Admit it—we all tuned in to the premiere of Record of Youth, one of the highly anticipated series from tvN, and a collaboration project between stars Park Bo-gum, Park So-dam, and Byeon Woo-seok, who play the three main characters of the story. The series also marks actress Park So-dam’s return to the small screen after four years, as well as Park Bo-gum’s last project before he enlists in the military. More than that, the series itself serves as an inside look at the Korean entertainment industry, and how young aspiring stars struggle on the way to reach their dreams.
The first two episodes introduce us to the characters, their dreams and struggles, the industry they are trying to navigate, and the people and factors around them that impact their goals. The struggle of life inside the entertainment industry is not a secret to anyone, and like ordinary people, these young dreamers are also exposed into the harsh reality of abuse, systemic hierarchy, manipulation and deception, as well as the constant struggle to get paid. Behind the flashes of cameras and the dazzling smiles are stories of real people to whom the audience can fully relate to.
Park Bo-gum plays the hard working and positive Sa Hye-jun. He comes from a poor background, and so from a young age, he has worked independently to support his lifelong dreams of becoming a star. He started out as a model, but what he really wants is to become an actor. He has the looks, the charm, the passion, and he is also quite popular—but he does not have strong connections, which, in the industry, are a big factor for success. Which is why for years, his career does not take off. And the longer Hye-jun stays out of the limelight, the more his family pressures him to go to the military. His only influential acquaintance is his childhood friend and another aspiring star, Won Hae-hyo.
Hae-hyo, played by Byeon Woo-seok, is everything that Hye-jun is not. Hae-hyo comes from a rich family, so he has never had to compromise a day in his life and only focuses on his personal goals. Because of his influential background, his mother does everything to get him all the gigs—from opportunities to walk fashion runways to photoshoots, commercials, and even movie roles. But of course, Hae-hyo does not know this and continues to believe that he gets these offers through his hard work. The only similarity he shares with Hye-jun is his personality.
Then there’s Ahn Jeong-ha, played by Park So-dam, an ordinary girl who quits her corporate job to pursue what she really wants—to become a successful make-up artist. Jeong-ha is also a big fan of Hye-jun, and in the earlier part of episode 2, it was revealed that Jeong-ha might be drawn towards Hye-jun. Unable to express her admiration towards Hye-jun, Jeong-ha accidentally blurts out that she is a fan of Hae-hyo instead. Upon hearing this, Hye-jun wondered if she has a comfortable life, to which a confused Jeong-ha asked why. “Aren’t you drawn to the people who are similar to you?” Hye-jun explained.
This surprises Jeong-ha, because who she is really similar to is Hye-jun. They are both diligent, passionate, straightforward, and work hard despite what the people around them say. Not to mention their similar financial backgrounds. Aside from that, the first two episodes also highlight a genuine friendship between Hae-hyo and Hye-jun, who have grown side by side and supported each other in their separate but somehow similar path. They have another friend in their small friend group, Kim Jin-woo (played by Kwon Soo-hyun), who tags along with them and is an aspiring photographer working in the same industry.
An inevitable romance is brewing between Hye-jun and Jeong-ha, while Hye-jun and Hae-hyo share a deeper bond than all the characters in the series combined, which Park Bo-gum and Byeon Woo-seok successfully portray. I don’t know about you guys, but right now, I see more chemistry between Hye-jun and Hae-hyo than Hye-jun and Jeong-ha, but then again that’s just a personal opinion.
The gap between the kind of life that Hye-jun and Hae-hyo have led so far widens even more with the introduction of their families. Hae-hyo’s family supports the goals that Hae-hyo pursues because they have never had to worry about money, and even as the eldest son, he never felt the pressure to support his family financially with his work. His mother smiles and speaks softly, evidently a graceful socialite, following the norm set by the society for married women with status and power.
Meanwhile, Hye-jun’s family members bicker and argue with each other day and night, and the noise serves as the symbol of their “daily struggles.” Hye-jun’s father pressures him to give up on his dreams, go to the military, and get a regular job to help with their financial burden. Hye-jun’s family finds it difficult to support his passion and try to push the blame on Hye-jun. His family is so poor that Hye-jun complains about not even having a room of his own to for privacy. Meanwhile, Hae-hyo can be seen relaxing in his huge room. This further highlights a common struggle for young dreamers—that dreams are just meant for the wealthy. “How can time be the only fair thing in this world?” Hye-jun says, implying that life is indeed unfair for people like him.
Even with the difference in lifestyle and status, Hye-jun and Hae-hyo are never once hostile and treat each other with deep respect and admiration. Hae-hyo, surprisingly, is a humble and hardworking individual despite his influential background and does not want to use that power for his gain. He often scolds his mother for looking down on Hye-jun’s mother, their housekeeper. “Stop looking down on him with your absurd idea of hierarchy,” he says, rejecting the class disparity in society.
Hae-hyo does not see Hye-jun as competition or feel superior, even when he has a reason to. This is evident in the way he interacts with Hye-jun, treating him like his own brother. Meanwhile, Hye-jun feels the same way towards Hae-hyo. He does not feel threatened nor intimidated by Hae-hyo’s presence and speaks calmly and warmly with him. Even when competing for a role in the same movie, they support each other and congratulate whoever lands the role. “You and I shine in our own way,” Hye-jun says.
“They say when you get old, your friends change depending on how much money you have,” Hye-jun points out, to which Hae-hyo responds, “That’s not true for us, we knew things were different already.” This simple exchange of conversation speaks strongly of the brotherly love and deep respect they have for each other, a rare gem to find. “If we change, it doesn’t mean it’s about money, it means we lost our innocence.” It’s cute how Hae-hyo is not afraid to express his affection towards his friend and teases him with confessions of love, which they both laugh about.
More than just the romance and the comedy, Record of Youth feels like a coming-of-age series that features a true-to-life representation of the harsh reality of the show business, the class disparity in the society, young people’s fight for their goals against all odds, and relationships that are as important as romance—friendships. What’s more impressive is that each character’s lines are lessons that audiences of all ages can apply in their lives. As our main character always tells himself whenever he is down, “I will reject the reality that won’t give me what I want.” Fighting!