Is Our Beloved Summer A Documentary?

Is the happy ending and positive praise surrounding this kdrama series well-deserved? This is a recap for Our Beloved Summer Episode 16 Finale on Netflix.

Check out our previous episode review here

So it’s been a long while since this series ended, and I still haven’t written my final review. Since I felt overwhelmingly negative after watching episode 16, I decided to take a week (or two) and collect my thoughts, reanalyze them, and see if I felt differently within time. 

Spoiler alert: I don’t have any different feelings from my initial ones.   

As a Kdrama, Our Beloved Summer fails miserably at telling a compelling, complete, and satisfying ending that makes sense to its intended narrative. Now if it were actually a documentary, and not a drama – I would automatically change my opinion on this story.  

So, let’s explore why I feel this way. 

The Plot 

Our Beloved Summer sold itself on being a warm, and caring romantic comedy.  

With all-star up and coming actress Kim Da Mi (Itaewon Class, The Witch: Part 1 The Subversion) and beloved fan favorite Choi Woo Shik (Parasite, Train to Busan) adapting an original continuation to the now “prequel” story of a popular webtoon of the same name, it should have been a smash hit, right? 

Well, no. 

Fuzzy Details 

This drama series started out strong, but started faltering around the midway point. 

After receiving the richness of character backstories, episodes worth of angst, self-doubt, and feelings of depression and isolation that are relatable to any audience – the momentum for these characters to self-heal…just stops. 

If I had to decide where it went wrong, in my personal opinion all character development stops for Kook Yeon Su and Choi Woong around episode eight of the series. 

In my review, I talked about the perfect setup we got in episodes prior.  

Hold your head high NJ - you were always the better woman. Our Beloved Summer Ep 16
Hold your head high NJ – you were always the better woman. Our Beloved Summer Ep 16

NJ had confessed her feelings to Choi Woong, Choi Woong was realizing that Yeon Su might be bad for him (and his mental health), and we were shown the cracks in their previous relationship formed by a lack of communication, and always being on “different pages”. 

Finally, we got Chae Ran realizing that Ji Woong has feelings for Yeon Su – which eventually causes strain on the way he was filming the documentary. Sol Yi and Eun Ho even get meaningful development, which gradually progresses into the most natural relationship in the series by its end. 

Where am I going with all of this? 

Well, you’d think the problems that were brought up across multiple characters would be addressed in the second half of the series, right? 

Wrong. 

At the end of episode eight, Yeon Su and Choi Woong immediately get back together after their “last day” of filming the documentary. Mirroring the same day during their high school days. 

Suddenly, Choi Woong’s concerns about not being able to emotionally take dating (or breaking up with) Yeon Su are thrown out the window.  

Choi Woong’s worth ethic is suddenly thrown out the window. (To the point that Eun Ho reminds him of this, and is essentially belittled and shunned for supposedly impeding on the couple’s happiness.) 

Choi Woong’s parents – who expressed valid concern, and tried to tell Yeon Su about the after-effects dating had on their son (long, sleepless nights evolving into perpetual insomnia, withdrawal from society, self-destructive tendencies, exacerbated abandonment issues, etc.) and twice, Yeon Su refused to acknowledge this. 

(First at his artist debut, second at the family restaurant.) 

Choi Woong also repeatedly asks Yeon Su why she kept breaking up with him, and she never had an answer. When Yeon Su does finally give an answer, it’s a lie that she concocts to conceal her true feelings, while Choi Woong makes excuses for her – believing that one day when she is ready, she will share why she continually broke his heart. 

But…why am I brining this up? 

Well, shortly after they started dating again, Choi Woong reveals to Yeon Su that he was abandoned on the street by his father as a child, and as a result has no recollection or memories before living with his (adoptive) parents. 

Choi Woong even goes so far as to try and model Jjongjjong, a dog abandoned on the street as a puppy who lives with a local shop owner, to try and ‘force’ himself to get over his fears in order to immediately date, and stay with Yeon Su. 

This situation would be great if Yeon Su reciprocated Choi Woong’s emotional efforts in any way. 

But…she never does. Yeon Su remains selfish until the very end. 

While Choi Woong ditches work, business meetings, and appearances to spend time with her, Yeon Su never misses a day of work. She is rewarded for consistent selfish and obsessive behavior toward him in the show. 

Around Episode thirteen we learn the real reason why Yeon Su and Choi Woong broke up:  

Yeon Su is poor, and has low self-esteem.  

When the talented budding artist Choi Woong asked her to travel abroad with him to study, she said no without giving a real answer. Years later, she still does not give him a concrete answer – rather keeping this to herself. 

Which is understandable on some level given her character and how she had to grow up – wait, how did Yeon Su even have to grow up? 

All we get of her backstory is that she had to pay an unreasonable familial debt, and grew up poor, selfish, and bitter due to her grandmother’s influence…only for episode fourteen to show her real feelings that she actually didn’t want to be selfish and bitter. 

Despite this, all throughout grade school, college, and her adult working life she continued to act this way, only realizing in the final episode of the series that she had a friend the entire time, and people who cared about her – only she was holding herself back. 

Yay, I guess? 

It’s things like this that cause Our Beloved Summer not to work as a kdrama, but rather as a documentary. 

Is Our Beloved Summer a Good Kdrama? 

In terms of story progression – the kdrama series does not offer a satisfying conclusion. Character backstories are explored far too late into the series, and they are unfulfilled, and riddled with missing information.  

Although initially a strong series with beautiful cinematography, well-directed scenes and a wonderful Official Sound Track – the show falls flat by doing too much, and leaving little room to finish and tie up loose ends. 

Examples of Loose Ends in the Series 

Yeon Su’s Backstory 

The SBS website actually has under Yeon Su grandmother’s backstory that the young girl’s parents died in a car crash, causing Ja-kyung to care for her granddaughter. This is never mentioned or alluded to in the actual drama, only on the website inaccessible to most foreign viewers, and alluded to in the webtoon source material. 

Kang Ja Kyung character profile on SBS website for Our Beloved Summer
Kang Ja Kyung character profile on SBS website for Our Beloved Summer
Ji Woong’s Backstory & Mommy Issues 

The same goes for Ji Woong, and the conclusion of his ‘painful’ 10-year crush, and absentee mother storyline. Where in the final episode of the series, we never really learn why she neglected her son – except the (stupid) dialogue that she didn’t want to make him miserable, but wanted to “be selfish” and make him film her final days. 

One of Ji Woong’s final scenes includes him sitting in the hospital room with his mother, in front of a camera reflecting on his happiest moment with his mother. Ji Woong says it was the nights they went to eat tteokbokki – where they would often hold hands and enjoy food together. 

Ji Woong recounts all of the warm and fuzzy memories he made with his absentee mother in front of the camera. Our Beloved Summer series finale
Ji Woong recounts all of the warm and fuzzy memories he made with his absentee mother in front of the camera. Our Beloved Summer series finale

Maybe Ji Woong was embellishing for the camera a little bit, because in the sole flashback we got of their tteokbokki outing, Ji Woong was eating alone and trying to talk to his despondent mother. 

We never learn what happens to his mother concerning her ‘terminal illness’, either. Or how Ji Woong is suddenly able to smile at his best friend and the ‘love of his life’ being together after a time skip…only to immediately walk away and avoid all contact with both parties as he had continually done for over ten years.

Choi Woong’s Backstory Never Resolved 

We also never learn why Choi Woong knew exactly where his birth father worked, despite telling Yeon Su he had no memories of his previous life, or family. 

We never learn why towards the end of the series and after his debut as a famous artist, Choi Woong is so sure the stranger following him around on the street while lurking in the shadows is his long-lost father he hasn’t seen since he was no more than 6 years old. 

What Happened Story-Wise Towards the End of Our Beloved Summer? 

After a timeskip where Choi Woong attends college abroad in France to study architecture, he returns to South Korea and shortly after, marries Yeon Su. The series ends on a happy note, with the two agreeing to film another documentary, as news of their marriage has caused the old one to trend again. 

Yeon Su sits on her bed and mopes while alone in her room. Our Beloved Summer Episode 16
Yeon Su sits on her bed and mopes while alone in her room. Our Beloved Summer Episode 16

It is the late introduction of plot points, the unsuccessful resolution of them, and the clear meandering of dancing around the setup storyline that ultimately makes Our Beloved Summer fail as an adapted kdrama.  

While the direction of certain scenes and episodes (the exchanges between Ji Woong and NJ, the phone call between NJ and Choi Woong where he randomly decides to stand on his sofa before abruptly jumping off) hint at a natural, cinema verite inspired shoot, the constraint of the typical romantic comedy kdrama formula contrasts with its innovation – causing it to fall flat where it should have soared. 

Am I being too harsh? What were your thoughts after finishing this series? 

The lakehouse from Episode 8 where it all went wrong. From the Our Beloved Summer kdrama series.
The lakehouse from Episode 8 where it all went wrong. From the Our Beloved Summer kdrama series.

Leave your thoughts in the comment section below, we’d love to hear from you! Also be sure to follow us for more Our Beloved Summer kdrama recaps and discussion!    

다음 에피소드: Thank you for reading! 

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☆ In Asian Spaces     

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Author: In Asian Spaces

I write in my personal time and I haven't published much at all. I don't know if that qualifies me as a writer or not, but I'd like to change that. I have a deep passion for travel, cinema and (mainly) East Asian things, but I plan on writing various things to keep it spicy. Let's prosper together ~ よろしくおねがいします。

One thought on “Is Our Beloved Summer A Documentary?”

  1. I thought this was an awesome series. Enjoyed it from beginning to end. I think we all have missing things in life that aren’t explained which, for me, makes it more relatable. It was absolutely awesome to watch! I think I’ve rewatched it with others too much lol! Still doesn’t get old!

    Liked by 1 person

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