By PARINYAPORN PAJEE
Just as in Japan, spring in Seoul brings residents out in their masses to enjoy the cherry blossoms, with Yeouido Park on Yeouido island in the middle of the Han river a popular spot to watch as nature turns the trees the palest pink.
And what better ambience to introduce a light-hearted story about young lovers? That’s exactly what Netflix chose to do for the launch of its second original Korean series “My First First Love”, holding the press conference at the Conrad Seoul Hotel in Yeouido and decorating the stage with cherry blossoms as the backdrop for the five young cast members and their director, Oh Jin-suk.
Loosely based on a web series by Jung Hyun-jung and Kim Ran, who wrote the script for the series, “My First” depicts the daily lives of a group of friends sharing a house owned by college student Tae-o (Jisoo). Tae-o moves into the house that his grandfather left him in his will only to have his friends appear one by one at the front door, each asking for a place to stay, albeit for different reasons. His long-time friend Song-i (Jung Chae-yeon) has just lost her home because of her mother’s debts, the daughter of his father’s friend Garin (Choi Ri) has run away from home, and his high school friend Hun (Kang Tae-oh) has been kicked out of the family nest for pursuing a career as a musical actor rather than studying at school. Tae-o then finds out that Song-I is dating his best friend in college Do-hyeon (Jin-young) and begins to feel uncomfortable even though Song-I is like family and there has never been any romantic feelings between them.
The cast is made up of up-and-coming actors with the odd K-pop idol thrown in for good measure. Actor Ji-soo is well known for his roles in TV series “Doctors” and the film “One Way Trip”. Jung Chae-yeon, a member of girl band DIA, shot to stardom in the TV show “Produce 101”, Jin-young is from boy band B1A4 while Choi Ri and Kang Tae-oh have had minor roles in both series and movies.
“This is a story about the young adulthood. This is about the most beautiful time that is shared with the people who mean most to you in life,” says director Oh, who has worked on such TV series as “Lover in Paris” and “Lover In Prague” and also directed the action thriller “Yong Pal”.
Director Oh Jin-suk/Netflix Photo
The story reminds the director of his life as a college student who would be kept awake at night by the most trivial of issues.
“I can’t help but laugh about it when I look back. There were some romances and worries about what I should do with my life. We all go through that phase because everything’s a first for us. Back then I was full of passion but also worried about my career. So while I don’t think viewers who are the same age as the cast will laugh a lot, they will watch the series with a smile of recognition on their faces.”
Following on from the zombie hit “Kingdom”, the new coming-of-age drama is among Netflix’s string of series targeting young adult viewers. Others include the dark romantic thriller “You”, “Riverdale” or “The End of the F***ing World”. In some ways, “My First” brings to mind the 1990s hit series “Friends”. And unlike other Korean dramas for that age group where the focus is on the young people involved and the family values that kids are expected to follow, both in terms of education and their personal lives, it looks at young people living independently as they study, hang out with friends and pursue their dreams.
The four young people live together in the same house. From left Garin (Choi Ri), SongI, Hun (Kang Taeo) and Taeo./Netflix Photo
“This kind of story will resonate with young adults anywhere in the world because we experience the same kind of highs and lows. It also shows how 20-somethings in South Korea are living,” says the actor Jisoo.
“The lives of young adults is a common theme and I don’t think this series is particularly different from all the others. What I wanted to do, and the cast agreed, was to show young adults the way they are. Watch them and if it’s fun then we can have a smile on our faces and if we think it’s sad, maybe we will find it encouraging that other people are having the same doubts. We’re not artificially adding encouragement. Because it’s showing on the global platform, I want to show the lifestyles of young people in Korea. I’ve tried to add all these colours to the series and to use hip locations such as Hongdae and Yeonnam-dong. I really want to show the coming-of-age aspect of the show. It doesn’t necessarily mean that they become famous or important but I want to show them growing even a little,” the director says.
The life of young adults in the story is not as dramatised as most of us have seen in other TV series, but it does, as Oh says, portray the daily life of young people before they transition to a professional working life. However, despite being the same age, the actors playing the characters do not share the same sort of life – they are already well into the music or acting careers.
But they all say that’s not relevant to their portrayals. “We’ve been through all of that too and we know the way they feel. I found it easy to relate to my character,” says actor/singer Jin-young.
Taeo’s friend Doh-yeon (Jinyoung) has a crush on Song-i and keeps it secret from Taeo, though the latter finds out and feels uncomfortable about their relationship.
And while the love triangle between Tae-o, Song-i and Do-hyeon is at the core of the story romance, the characters of Garin and Hun spice up the denouement with their comical acting as they reflect on how young people reject their parents’ plans for them and escape from their comfort zone to pursue their dreams.
Actor Kang Tae-oh adds that the drama is not just about love but about coming of age. “These young adults are starting to live as independent people for the first time and are experiencing love and dreams, everything in fact, for the first time. They are making mistakes and they get hurt along the way but through that pain eventually become mature people,” he says.
The director says he’s not feeling any pressure following the huge success of “Kingdom”.
“The content is completely different,” he points out. “I joke that this show can also be a fantasy in a way because these days we have so many people living, eating and drinking alone so watching friends live as housemates could actually come across as a fantasy for some.”
“My First First Love” is divided into two seasons each with eight episodes. All 16 episodes have been shot and the first season is already showing on Netflix.