2016 – A Year in K-Drama

7. Age Of Youth (JTBC)




2016 saw 2 impressive female-centric K-dramas, Dear My Friends and Age Of Youth (AOY). AOY would easily slipped under the radar had I not followed JTBC’s Instagram account. And I followed it because I was waiting for “My Wife Is Having An Affair” news. One thing leads to another.

The story revolves around five young women living under one roof called “Belle Époque”. Literally speaking, “Belle Époque” means “Beautiful Age” in French. The Belle Époque was considered a ‘golden age’ in contrast to the horror of World War I. It appeared to be a time of joie de vivre (joy of living) in contrast to 20th century hardships. I guess it wasn’t some random name the writer picked out just because it sounds pretty, but it was meant to be in line with the drama’s idea, that is to live in the age youth is to live with joie de vivre, to embrace the joy and endure the hardships of it.

The cutesy poster was quite deceiving, led me to think that the drama would be something like The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a fun movie to watch with no depth whatsoever. It is interesting that despite the soft and pastelish colour palette, AOY is actually quite bold with its statements. The show tackled different issues, but it highlights many feminism and gender equality issues, subjects rarely explored in patriarchal K-drama land. A loud hooray from me!

Sharing the same living space are Yoon Jin Myung (Han Ye Ri), Jung Ye Eun (Han Seung Yeon), Song Ji Won (Park Eun Bin), Kang Yi Na (Hwa Young) and Yoo Eun Jae (Park Hye Soo). Through these five characters, the issues are conveyed fluidly though still far from being flawless.

Jin Myung is the oldest of the five, referred by everyone else as Yoon Sunbae. Struggling financially makes her have to juggle works and studying which led her to being quiet, private and reserved. Not necessarily because it’s her default characters, but more like a manifestation of her exhaustion. Nothing comes easy for Jin Myung. She even had to deal with workplace sexual harassment, a horrifying offence that happened to 8 out of 10 South Korean workers.

Ye Eun is the archetype girly girl who devotes her life to her boyfriend despite he’s being a jerk and then later abuse her. Finally! A drama that stood its ground against dating violence instead of romanticising it.

The maknae of the house is the timid and kind of naïve freshman, Eun Jae. Eun Jae came last to the house. Behind her soft-spoken and shy bearing lies a (confused) deep hidden secret.

And there’s Ji Won, the happy-go-lucky pathological liar. Her obsession with anything sex-related ironically seems to come from her lack of it. This should make an interesting character, but unfortunately she was poorly explored leaving the audience with zero idea of her raison d’être. There has to be some sort of relation between her joyful façade and her lying habit, but there wasn’t even a slight glimpse in the scenes which implicitly explain this.

Last but not least, my favourite character of the bunch, Kang Yi Na. I have only watched Hwa Young twice, and in both roles she plays a sensual woman (I’m trying to stay away from any sexist term here). Yi Na is involved in a platonic friendship with Seo Dong Joo (Yoon Jong Hoon), both live off of sponsors as tenpro (텐프로), an open secret practice as prostitution is illegal in South Korea.

Both Yi Na and Dong Joo’s characters shout the loudest sociopolitical messages for me. Dong Joo’s character is needed as the writer’s standing ground in viewing feminism and gender equality, to break the stereotype that only women who provide service in the sex industry. It’s also interesting to learn that “the sudden rise of tenpro culture partially as a reactionary movement against a structural economic force”. This goes in line with Yi Na’s characterisation whom rather than being objectified, she actually holds the control, a slight reminiscence of the old days Madonna.

The sexuality theme is most apparent in one of episode where they threw “The Night of Men” phallic party which then turned into “The Night of Male Energy Rejuvination”. It came from the phallus worship idea, where ancestors used to put phallic object near haunted places because the ghosts are “yin” and the phallus is “yang”. Rather than putting phallic objects all over the place, they decided to invite real men instead thinking the real thing will probably be better than just a cucumber. That is hilarious! The ghost itself is, well, a metaphor for the weight of the past. It serves as a common thread for the characters story’s development.

Writer Park Yeon Sun early works include a drama adaptation of Japanese novel, “Renai Jidai (Love Generation)” by Hisashi Nozawa, Alone In Love, a beautiful depiction of a divorced couple who find it hard to completely break away from each other played wonderfully by Kam Woo Sung and Son Ye Jin. In both dramas, I get the almost same slow and calm vibes. Though AOY is not as finely written as AIL, but its ideas alone make the drama stands out from the crowd.



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3 thoughts on “2016 – A Year in K-Drama

  1. mmm..mm..definately gonna check out this drama for sure!ive got like 2 kms long list of dramas, starting from kdrama, jdorama, tw, chinese even thai lakorn on my bucketlist, lol. Later!later! when i pop-out this “annoying-zits” out of my life (ya know what i mean..pfft!)

  2. […] Age of Youth is back, but sadly Kang Yi Na (Ryu Hwa Young) has left the house, which is quite a shame because her character stood out the most and she had the most complex problems in the previous installment. She still makes several appearances in the show, but her story is no longer as significant as before. […]

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