- English Title: Inspiring Generation (also known as “Age of Feeling”)
- Revised romanization: Gamgyukshidae : Tooshinui Tansaeng
- Hangul: 감격시대 : 투신의 탄생
- Director: Kim Jung-Kyu
- Writer: Bang Hak-Ki (comic), Chae Seung-Dae (ep.1-10), Park Kye-Ok (ep.11-24)
- Network: KBS2
- Episodes: 24
First and foremost, I loved Inspiring Generation, despite it having many, many, many, many faults and flaws. I loved Kim Hyun Joong and his character, Shin Jung-Tae. I loved the period setting, the sets and the costuming. I loved the artwork and promotional posters for the series, which are just visually stunning. I loved the young actors, who played the main characters in their youth in the first four episodes of the series. I loved the brilliantly choreographed fight scenes, despite them being quite violent and bloody. I love that the drama had a cast of thousands – well not quite a cast of thousands, but I loved that the drama was populated with so many characters big and small, which gave it a more realistic feel too it. But while there was much to love about Inspiring Generation, there was also many, many, many, many faults and flaws with the series as well. And it should be said these many faults and flaws were not inconsequential.
Based of the comic of the same name which was published in the Sports Seoul from 1985 until 1988, Inspiring Generation (also known as Age of Feeling) is set during the 1920s and 1930s against the back drop of the Japanese occupation of Korea and China. A film-noir style drama, it spans a period of more than 20 years and travels between Korea, Manchuria and Shanghai. It tells the tale of Shin Jung-Tae, a young man from a poor family, who becomes a street fighter and smuggler, in order to aid his family.
When news of Inspiring Generation first hit dramasites, I was very excited to hear that it would include two of my favourites, Kim Hyun Joong and Kim Jae Wook. It was therefore quite disappointing when Kim Jae-wook, whose character was to be the second male lead, bowed out of the series after appearing in just three episodes (with his last appearance being in episode 8).
Kim Hyun Joong has long been one of my favourite Hallyu stars. SS501 is one of my top five favourite kpop idol groups and I love his solo music. One of my favourite things about Kim Hyun Joong has always been his personality: not only does he come across as being very down-to-earth and blunt (which I love), I am a big fan of his sense of humour which can be best described as both deadpan and 4D (a Korean term for eccentric, quirky, off-the-wall personality/humour). I particularly loved watching him teamed up with Hwangbo in the Korean variety show, We Got Married, where you really got to see his hilarious and eccentric sense of humour.
Kim Hyun Joong’s first drama was Boys over Flowers, which helped skyrocket him into becoming one of the biggest names in Hallyu. Despite loving him in Boys Over Flowers and later Playful Kiss, the reality was that his acting wasn’t great. So as keen as I was to watch him in Inspiring Generation, I did approach the show with some trepidation because of this. But I think its safe to say that Kim Hyun Joong did a great job at silencing his critics and surprised us all with how much he has improved as an actor.
Unfortunately, however, despite some very fine acting from Kim Hyun Joong and many other of the cast members of Inspiring Generation, as mentioned the series had many, many problems and faults. From the beginning, the series was plagued with a seemingly never-ending series of financial and production problems. Not only were (and still apparently is) problems with actors not being paid, actors dropping out of the series (such as Kim Jae Wook who played Kim Soo-ok) there was also changes in writers. And while I love the fact that the drama was filled with “a cast of thousands”, so to speak, it also should be said that such a large cast did also contribute to creating some of the problems with the series – for example making it difficult for some characters to be fleshed out and remaining underdeveloped due to pressures to develop new characters or other characters. All of this, unfortunately impacted on the quality and direction of the drama. The initial change of writers at the end of episode 10 didn’t have as big an impact as I had original expected and for the first 14 or 16 episodes of 24 episode series, the writing was fairly consistent and reasonably good. However, towards the end of the series, the writing consistently went down hill.
Not only were there big gaps in the plot and character developments, many central characters were just left to flounder (e.g. the female lead of Kim Ok-ryeon played by Jin Se-yeon and Song Jae-rim’s character of Mo Il-wa). Other character’s storylines became confusing and nonsensical (such as Um Tae-goo’s character of Do Ggoo). Whole storylines were either put on the back burner, forgotten or abandoned, such as the backstory of the freedom fighters opposing the Japanese occupation which was one of the things that initially made me excited to watch the drama, but also the storyline around Shin Tae-jung’s missing sister (which was originally a central driving force for Jung-Tae’s actions).
But despite this and at times feeling quite frustrated with the series (especially towards the end), I still loved it. Perhaps this is because it was possible to visualise very clearly what the series could have been, if it had been able to rid itself of such faults and flaws. I think if it had been able to do that, than Inspiring Generation would definitely have shot up into being one of my top 5 favourite Korean dramas, but alas that has not been the case. I think the reason I am still able to love the series, despite all its faults and flaws, is because the writers and producers initially did such a good job with the series in the first quarter of episodes. As a result, it made it possible to retain a lot of goodwill towards the rest of the series, even as its faults and flaws began to mount up.
So despite all of this, I still would recommend checking out the drama, not only to check out Kim Hyun Joong vastly improved acting skills but because there is still a lot to enjoy about the series, including some wonderful quirky and fun characters, some terrific acting by many of the central characters (including by the young actors depicting them in their youth), the brilliantly choreographed fight scenes and much more. And hopefully, you too will fall in love with series like I did.