Woo Seok), that come from vastly different backgrounds. Park Bo Gum needs no introduction for die-hard fans. Affectionately adored in South Korea as the ‘nation’s little brother’, Park topped the Korea Power Celebrity 2017 list with his roles in Reply 1988 and as a Joseon crown prince in Love In The Moonlight.

Also among the characters is Ahn Jeong Ha, played by Park So Dam, who starred in the internationally acclaimed movie Parasite. She plays a makeup artist struggling to gain recognition for her skills, and is a secret admirer of Hye Jun.

A former top model, Hye Jun now finds himself fallen from grace and in a depressing rut. Scorned by even his agency’s CEO who refuses to pay him, Hye Jun now has to work at odd jobs in a barbecue restaurant, as a security door man and a freelance model.

The brotherly friendship between leads Hye Jun and Hae Hyo brings a grin to one’s face, despite the fact that Hae Hyo is Hye Jun’s competitor and has a larger fan base. Hye Jun’s relationships with the rest of the characters really allow Park Bo Gum’s versatile acting chops to shine through; the defiance and frustration at his father, who cannot come to terms with the fact that being a model is a viable career; a supportive relationship with his grandfather who stands behind him no matter what; and the puppy-like teasing with Jeong Ha, his love interest.

Hye Jun is at a massive crossroads in his young adult life – having to choose between a modelling and acting career or signing up for the army – portraying the realistic make-or-break career path of the modelling industry. In a striking scene unheard of in K-dramas, an older model agency CEO asks for Hye Jun’s affection in exchange for reviving the younger model’s fame and fortune; his advances are rebuffed coldly by Hye Jun.

Though Korean romance dramas are all about traditional love, the easy chemistry between Hye Jun and Jeong Ha is a rare gem indeed. They share many cute and vulnerable moments, like when Hye Jun’s grandfather video calls him while they are on a ‘date’ and calls Jeong Ha pretty before rambling about how women love to be complimented.

Record Of Youth is an absolute breath of fresh air when it comes to romantic dramas. It’s not heavy on the hot-and-cold-chase or the grab-your-hand-and-confess tropes (hopefully I haven’t spoken too soon), but injects subtle nuances and cuteness without overdoing the saccharine. If you would like to see your early adult years reborn in these amazing actors, ROY is absolutely the drama for you.

More K-drama reviews:

Stranger Season 2 review: A high-profile kidnapping involving a high-stakes case

It’s Okay To Not Be Okay review: A roller coaster of love, mental illnesses and fairy tale endings