Record of Youth, Park Bo-gum’s last drama before he enlisted into the military finished airing earlier this week. The drama, also starring Park So-dam of Parasite fame, explored the hardships of chasing your dreams while highlighting the growing pains characters experience along the way.

Record of Youth follows models-turned-actors Sa Hye-jun (Park Bo-gum) and Won Hae-hyo (Byeon Woo-seok), and makeup artist Ahn Jeong-ha (Park So-dam) from their mid-to-late twenties as they work towards achieving their respective dreams. The drama has a fairly big cast made up of the trio’s families and friends, all doing their own part in coming to terms with their respective ambitions as well as flaws.

This review contains spoilers

Record of Youth emphasizes the individual and a self-learning process over love and relationships. While Jeong-ha and Hae-hyo are able to recognize and overcome insecurities they have, Hye-jun unfortunately lacks the character development his two friends go through.

Jeong-ha’s biggest worry is about being too dependent on others. She does take risks, one example being quitting her office job to pursue being a makeup artist. However, she views being emotionally vulnerable as a weakness and she is determined to prevent this situation from happening. Hae-hyo, struggles with feeling inferior as he sees Hye-jun’s career take off before his though he was initially the more successful out of the pair. He also grapples with shame and embarrassment as he realizes that the smaller success he did enjoy was not from just his own hard work.

Jeong-ha, through her relationship with Hye-jun, gradually learns to overcome her fear of being vulnerable. By letting someone into her life, she comes to appreciate the instability of life; life will not always be steady, and it is unrealistic to expect it to be predictable all the time. Hae-hyo too, comes to accept that though his background has played a role in his career, it does not describe who he is as a person. He knows it does not make him a bad person, or take away from his value as an individual.

In contrast, Hye-jun does not experience this process of learning and acceptance that Jeong-ha and Hae-hyo go through. Hye-jun’s biggest flaw, one that he shares with his dad and brother, is that he is stubborn. He is fiercely set in making it as an actor on his own terms, and he is determined not to compromise his own morals at any cost, much to the frustration of his manager Lee Min-jae (Shin Dong-mi). However, his stubbornness often pulls through for him in the long run. For example, a famous and closeted gay designer, Charlie Jung, offers to be his sponsor as Hye-jun gains a footing in the entertainment industry; Hye-jun refuses though the designer insists that many get their start this way and his decision pays off later in the drama.

Hye-jun is the epitome of the underdog who comes out on top, through his own perseverance and on his own terms and conditions. Though perhaps inspiring to see someone so determined achieve their dreams, Hye-jun’s character feels a little less relatable and realistic than the other two characters.

One issue the drama glosses over is Hye-jun and Jeong-ha’s relationship. The reflective narration from the characters foreshadows that their relationship will not last; however, even their happy days can feel uncomfortable because of the initial set-up. Jeong-ha is a huge fan of Hye-jun’s before they meet, though they are quickly established as friends before they progress into a relationship. However, it does not erase the weirdness that accompanies a star dating their fan. The drama tries to work around the celebrity-fan relationship and the accompanying power dynamic, but the shift from celebrity and fan to friends is too abrupt. Jeong-ha being a fan of Hye-jun is a plot point that could have easily been left out, and its inclusion is an uncomfortable thorn in their relationship.

Aside from the main trio of Jeong-ha, Hye-jun, and Hae-hyo, Record of Youth also utilizes supporting characters to explore how emotional growth and learning never really stop. Two relationships, one between Sa Min-gi (Han Jin-hee), Hye-jun’s grandpa, and Hye-jun’s dad Sa Yeong-nam (Park Soo-young), and the other between Han Ae-sook (Ha Hee-ra), Hye-jun’s mom and Kim Yi-young (Shin Ae-ra), Hae-hyo’s mother demonstrate this point.

The relationship between Min-gi and Yeong-nam is fraught, to say the least. Min-gi was unable to provide for his family, which leads Yeong-nam to scorn him. Min-gi walks on eggshells around his own family, knowing that some of them consider him a burden. Yeong-nam in turn feels upset that he had to step up to the role of breadwinner before he should have.

The two constantly butt heads over a variety of opinions: Min-gi is Hye-jun’s number one fan while Yeong-nam thinks Hye-jun should stop pursuing being an actor. Min-gi’s decision to become a senior model is of course criticized by Yeong-nam, who believes his father and son are full of unrealistic aspirations. The bickering between the two grown men is often amusing and sometimes heartwarming as it has become the only way in which they express their affection. At the end of the day, no matter how old they are, Min-gi wants to feel like a father to Yeong-nam, and Yeong-nam wants to feel like a son. Indeed, when Yeong-nam receives his first ever allowance from Min-gi, he counts the money with excitement, and his own role as a father is forgotten in a moment where he is allowed to be a child in front of his father.

The relationship and chemistry between the two moms, Ae-sook and Yi-young, is another one that shines throughout the drama. Ae-sook works as a part-time housekeeper for Yi-young, and since the two have sons who have been best friends since childhood who are now pursuing the same career, comparisons are constant and neverending. The two have differing, often completely opposite opinions, but do relate to each other as mothers. Yi-young wants to micro-manage her children with the resources and connections she has, considering her children to be her life’s masterpiece. Ae-sook, lacks the financial and cultural capital to do so for her own children, but firmly believes that a parent’s role is to be an emotional support system for their children.

The two are frank and unashamed about their class differences. Ae-sook accepts used clothes from Yi-young without hesitation and Yi-young likes that Ae-sook does not make a big deal about it. The two most relate to each other, however, as mothers whose children are now on the brink of becoming independent. Hae-hyo and Hye-jun, and their siblings, are starting to be less financially and emotionally dependent on their moms, leaving Ae-sook and Yi-young often with themselves. Despite their differences, they understand how both of them have to be able to let go. Indeed, age and experience does not equate to mastery of emotions and dreams, and Record of Youth demonstrates that parents and grandparents are still flawed individuals dealing with their own lives and desires.

Taking place mostly in the entertainment industry, Record of Youth also features a wide variety of fun cameos. Kim Hye-yoon, of Sky Castle and Extraordinary You fame, makes a stellar appearance as an ex-girlfriend of another famous actor. Park Seo-joon, Kim Sung-kyung, and Hyeri all play an actor and actresses who are friends with Hye-jun or Hae-hyo, or both. Seo Hyun-jin makes a cameo as an actress Hye-jun stars alongside in a medical drama, a nod to her role in Doctor Romantic. A particularly amusing cameo is from Choi Soo-jong, who is the real-life partner of Ha Hee-ra who plays Ae-sook, and whose cameo involves Yeong-nam getting jealous of his interaction with Ae-sook.

Record of Youth ends on a high note, with Hye-jun, Jeong-ha, and Hae-hyo all emerging successful and competent in their careers. The trio have transitioned from youth into adults and have grown as individuals, alongside their family members. The happy, albeit slightly cheesy ending is perhaps well-deserved after a sixteen episode ride of ups-and-downs of characters chasing their respective dreams.

(Yonhap News agency, images via tvN)