Youth of May: Episodes 1-2 Open Thread
We’ve got a new drama in town, and boy, am I happy to see it. I’ve been waiting for retro romance Youth of May to come around for months now, desperate for something sweet and melo. (And okay, desperate to see Lee Do-hyun’s face again.) It’s satisfying to say that the wait was so worth it.
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
I know enough about Youth of May’s setting to know that we’re in for a lot — anger, passion, resilience, loss of innocence. We’re in Korea 1980, a time just after the assassination of an authoritarian president, only for another authoritarian figure to impose martial law and crush the country’s dreams of democracy. We’re specifically in the city of Gwangju in the month of May, where tragedy looms.
The drama introduces us to modern-day Gwangju first, and we get a hint of this tragedy as a construction site unearths skeletal remains speculated to be from the Gwangju Uprising. At a train station, a broken man looks as if he’s about to jump off the platform, but news of the remains stops him. Is he someone we’ll come to know? Probably. We’ll have to wait and find out — it’s time to dive back into the ’80s.
It was this transition to the past that caught me off guard. I don’t know exactly what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn’t this bright, upbeat vibe. It reminded me of the film A Taxi Driver, which also took place in this time period and opened with big, welcoming energy. Of course, even in the beginning, we do get those glimpses of darkness.
We meet our hero HWANG HEE-TAE (Lee Do-hyun) as he quite literally drives through a student protest. He’s a carefree guy with a big mouth, and shows zero interest in the movement. However, it seems like this wasn’t always the case. Something happened to him recently, where a friend of his got hurt, and he’s clearly traumatized by it.
Though Hee-tae’s friend is in critical condition, she asks him to bring her back home to Gwangju. So Hee-tae travels all the way to Gwangju to arrange her transfer. There, at the local hospital, he witnesses a patient being rough with a nurse. This nurse is our heroine KIM MYUNG-HEE (Go Min-shi), and she’s more than capable of standing up for herself, which leaves a strong impression on Hee-tae.
Rounding out our leads, we have the well-off siblings LEE SOO-CHAN (Lee Sang-yi), who returns from abroad, and LEE SOO-RYUN (Geum Sae-rok), who’s lifelong friends with Myung-hee. I find Soo-ryun especially interesting because she leads a double life, taking part in the movement.
As the day goes on, we get to know our leads, as well as the people in their lives. Hee-tae gets caught in the city by his father HWANG KI-NAM (Oh Man-seok) and has to confess that he postponed his graduation from med school. His father is in the torture biz — gathering information from protestors — and he barely thinks of Hee-tae as a son, which is already giving me anxiety. But Hee-tae promises to make himself useful and do whatever his father wants. In exchange for his friend’s hospital fees.
Switching over to Myung-hee, we learn that she’s the breadwinner of her family and that she holds some type of grudge against her father. She gets accepted to med school in Germany and she doesn’t even tell him. But her path to education won’t be easy; she doesn’t have enough money for a plane ticket. At the same time, Soo-ryun and friends get caught and arrested for printing flyers, and her father LEE CHANG-KEUN (Uhm Hyo-seop) bails her out. He’ll release her friends on only one condition.
As it turns out, Ki-nam and Chang-keun know each other very well, as it’s Ki-nam who is always getting Soo-ryun out of trouble. Ki-nam, wanting more power and security, suggests their kids start dating (this being the dads’ condition for what Hee-tae and Soo-ryun want). Soo-ryun hates the idea of meeting the son of an anti-communist investigator, so she gives her bestie Myung-hee an offer: Go on the date pretending to be her, and she’ll pay for her plane ticket. Cue makeover montage!
On the way to the date, Hee-tae sees a little boy get hit by a car and is overwhelmed with memories of his bloodied friend. He’s thrown into a panic attack but snaps out of it when someone rushes to help the boy — the nurse from before. We’ve had a ton of setup so far, and this is where the drama really took off for me. Hee-tae and Myung-hee finally meet face-to-face, and he’s adorably ecstatic to see that his blind date is the nurse. Myung-hee is on a mission to get herself rejected, but sorry girl, he’s already into you.
On top of that, Hee-tae is just… a good guy. She takes him to a shabby restaurant, and he reveals he’s used to places like that. She drags him into a store, saying she’s a total shopaholic, but he just buys her new shoes (after noticing that Soo-ryun’s heels are too big for her). Despite the fact that this is ruining Myung-hee’s plan, she can’t help but feel touched.
The second date just ruins her plan further. Myung-hee’s co-worker shows up at their restaurant and badmouths her, and seeing her discomfort, Hee-tae approaches the doctor and dumps water over his head. He does it with such a straight face and then dramatically goes, “Oh dear! My hand slipped!” Way to make me laugh and swoon at the same time.
The couple relocate outside, by the cherry blossoms, and have a genuine moment of connection. Hee-tae even reveals that the reason why he hasn’t graduated is because he wants to play guitar at an upcoming music festival (in which only students can participate). He asks if they can meet again, before the flowers wilt, so he can play for her, and she agrees with a smile.
Eventually, Soo-ryun’s friends are released from jail, meaning Myung-hee can stop the act. Myung-hee feels bad having lied to Hee-tae all this time, and though she doesn’t say it, she seems to feel even worse at the thought of never seeing him again. Just then, Soo-ryun is called downstairs to meet a visitor, Myung-hee right behind her. They stop short when they see none other than Hee-tae sitting with Soo-ryun’s father.
Yes. Yes. I love this. I love it because I know exactly what Hee-tae is going to do — he walks right up to the girls and greets the actual Soo-ryun, not blowing their cover. And, argh, the smile he gives Myung-hee, with that knowing look in his eye. This is sure to get complicated, if he really does keep up the act to keep both dads happy.
Like I said, we were given a lot of setup and so many more characters that I didn’t even mention. But I like the seeds that have been planted. The main couple. Soo-chan obviously having feelings for Myung-hee. Soo-ryun having a spark with the officer that arrested her. Hee-tae and Myung-hee’s younger brothers, who are training in track together and already butting heads. Ahem, the main couple. I’m all in. I’m ready for one eventful May.