Review: Age Of Youth (청춘시대)

Synopsis:
The drama follows five university students living in the same house. Each women holds their own burden and backstories as they trudge through life.

Review:
So the drama is about five women living in the same house and dealing with their own burdens while forming a strong bond of sisterhood. Sounds familiar? Yeah. Age Of Youth is the unofficial Korean adaptation of the c-drama Ode To Joy (欢乐颂 and it was also aired right after Ode To Joy finished airing. Ode To Joy has been a drama that’s precious to me and one that I hold close to my heart so when I chanced upon Age Of Youth, it was a given that I had to see it, k-drama or not. Initially I found myself comparing it to the c-drama version and found many similarities (unsurprisingly) but also many elements that made the drama more original and really unique. While I am aware that AOY is NOT an official adaptation of OTJ, I will be making some comparisons between the two dramas just because of their obvious similarities.

I have never been a fan of k-dramas because of it’s repeated use of romantic tropes (rich guy meets poor girl etc) and the use of unrealistic yet highly dramatic scenes at the expense of in-depth character development and plot. This belief has only been further reinforced since seeing one of my favourite c-dramas, Scarlet Heart being completely transformed butchered  in Scarlet Heart Ryeo. Not that I have anything against k-drama fans, of course. I’m just too much of a realist and a critic. However I’d say AOY is an exception. Many have applaud the series for it’s boldness to rebel against the usual k-drama tropes and for it’s realistic portrayal of sisterhood and life in general. While I don’t exactly agree to a certain extent, I’m glad that the drama is something different yet still retains its own k-drama style (something which I will explain later).

Yoong Jin Myungcapture4capture3

My favourite character out of the five women. The serious one, works multiple jobs to support herself financially while studying full-time at University. Kind of like An Di from Ode To Joy, minus the high fashion and the money of course. She is the strongest out of the five and that’s what makes her my favourite character. Her circumstances are the most relatable to me (though none of it has ever happened to me lol) and her ability to just carry it all on her shoulders is so so admirable. I’d say she’s the opposite of every k-drama character. Plainly-dressed, not very pretty, serious but not shy and best of all, she stands up for herself even when it seems like it’s easier not to. It’s so rare to see female characters in kdramas that are so plainly dressed and look so…plain. Even if there are, they would end up undergoing some dramatic makeover that reveal how pretty they actually are and then the male lead would suddenly fall in love and etc etc (I may not watch many k-dramas but I know the tropes).

Also the fact that Jin Myung knows how to stand up for herself is so so refreshing. Oftentimes you see the female lead all shy and scared while allowing everyone else to bully her and beat her down, and it’s not only in k-dramas but in animes, mangas and c-dramas as well. But Jin Myung knows when to speak out and when to stay silent. Honestly if I were in her shoes, I probably wouldn’t have the guts to stand up for herself the way she did. That scene when she held that waitress’s hand under the hot water for deliberately bumping into her, damn. I was literally cheering for her. And it’s not as if Jin Myung was being mean on purpose. She was carrying very heavy plates of her customers’ food. If she were to drop them she would’ve definitely been fired. But the scene that really tore my heart was when she finally broke down and screamed at the manager to apologise. Wow…amazing performance from the actress Han Ye Ri. That scene felt so real, tears came to my eyes. Powerful performance.

I also liked her romance the best. Park Jae Wan is the only one I didn’t dislike. He’s sweet yet mature and takes care of Jin Myung in practical ways. And he doesn’t talk about loving her even though she’s plain-looking and all that bloody nonsense. Jin Myung would probably dump him in a second if he ever did lol. capture13
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Kang Yi Nacapture12capture10Another favourite character. She’s an escort who lied about being a student and a daughter of a rich family. Not much is known about her own family background though. But she’s the total opposite of Jin Myung. Maybe that’s why their bond is more probably more special than the rest. Unike Jin Myung who works hard for her finances, Yi Na chooses to take the easy way out and feels no shame in it, justifying it by saying life is short so why bother with all the hard work? I like her for her complexity, as with many characters like her. Like Fan Shengmei, she’s materialistic and has a whole closet of branded items. But unlike Fan Shengmei, it’s not security and marriage that she seeks but a life of pleasure with no worries. For someone so different from me, I really relate to her. I mean, who doesn’t want a life of luxuries without having to work for it? I think most of us are like Jin Myung, we can only judge women like Yi Na from afar because we haven’t had the same temptations she did. But when tempted, it can be hard to say no. capture11It was really interesting to see how her housemates reacted when they found out about Yi Na being an escort. It was shocking, actually, to see them behaving the way they did. But it’s hard to blame them cause’ this is probably how most people would behave when put in the same circumstances. As Yi Na says, “they act as if I have AIDS”. I sympathise with her so much when she said that. And although at first I shipped her with the old guy she met at the bar, by the end I totally lost it. Lolol. I won’t spoil the show by saying it here but I have a feeling her feelings will go unrequited. capture18

Song Ji Won
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The goofy, carefree and a little too crass character. Basically the Korean version of Qu Xiao Xiao but minus the rich family background, sass and handsome boyfriend. It’s interesting to see how someone like Qu Xiao Xiao is portrayed as popular among men but a similar character like Ji Won has never dated a guy before despite going on multiple dates and is basically boy-hungry. Not sure how accurately both dramas reflect each society but I was quite surprised that someone like Ji Won is not at all attractive to men. Which is also an element that I didn’t like about the drama.

Now I’m not familiar with the Korean men tastes in women but I thought Ji Won is pretty attractive, no? Even if she isn’t, I don’t think it’s necessary to have Ji Won so boy-hungry while every guy she meets is attracted to her looks but gets turned off by her personality. Like what is that? Yes, she’s a little hyperactive, noisy and even crude, but she’s still lovable in her own way. It gets embarrassing sometimes to see her so desperate for a guy to the point where any guy is fine, even if he’s ugly. Not saying that ugly guys are bad or whatever, just the connotations behind that line is…degrading. That she would “settle” because no guy would want her. I know I’m ranting like a pompous feminist here but I really can’t stand the way the writer treated her character, even if it’s for the humour. For a drama for women, it’s sending a very offensive message. And it’s not that I’m picking at straws either, that scene at the hospital where everyone  (Ye Eun had to leave for a police investigation) got pulled away with their love interest except Ji Won. And when she called the only guy (whom she doesn’t even like) she’s close to come, he gets annoyed and cuts he call. Not that the guy did anything wrong though. But the way they made her look so pathetic. Seriously? Not funny. capture7

I just wished they could develop her character more or at least give her character more depth. I really like her for her carefree personality and her sincerity and seriousness when the need arises. To be honest, she has a much better personality than Qu Xiao Xiao (though I love XX for her smarts and determination) and is also the glue that kept everyone together. I’m interested to see if anything would develop between Ji Won and Im Sung Min though. capture14

Yoo Eun Jae
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The main character and youngest of the five. Shy, quiet, studious and likes to hold everything in before exploding at one go. The typical introvert and the Guan Juer of the group. I like that she’s really plainly dress and simple, though you see her start dressing up more as the series progresses but at least it’s subtle and not too dramatic. She’d probably be the character most people would relate to the most. But even though I do see myself in her, I can’t exactly relate to her. Half the time I’m just screaming at her to bloody speak up. Even though I used to be exactly like her, and probably still is. LOL. Maybe that’s why I didn’t really like her. Her past is pretty interesting and gives a sort of twist to her character but overall it doesn’t really add much to her character or even about life in general. Maybe other than the fact that the past would always catch up with you, which is a theme that’s been subtly explored throughout the series.

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Her romance is one that I really dislike. I’m just not a fan of guys like Yoon Jong Yeol. I used to when I was in high school. Maybe I’m just getting old? No, that can’t be. No. No.

I thought Jong Yeol is way too immature for a guy in college. If it’s high school I understand (that’s why high school relationships never last) but college? Er…okay. And if it weren’t for the fact that he’s introduced as the senior who is always surrounded by girls but somehow falls for the plain girl who stood up to him. Hmmm. I thought we were on a rebellion here? I guess it’s for the fanservice. But yeah I thought their relationship kind of lacked the substance that Jin Myung and Park Jae Wan have. A least Park Jae Wan fell for Jin Myung for her hardworking personality and strength. Hell, I would too if I’m a guy. Not that Eun Jae is unlikable, but the fluff is just…way…too…much…And what’s with that “your body is mine” shit lol. It’s annoying. Jong Yeol is not all that bad though. He’s pretty considerate of Eun Jae and stopped playing tsundere once they’re officially dating. Which I appreciate very much in both male and female characters. I just hope their relationship develops if there’s going to be a second season.

Jung Ye Eun
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The pretty, cheerful, childish and opinionated one. Reminds me of someone from Ode To Joy *cough Qiu Ying Ying cough*. My least favourite character. I’m beginning to see a pattern in the characters I like and dislike lol. Her situation is pretty similar to Qiu Ying Ying in that they’re both blinded by love and refuse to accept advice from anyone else who says otherwise. And they both dated shitty guys. There wasn’t much depth to Ye Eun’s character other than the thing with her boyfriend but at least she’s not as annoying as Qiu Ying Ying. But she is rather unlikable, even at the end. I couldn’t care less about her even after 12 episodes but that’s mostly because for me, she was the hardest to relate to. If she were the only character in the series I might, that’s a big might, actually like her but alas, there are too many great characters that have stolen my attention.

Plot

I thought the drama was quite well-written, despite all it’s flaws. Mostly because it manages to squeeze in a story that is both plot and character driven with some nice motifs that gave the series that much more depth. And for a 12-episode series, the pacing was pretty good (except for a few parts) and it managed to squeeze in some element of psychological thriller. I especially liked the motif of the ghost which is both a motif and a symbol of the girls’ own “ghosts”. It also served as a minor catalyst that spurred the characters to act the way they did and finally resolve their personal “ghosts”. I liked how it was done in an obvious manner yet it wasn’t too overpowering or emphasized that it took away the significance and depth of the ghost. It also kind of shed some light into Ji Won’s character though she still remained too underdeveloped even at the end.

(spoilers below)

What I didn’t like however (and I’m gonna be a nitpicker here) is the pacing in certain arcs of the story. Like when Ye Eun first broke up with her boyfriend, it wasn’t clearly specified how or why Ye Eun got back with him. On one end you see her scene of her breaking up with him and the next thing you know they’r back together. I wished they could at least have her explain verbally that she’s back with her boyfriend, so as to not make it so confusing. And another thing is Ye Eun’s boyfriend psycho-ness. The first hint was probably when he pulled her out of the car but even that was wayyy too abrupt? Like where did that come from? Sure, 12 episodes is too short for that kind of build up but at least try to make it more subtle. And even then, what Ye Eun’s boyfriend did at the end still came as a big shock because of the sudden change in tone. That was so not expected. Again, they should’ve hinted something about that.

Final Thoughts:
Overall I enjoyed the series. Though I still preferred Ode To Joy since I spent more time with the characters and the series had a lot more depth and explored more themes to do with society than in Age Of Youth. But it’s pretty unfair to compare a 42 episode series to a 12 episode one. Still, Age Of Youth is a refreshing drama and I’m glad I gave this a shot which sort of restored my faith in k-dramas. I’d definitely be looking forward to a second season if it ever does happen.

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