Edited by Yang Young Jun
Translated by Kim Hoyeun
As more and more diverse genres were introduced, the “traditional romance” story was pushed to the side. Though it may be considered an old and boring genre, traditional romance is still a fascinating genre. What else is there other than traditional romance that makes such a good use of the so-called ’90s sentiment’ that seems a bit tacky and obvious but still gives you the heart-fluttering moments?
Finally, a new drama that aims at the tastes of those who enjoy the ’90s sentiment’ came out after a long time. It’s When I Was the Most Beautiful – a story about two brothers falling in love with the same woman.
Seo Hwan, a high school student, falls in love with Oh Ye Ji at first sight. And his brother Seo Jin approaches Ye Ji even though he knows that she is his younger brother’s first love. Ye Ji, who was forced to push away Hwan due to the limitations of “teacher and disciple” and “adult and minor,” opens up to Jin, who brought changes into her life, and decides to marry him. Hwan is left with a broken heart, but he leaves to study in the U.S., comforting himself that Ye Ji has finally found a true family.
However, an unexpected opportunity (?) knocks on his door when Jin, a race car driver, goes missing while racing in the U.S. game. Hwan, who still feels the same way about Ye Ji, traces his missing brother’s whereabouts for three years, but starts to approach Ye Ji again, thinking that he might be able to mend her heart. On the other hand, Ye Ji, who lost her husband, is confused by the sudden change.
A younger brother who loves his sister-in-law – it seems like the perfect story for a “makjang” drama. But When I Was the Most Beautiful focuses on each character’s emotions and stories rather than highlighting the provocative story. It persuasively shows why Ye Ji wants to leave her home so much and why the two brothers fall for her. Therefore, even if the development is going towards the “makjang,” the drama allows some room for the viewers to empathize and immerse with these characters. Since whether the drama is titled with “makjang” or not is decided on how compelling and empathetic the story is, the key point is where the story is heading.
(‘makjang’ means stories that include extreme, unrealistic, abnormal or ridiculous situations and usually use topics like birth secrets, potential incest, adultery, revenge, terminal illnesses, rape, murder, and suicide)
Maybe it’s because it’s been such a long time since we last saw the traditional romance. The drama’s emphasis on “90s’ authentic melodrama” comes fresher than being covered with cliches. The scenes where the main characters use lotus leaves to avoid rain or ride on bicycles along a quiet country road bring back the old memories as if I were reading a fairytale book. Also, the cheesy lines, rustic feelings, and the sentimental OST songs remind us of works like Phoenix and What Happened in Bali.
Of course, the limits of ’90s sentiment’ are clear. For viewers who have gotten used to romance combined with various genres, the heart-breaking love stories or ‘prince charming’ stories are no longer that attractive unless they’re impressively well-made. Even in When I Was the Most Beautiful, some characters are stuck within the typical boundaries. The best example is Ye Ji’s aunt, Ji Young. Of course, the roles of a villain are important in dramas, but we’ve seen so many guardians trying to torture the heroine that what Ji Young does seems a bit corny. The use of the characters and storytelling in the future will likely be the factor in determining whether When I Was the Most Beautiful will be considered as “just another typical traditional love story” or “one impressive traditional love story.”
Although there are mixed reviews over the “traditional romance” genre, When I Was the Most Beautiful is still a work that has more advantages than disadvantages. Im Soo Hyang, Ji Soo, and Ha Seok Jin engagingly pull off the cheesy lines, and the overall plot is captivating. It goes without saying that the screen filled with ’90s sentiment’ reminds us of good old memories. I hope that the project keeps these advantages till the end and remains as a one outstanding work.
Verdict: A traditional romance story full of ’90s sentiment.’ I’m delighted to see it again after all this time. (7/10)