K-Drama Review: ‘Youth of May’: Why We Can’t Hold Back the Tears Behind the Smile

Edited by Hwang Hong Sun
Translated by Kim Hoyeun

Set in 1980, Youth of May tells the love story of young adults. Is that why? So far, some of the conventional elements stand out. The series strictly sticks to the traditional settings of romance series, such as a conflict between social classes, political marriage, and birth secrets. However, once you know that the plot revolves around “Gwangju in May,” the cliché goes beyond “sadness” and reaches “the pain and grief of the time period” No matter how sweet the characters’ love story is, they look sad, and even when they’re smiling, we well up in tears. Let’s look at the three reasons why the series put tears on our faces.


Ex-Siblings’ Lover Chemistry

Credit: KBS

The first eye-catching thing about Youth of May is the two leading actors. Lee Do Hyun and Go Min Si, who made their appearance as bickering siblings in Sweet Home, now became lovers. Lee leads the series as Hwang Hee Tae, a man who harbors a painful family history behind the title of the top student in the medical school. On the other hand, Go plays nurse Kim Myung Hee, who madly falls in love with Hwang and enlivens the story with her flawless dialect and delicate acting.

At first, I was worried about their previous image in Sweet Home as siblings overpowering their new relationship, but Lee and Go pulled off their new romance chemistry with their skillful performances. One thing to note is how the two go from lying to each other, trying to be attentive to protecting their love as they understand each other’s innermost thoughts. The more they swallow their sorrow, the more we get choked up.


Romance Filled with Sentimental Vibe

Credit: KBS

Since the plot takes place in 1980, every scene brings out the romance and memories of the time. The drama is full of a sentimental vibe, ranging from home phones and handwritten letters, which no one uses anymore, to the old train scenery where people eat boiled eggs and sprite. Moreover, it depicts the excitement of waiting for the song you requested in your favorite music cafe.

But it’s not just about longing for the olden days. Kim’s brusque father worries for his kids on the down-low. Hwang wholeheartedly helps out his activist friend even if he grumbled at the request. Through these scenes, the series once again reminds us of what’s really important. This emotional ventilation plays a big part in making us feel nostalgic when watching Youth of May. In the process, Hwang and Kim’s struggle to protect their love even when they have so much against them is both sad and noble. Perhaps the real sorrow that the work is trying to show us isn’t the nostalgia for the olden days but the fact that we should reevaluate the precious value of disappearing things in the fast-moving age.


The Pain of the Time that Makes You Cry Even When Smiling

Credit: KBS

Youth of May is both sweet and bright. Sometimes, Hwang and Kim’s situations come back to haunt them, but they choose to put it aside and move forward with youthful energy. However, we already know that their love won’t sail smoothly. And that’s because we know the series will highlight “May” more than “youth” from now on. The production team once said that Youth of May is for “those who would have lived a happy life if May of 1980 was just another spring day.” Naturally, the more affectionate their love becomes, the more brutal the latter half will be. With the guilt of failing to protect the happiness of our neighbors, our families, our friends, the beautiful tone of the series is already bringing sadness.

And perhaps the 7th episode has already foreshadowed such pain and grief. Kim was being tortured just because she fell in love with Hwang. Nevertheless, she stays strong in front of him so he wouldn’t beat himself up. In an era dominated by illogicality, the affectionate and pure love story touches our hearts. But this emotion doesn’t stop at empathizing with the character. Recreating the violence of the time when we couldn’t protect the people’s happiness presents us the hot pledge of preventing the same thing from happening again.

Because the first half was so warm and beautiful, I’m not so sure if I could face the tragedy that awaits me in the second half. Even so, we should watch the series till the end as it conveys comfort to those who survived the desperate time. After a long time, I’ve finally met a great work that combines the genre’s charm and messages. Kim says, “I hate May without you,” as she bursts out her feelings to Hwang, who is getting engaged to Lee Soo Ryeon. For all you know, many viewers, including this editor, are already sad for June without Youth of May.


Verdict: The sincerity of “youth” who will heal the pain of “May.” (8/10)


Editor Hwang Hong Sun: A Korean movie buff who wishes that the warm messages in good works will warm up this world at least by one degree Fahrenheit.

Translator Kim Hoyeun: If you are a fan of K-drama, K-movie, and K-pop, I am your guy. I will continue to provide you with up-to-date K-entertainment news.

Leave your vote

14 Points
Upvote Downvote
Related Posts

Add to Collection

No Collections

Here you'll find all collections you've created before.