“If everything in life went as planned, what fun would that be? Don’t magical things happen when least expected?”
A Year-end Medley opened with this line which perfectly set the tone for the whole movie: fun and magical. Just like its English title, this movie is a “medley” of stories that happened in the last two weeks of 2021 at the fictional hotel called “Emross.” It boasts a wondrous assemblage of characters played by equally wonderful actors. These characters came from different walks of life and at different life stages. And just like what the opening line said, unexpected things happened to them during the “most magical time of the year.”
One would find a storyline in A Year-end Medley they would get hooked in and a character they’d root for. Every storyline has its own charm, so let me break down the things I enjoyed from each of them.
[This review contains spoilers]
Odds and Even
Lee Young (Won Jin-a) and Yong-jin (Lee Dong-wook)’s story reminds me of a lot of 80s and 90s romcom tales specifically Maid in Manhattan. It has the same vibe as the said Hollywood flick primarily because these characters are from different social statuses. Actually, their story is also reminiscent of K-drama romcoms from the early 2000s – a rich guy with trauma and a poor girl trying to reach her dreams – a very familiar recipe right?
These two characters have to fight prejudices and unshackle themselves from each of their life chains that kept holding them back from living the life they wanted. Compared to the other storylines, their story leaned to the heavy side of things – Yong-jin was grieving his father’s death while Young is caring for her sick mother – but it was told in a very fairytale-ish style so it still remained on the lighter side of the movie spectrum. The highlight of their story for me was when Lee Young told Yong-jin this line: “People like me can’t have traumas because we cannot afford to. Even or odd, I can’t just change it. I just accept it and live with it.” It was a good “enlightenment” scene for both of these characters.
On Your Wedding Day
Yes, I’m naming this subpart of my review after Kim Young-kwang’s 2018 movie (that heart-breaking friends-to-nonlovers-tale) because the story of So-jin (Han Ji-min) and Seung-hyo (Kim Young-kwang) is similar to Seung-hee and Woo-yeon. But in this case, it is Kim Young-kwang playing the role of the heartbreaker.
So-jin’s story started with her getting a reading from a fortune-teller (Lee Kyu-hyung) that she will get a romantic proposal by the end of the year. She has a specific someone in mind and her anticipation amped up when Seung-hyo told her he wanted to tell her an important thing. But the way he approached her was obviously not a prelude to a love confession. He was getting married to some other woman and So-jin would now remain one of those girls who would have wanted to cross the line with him. Their early morning walk hinted Seung-hyo also had feelings for her but both of them weren’t brave enough to risk their friendship, which could be seen as unfortunate BUT in their ending scene, Seung-hyo was clear to point out that their decision was not something they should regret. Because they still had fond memories of their 15 years of friendship. I actually really love how their story unfolded. They never villainize Young-joo (Ko Sung-hee). Although So-jin got tempted to sabotage Seung-hyo’s proposal, it was also the moment So-jin realized she lost her timing a very long time ago.
But since this is a feel-good movie, So-jin wasn’t left without getting her romantic proposal. The man she had been observing for a year turned out to be eyeing her too. Lee Jin-ho (Lee Jin-wook) was a mysterious character that one could have dismissed in the background but obvious clues were interspersed throughout the movie that hinted he was the one who give So-jin the New Year proposal she definitely deserves. Their ending was like watching a promise fatefully fulfilled.
One of the most unique stories in this movie is the story of Jae-yong (Kang Ha-neul). He is a miserable character who wanted to end his life at the last day of the year. But his decisions and statements all seep with irony. He obviously doesn’t want to die and the Emross team made sure Jae-yong would realize that and that his life was still worth living. And in-between these Emross’ “magical” set-ups, Jae-yong spent a good amount of his stay talking to “Wake up Call” Agent assigned to his room. Throughout the movie, we heard them exchange cute riddles and make each other’s day brighter with their conversation. And in the end, it was Soo-yeon (Im Yoona) who convinced Jae-yong to change his mind by oddly telling him she would jump off the building with him if that’s what he wanted. And fortunately, he didn’t. Because he finally found a reason not to give up on life and to wake up every morning with a bright smile on his face.
Renewal of Friendship
A Year-end Medley also offered a story about a different kind of love. The story of singer-songwriter Lee Gang (Sang Kang-joon) and his manager Sang-hoon (Lee Kwang-soo) was a delightful addition to the mix of romances in the movie. It added a new color and their story was sometimes a good break from all the clichés happening all over Emross. The story dealt with whether Lee Gang should transfer to a bigger management agency. And it wasn’t a simple contract renewal because Lee Gang and Sang-hoon’s relationship was bonded and tested by the hardest of circumstances. Sang-hoon is someone who understands Lee Gang to the core. And I’m glad Lee Gang knew that and stayed with Sang-hoon in the end.
First Love / Last Love
The last two storylines I would talk about are about first loves.
The story of Park Se-jik (Jo Joon-young) and Im Ah-young (Won Jin-an) added a youthful feel for the movie. I actually like watching Se-jik popping-up in other characters’ story but his own arc was a very lovely watch. It’s cute and pure. It was a simple teen love story we wished could have happened to us too.
The story of Katherine (Lee Hye-young) and Sang-gyu (Jung Jin-young) is also about first love but with a different kind of happy ending. They are each other’s first love but their circumstances tore them apart. And as time passed by, both of them found a new person to love. Their conversations are really heart-warming especially when they talked about Sang-gyu’s late wife. Katherine was well aware that she doesn’t solely hold Sang-gyu’s heart anymore and it was bittersweet of her to ask his wife if she could take care of Sang-gyu in the remaining days of their current lifetime. Their conversation at the lake and at the pojangmacha are some of the movie’s tearjerkers.
“It’s December 31st, the last day of the year. How was this year for you? It was filled with bittersweet moments and plenty of regrets, but on the other hand, it was a year that allowed you to become stronger. You lacked the courage to confess your love, you were mean to others in the heat of competition, you were burdened with responsibilities for your family, but pat yourself in the back, and tell yourself ‘you did well today.’ I hope you are happier in the New Year.”
A Year-end Medley is a holiday rom-com that stays rooted in its genre from start to finish. Its stories could be predictable to some but its characters are very easy to love (and all of them deserved their happy endings!). The stories’ humor and overall light-heartedness were the perfect content to consume at the start of this year and the end of the holiday season.
I also like that this has ensemble stories but it has its pros and cons. Watching a good movie with this kind of format always feels like ordering a sumptuous platter. You’d get a variety of taste in just two hours and you’d wish some of the stories were a full-length movie instead of a short story. In the end, though, A Year-end Medley presented characters and their life in a way that makes its audience feel happy and optimistic.
-Seing Won Jin-a and Lee Dong-wook here is a Life co-stars reunion I didn’t see coming
-Ah-young’s fanboys are all adorable and I’ll adapt them whenever.
-I was so pleased to see Jung Eugene here!!!