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.