Is Youth of May Based On A True Story?

Is Youth of May Based On A True Story?


The Gwangju Uprising is widely regarded as a turning point in South Korean history. It galvanized the pro-democracy movement and led to the eventual downfall of Chun’s regime.

The uprising brought international attention to the human rights abuses committed by the South Korean government and helped pave the way for the democratic reforms that followed.

The Gwangju Uprising is remembered as a symbol of resistance and a key moment in the struggle for democracy in South Korea. Youth of May takes place right in the heart of this uprising, with a dramatic and bittersweet story told across its 12 episodes.

If you’ve finished watching this one, you may be wondering if the events and characters are real or fictional. Let’s find out:

Please Note: The information on this page provides information about the main characters and may contain spoilers.

Hwang Hee-tae


Hee-tae is a student-doctor who has lost the passion for healing after witnessing an accident involving his friend Seok-Chul. With the boy recovering in hospital, Hee-tae instead succumbs to his Father’s wishes and agrees to get married to a woman named Soo-ryeon.

Free-spirited Soo-ryeon is in no mood to be tied down though; an active protestor and a girl determined to fight against martial law (more on her shortly!) Myung-hee goes in her place and a romance ensues between the pair.

Hee-tae’s character is fictional but his conflicted feelings toward the uprising adds an extra depth to his character.

Kim Myung-hee


Myung-Hee is a hard-working nurse who stands up against injustices. She ends up on a blind date with Hee-Tae, stepping in place of her friend Soo-ryeon and starting a romance between the pair.

Myung-hee is also a fictional character, although her later role in the show feels similar to that of nurses at the time. When protesters took control of the city and set up barricades to prevent the military from entering, the government responded by using helicopters and tanks to attack the protesters.

With martial law declared, additional troops were thrown against the protestors to crush the rebellion. The ensuing result saw hundreds of protesters and civilians killed, while thousands more were injured or arrested. Myung-hee’s role in helping those injured, as well as showing the carnage that occurred, is accurate.

During the uprising, it’s worth noting that many student nurses played a crucial role in providing medical assistance to those suffering souls.

The nurses not only organized some of the riots but also worked tirelessly to provide first aid and medical care to protesters that were injured in the clashes with the military.

Some student nurses even risked their lives to transport the wounded to safe places, despite being fired upon by the military. This is something we actually saw within the show during the later episodes.

Lee Soo-ryeon


While Soo-ryeon is a fictional character, her free-spirited attitude and desire not to be tied down coincides with the mood many students had during the time. Operating as an active protestor, she’s determined to fight against martial law no matter what.

Jeon Seung-mok was a student activist at the time and happened to be one of the leaders of the Gwangju Uprising. His character is personified through this rebel group that rise up and his values are echoed through the different students, especially feisty Soo-ryeon.

Hwang Ki-nam


Hee-tae’s Government minister father is completely against any of the pro-democratic riots and does what he can to shut them down as quickly as possible. He’s also not happy that Myung-hee is dating one of the protestors and sets out to stop this romance no matter what.

While Ki-nam is a fictional character, one could argue that he was based on Chun Doo-hwan, a South Korean army general and military dictator who replaced Choi Kyu-hah to become President of South Korea from 1980 to 1988. 

Jung Hye-Gun


Hye-gun operates as one of the more vocal voices in the Gwangju Uprising. He works alongside Soo-ryeon to do everything he can to push their agenda forward, no matter the cost.

Although Hye-gun is a fictional character, there are definitely comparisons to be made to Jeon Seung-mok, a student activist at the time who became one of the top leaders of the Gwangju Uprising

Kim Kyung-soo


Kyung-soo may be a fictional character in the show, but the difficult moral and ethical questions he grapples with, make him one of the more fascinating players in Youth of May.

Kyung-soo is a former student activist and currently doing his military service right as the Gwangju Uprising occurs. He is forced to shoot rebels and feels conflicted as a result.

When he runs into Hee-tae during the height of the fighting, he remembers his morals and has the courage to defy his supervisor. Thanks to his bravery, at least one life was saved from the ensuing carnage. 

If other soldiers had the same courage as Kyung-soo, could we have seen more lives saved?

Although almost all the characters in Youth of May are fictional, the events they’re based on are most certainly real.

The Gwangju Uprising was an important moment in Korean history and a reminder that some things are worth fighting for, even if the cost to get there is overwhelmingly steep.

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