I already expected that Youth of May would become a tragic love story that could break my heart into million melodrama pieces. But this series is more than that.
The main leads Hwang Hee-tae (Lee Do-hyun) and Kim Myung-hee (Go Min-si) are victims of being at the wrong place at the wrong time. Their story could have been simple and uncomplicated. But since they fell in love at the time of political turmoil in Gwangju, things never became easy for them.
Hee-tae and Myung-hee’s individual arcs parallel each other. Their growth as a character is very similar, especially with pacing and conflicts. Both Hee-tae and Myung-hee are haunted by their parents’ choices. Their parents tried to control their lives as if they were incapable of thinking. This is especially true to Hee-tae since he and his father, Hwang Ki-nam (Oh Man-seok) couldn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things. Hee-tae understands why his fellow youths go out on the street and criticize their government; his father only knows power and greed. Myung-hee’s father Kim Hyun-chul (Kim Won-hae), on the other hand, tried to protect her from making the same mistake he did in the past. Only to realize in the end that he should have let Myung-hee fly on her own because she is very capable of doing so.
The only difference between Hee-tae and Myung-hee’s arcs is their ending. One survived the tragic May of 1980s while the other didn’t. I was already crying my heart out for Myung-hee on episode 12 but then one of the finale scenes unexpectedly wrenched my heart even more. I’ve seen a lot of tragic love stories in the past. It is always hard for those who have been left behind but the way Hee-tae explained his situation changed the way I looked at such scenes. Hee-tae said that he survived so that he would be the one to suffer for years rather than Myung-hee. It was the fulfillment of his prayer to feel all the worse pain in life on his own instead of Myung-hee. And he found solace in such thought but then came the last note from Myung-hee who prayed to not let the sorrow overwhelm the lives of those whom she’d left behind. It was heartbreaking and comforting at the same time; she wanted Hee-tae to live his life from that point forward. That’s why I like to think that the last line in the series meant Hee-tae living a new life – his first May.
Hee-tae isn’t the only one Myung-hee left that tragic night. Her brother, Kim Myeong-soo (Jo Yi-hun) was with her, which ended the same way the night their father died too. My initial guess is that the hobo during the first episodes was Myeong-soo but I’m glad I’m wrong. He becomes a priest instead and that ending was a relief for me as Myeong-soo and Hwang Jung-tae (Choi Seung-hoon) are my favorite side characters for this series. I’m glad both of them ended up in a good place. And Jung-tae even mends his relationship with Hee-tae. Their race scene is one of the memorable moments for me in the premiere week.
Speaking of memorable scenes, Youth of May has a lot. I can name a few like Myung-hee’s breakdown scene on episode 7 or when Lee Soo-ryeon (Geum Sae-rok) finally owned up to her immature choices. But one of the best scenes happened in episode 10. When the military starts shooting aimlessly. And they mute everything, the only sound we could hear is gunshots. It is goosebump-inducing. The scene feels like they wanted to show us the fear that everyone in Gwangju experienced at that time.
Another one is when Soo-ryeon arrives in Seoul and she stood still in the middle of a rally. It is in that scene that she realizes she can never live in silence. Even if she’s afraid and scared too, she chose to step up and speak for the voiceless. I like Soo-ryeon’s character development. It could have been improved better if only they have 16 episodes instead of 12 but I’m quite satisfied with how her story unfolded. Especially her few scenes in the last episode. Soo-ryeon told her brother that they can’t change everything but they can help in their own way. It is proof that she still has ideals for her beloved hometown and country but it is now grounded with reality. It is also the same line that helps change Lee Soo-chan’s (Lee Sang-yi) mind. I understand where Soo-chan’s hesitations are coming from. From the start, I know that his priorities will always be his family and he had to have an eye-opener experience to realize that being neutral is almost the same as siding with the oppressors.
There are moments in Youth of May, particularly in the latter part, where I had to pause, breath, and think. Especially after realizing the subliminal messages it wants to convey; like how our past and background doesn’t define who we are and who we wanted to be; or how our age can’t be the measurement for other people to judge the depth of our feelings, romantic or patriotic; or how we all have the similar kind of May (spring-like or tragic) that we hid inside of us and just like tides that keep on coming back, memories of such May always come back and it’s up to us whether we want to get drowned or swim with the waves. And lastly, even though life had been tough and everything seems bleak, we can find hope and answers to our whys with the most unexpected of prayers and in the most unexpected of places.
-I was out of the loop during YOM finale week that I never heard about Choi Won-young making a special appearance in this series. It was a nice surprise. See you in your next drama, Manager Gwi.
-So I think Oh Man-seok will be in my top three villains for our year-end special in December.
-I’m excited to see more of Go Min-si and Geum Sae-rok in dramas!