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Traces of Love (Drama special review)

Recent KBS drama special Traces of Love is a simple vignette about a broken-up couple that meet again, and are forced to revisit the reasons they split. The drama explores the complexities of love and dating, and despite its short length and narrow scope, packs in some emotional depth as well.

 
EPISODE 1 REVIEW

Our drama opens with a break-up, or rather the aftermath of one. LEE JOO-YOUNG (Lee Yoo-young) is sitting in a restaurant trying to break up with her coworker-boyfriend, and we get a look at their relationship’s downfall: he proposed to her after just three months of dating, and when she turned him down, he broke up with her.

Furthermore, he previously promised to leave their job if they should break up, but he hasn’t done so — hence the fight. After he leaves, Joo-young gets plastered, and in her haze, catches a familiar face across the restaurant. Or is it familiar? She can’t tell. Either way, her work and love life are both a mess. And it’s about to get messier.

Joo-young is a manager at a leading architectural firm, and her team is all a-bustle because there’s a new hire. And in the words of a young woman on her team, “We finally got a super hot coworker!” — surely a good reason for any single working woman to get excited haha. But, much to Joo-young’s shock, this new coworker is JUNG JI-SUB (Lee Sang-yub). He is — yes — another ex-boyfriend. Talk about going from the pan to fire!

The plot of Traces of Love might sound like rom-com overload, but it’s actually a bit more serious fare. Filmed over this past fall, the drama has a very autumnal, almost lonely feeling to it at times, and it’s a very intentional tone with which to tell us the story of Joo-young and Ji-sub.

Whether it’s through flashbacks, passing remarks, or monologues, it soon becomes clear that these two haven’t quite gotten over each other. They were dating for five years when their relationship fell apart, but Joo-young still sees Ji-sub when she’s drunk (as we saw in the drama’s opening), and Ji-sub still remembers every little detail about Joo-young — like her ice cream cravings, or the fact that she’s left-handed.

We see Ji-sub’s sensitivity to Joo-young at play one day as the team settles down to eat together. This scene is full of such fabulous detail! Joo-young’s ex-boyfriend/coworker pulls out a chair for her to sit next to him at the table, thus sandwiching her between him and Ji-sub. Joo-young has no choice, and sits down in a huff, and then shifts the utensils from the right of her place setting to the left. (As a fellow lefty, I’ve done this so many times that it was hilarious.)

Ji-sub notices all of this, and offers to trade seats with Joo-young so she has more room at the end of the table — and (secretly) so she’s not sitting next to his competition. Ji-sub then tries to blow off his knowledge of Joo-young’s left-handed person problems by saying he just noticed it — the two are pretending they don’t know each other, after all. It’s a great little scene, being so simple, so layered, and also conveying so much nuance between the characters.

Without much delay, Joo-young finds herself in the middle of a workplace love triangle, with her most recent ex having trouble letting go of her, and Ji-sub also trying to make peace. And sure enough, Ji-sub re-entering Joo-young’s life sets off all of the past attraction — and all of their unresolved issues.

More than swoons and flower petals, though, this story looks more at the issues that get between couples, and cause their relationships to fail — even when they’re so clearly meant to be, like we see with Joo-young and Ji-sub.

What made their relationship flounder? Why did they even break up? We see flashbacks of their romance, but we also see the pair’s recent discussions, and attempts to address what went wrong.

Towards the end of the drama, there’s a great bit of narration from Joo-young. She says, “The reason we’re afraid of dating is that we have to share the worst sides of ourselves that we didn’t even know were there, and that the very person we want to impress and love and be loved by is the one to see it.” It’s this statement that holds the major theme of the drama: we have to let ourselves be vulnerable and willing to share those “ugly” sides in order for a relationship to be solid, honest, and to last.

As Joo-young and Ji-sub navigate their way through their issues — whether it was lack of communication, misunderstandings, or differing goals — they both learn the importance of being open, being willing to share hardships, and being willing to communicate.

It was definitely the cast that piqued my interest in Traces of Love, and I wasn’t disappointed by the performances. Lee Yoo-young, as ever, manages to layer this raw emotion on her characters — so even if you get annoyed at her for too much whining or navel gazing, you know exactly why she’s doing it, and her unhappiness and confusion feel real.

Traces of Love works well as a short vignette, highlighting a couple and the love that brings them back to each other. But, being a vignette, it works by portraying a brief moment in a wider story, so if you’re looking for deeper-reaching tale, this drama doesn’t really have the scope to get there. However, taking the drama for what it is, it’s an enjoyable exploration of a romantic relationship, with a cast I wouldn’t mind seeing together again in a more substantial project.

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The cast was what cemented this drama special for me along with the direction. I was surprised how much punch this carried being just an hour long show and given the scope in terms of story. And it was the cast and director that played the story beautifully. Echoing your sentiments @missvictrix, I would totally check out a drama with the leads.

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Lee yoo young is superb, I loved her “you drive me crazy”. Of course It was Kim Seon Ho who stole my heart there as well (been a fan of mr. dimples from the very first time I saw him in strongest delivery. In fact I watched that drama only for him and his love interest. Theirs was the only story worth watching in that drama, I fast forwarded everything else- although I love chae soo bin and go kyung pyo individually and liked them in other productions, “strongest” wasn’t their best). Lee Yoo Young was superb in that as well!

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Not to derail from Traces of Love, but Lee Yoo Young is an interesting actress. She may not have a conventional type of beauty, but she grows on you, the more you watch her. Since You Drive Me Crazy, she's gotten more sophisticated looking. Despite being 30, she posses a mature energy like more older?

As for SDM, I keep hearing he stole the show lol. It was 1 of the reasons why I didn't want to start the show last yr b/c I was really into GKP at the time. And felt a bit annoyed lol, that the 2nd ML stole the show. And now look at KSH. If you told me, he would blow up and not GKP, I would've been shocked since GKP started out earlier than KSH.

She does pixie gamine like energy well. I noticed it in YDMC, esp. her and KSH. Wowzers. These two def. exhibited chemistry all right!! She does short dramas every now and then which I find cool. She did SF8 and was unique there. Def. a character actress, which makes her not the standard FL in K-dramas. But it does give her a slight edge compared to her peers.

As for Lee Sang Yeob, I was also really into him last yr lol. But I find his comedic acting hit/miss. Sometimes, he's tries way too hard to be funny that it fails. Or other times, his humor is goofy, but he ends up looking like a doofus lol. It's like when I see him on-screen, I just see "I'm trying way too hard" not effortless acting per say imo, but he is very emotive tho!

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i like this actress

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Great TV movie. I felt happy that I had an emotional struggles within the breakup couple who can easily met again and turned out to be unforgotten. By the end of this story, I knew that by my opinion in the offscreen world, Joo-young and Ji-sub finally married after all when I knew if they're not the ugliest couple ever made so before they had a successful proper dating etiquettes/methods by correcting step-by-step ways of right love and even corrected, rightful communication (for example, they made appropriated right jokes before a big positive laughters).

As for Lee Yoo-young and Lee Sang-yub's acting even the supported cast, what a nice acting that I'm totally love with us.

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I teared during the flashback when she was drunk crying, asking him not to leave. T.T

Yooyoung is love. ❤️

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Her character reminded me a little bit too much her You Drive Me Crazy's character, the drinking scenes overall.

But it was a nice special drama. The casting was good and the reasons why they broke up were well adressed with the café as background.

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Waaaah, thank you for this! KBS Drama Specials really love the reunited lovers thing - two aired this year, this and While You're Away - and this is easily the best one I've seen.

This is what I wrote about it before: Out of all the specials, this was the one I was most excited for - it's Lee Yoo-young and Lee Sang-yeob, after all - and I was not disappointed! This isn't stirring like Crevasse or epic like To My Assailant, but its understated warmth is a different (not inferior) kind of wonderful. It is intimate. This is what While You're Away should have been - firstly, in that I understand in a deeper sense why this couple loved each other, why they broke up, and why they should get back together. Secondly, because it makes a far more successful attempt at a flawed heroine. Lee Yoo-young grounded her and made me like her in spite of her short-sightedness to the thoughts and feelings of others. I loved that one of Traces of Love's main messages is that dating in the workplace is a bad idea - I was anxious it would succumb to the trappings of the workplace romance subgenre, which I often don't enjoy, and relieved when it did it well. There hasn't been a special so effortlessly romantic since 2017, so I highly recommend it!

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Thanks for covering the drama specials. ADding it to my list. WIll plan to watch this week!

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I fell in love with Lee Yoo Young cause of You Drive Me Crazy and Sang Yeob is a favorite because of his Running Man presence. I love this drama special and I'm always waiting for stories with plots like this. Thank you for writing about it. ❤️

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Thanks Missvictrix! All those getting caught in the middle of the 2 guys scenes were so awkward, ooh gosh. Good thing the other ex moved away and she got a seperate desk. I liked that she evaluated her own mistakes in breaking up too hastily back then as well as the recent relationship, and the lines she narrated are quite true.

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Thank you for recommending this show. Watched this and To Jenny because of Dramabeans & enjoyed both. Help me save some time as I am pretty picky with what I watch & lately no drama series have managed to interest me other than Run On. Glad to have these short ones to distract me as I wait for the weekly Run On release.

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