I have watched Zac Efron’s 17 Again (2009), and it was a good movie. When I heard it was going to be adapted into a Korean series, I was thrilled and looking forward to the premiere. And boy, did the first two episodes meet my expectations.
In a nutshell, the series follows a family on the brink of separation, with the parents attempting to sort out their marriage and the children being indirectly affected. Frustrated and exhausted, the husband wanders to his old school to pass some time. There, he plays basketball, and in a last desperate attempt, he playfully wishes upon a star “to go back,” meaning for his family to go back to their happy days. He throws the ball towards the hoop, and when the ball successfully goes through the ring, the light goes out, and he transforms into his 18-year-old self.
Yoon Sang-hyun (Hold Me Tight) plays the hardworking husband Hong Dae-young while Kim Ha-neul (The Wind Blows) stars opposite him as the determined and passionate wife Jung Da-jung. Meanwhile, rookie actor Lee Do-hyun (Hotel del Luna) plays the young Hong Dae-young (later Go Woo-young in disguise), No Jeong-eui (The Great Show) plays the gutsy and rebel daughter Hong Shi-ah, and Ryeo Un (365: Repeat the Year) plays her quiet and aloof twin brother Hong Shi-woo.
The cast is great, and even with the obvious age gap, Kim Ha-neul and Lee Do-hyun have successfully managed to create great onscreen romantic chemistry, as Lee Do-hyun’s character is the younger version of Jung Da-jung’s husband. Despite being a rookie actor, Lee Do-hyun is impressive in this role and shows considerable improvement from his previous works. Likewise, Kim Ha-neul and Yoon Sang-hyun seem to have hit it off right from the very start, seeing how comfortable they look in their roles.
But let’s focus more on the series itself. It’s way more than just a rom-com with tidbits of fantasy. 18 Again is a nest of life lessons that audience of different ages can relate to. Because of an unplanned pregnancy, young Dae-young and Da-jung had to give up college to support their family. Because they lack the educational background, they had to settle for low incomes and struggle with their everyday expenses. I’m glad the show decided to explore how teenage pregnancies are treated in South Korea—they are one of the biggest problems faced by the youth.
Dae-young and Da-jung’s everyday struggles teach viewers how education from an elite university trumps hard work in the real world. Although Da-jung still finished college after a few years, Dae-young never went back to school and focused on growing his career and taking care of his family. He is always stereotyped as “unworthy” at his workplace because he does not come from a reputable university. He also struggles to get promoted even after a decade of hard work and perseverance, all because of his educational background as “just” a high school graduate.
Although people have different skill sets and knowledge, the saying “first impression lasts” still rings true among employers, and an individual’s first impression is their educational background. Hard work and determination are two of the most important skills, but the corporate world does not value only those two factors but also focuses on an exemplary educational background. That is why after turning back into his 18-year-old self, Dae-young’s first goal is to go back to school with the help of his best friend posing as his father. Which leads us to our second life lesson: you can never turn back the time, so do everything you want in life and have no regrets.
At school, Dae-young is reunited with his children, Shi-ah and Shi-woo. Since they do not recognize their father in this form, Dae-young is able to monitor them up close and witness their lives first hand, something he could not do as their father because his children kept rejecting his attempts to reach out to them. As I continue to watch the series, I can see that both sides are at fault in this scenario. Dae-young is so busy with work that his children feel distant and refuse to open up to him. On the other hand, the twins are also immature and sensitive. No matter how much Dae-young tries, they ignore his efforts and reject him, becoming more emotionally distant. But then again, the children are deeply affected by their parents’ ongoing divorce, and I have no right to judge them.
Da-jung is probably my favorite person in the series. Even when she’s 38 years old, she is fierce and passionate. She refuses to give up on her dream of becoming a broadcaster and works hard to achieve her goal. She represents the saying that age is just a number, and it should not hinder your desire to go after your goals. Da-jung believes in setting her own pace and firmly believes that her hard work and experience will not betray her.
There are other characters in the show that teach us a great deal about life. Go Deok-jin, Dae-young’s friend, teaches us that a great friend will never turn their back on you in time of need. Choi Il-kwon, the Physical Education teacher at Serim High School who used to bully Deok-jin as a teenager, teaches us that people are capable of change and deserving of second chances in life. Even the twins are giving us some life lessons! While Shi-ah tries to be more responsible and works part time to earn money so she won’t have to depend on her parents, Shin-woo’s aloofness proves that some teens need more care than others, and parents should exert more effort in understanding their children’s struggles in life.
The first two episodes have already set my expectations too high. I have a lot of recommended K-dramas on my to-watch list, but I think 18 Again might become one of my favorites this season. For me, it’s the right blend of romance, comedy, and family values in one series, which makes the audience feel relaxed while watching. Aside from the minor bullies, there are no major antagonists, which means the characters are in constant battle with their internal issues and the focus is on improving relationships.
I’m actually looking forward to the bond that Dae-young will be making with his children at school. Dae-young seemed like a cool father to me even before he reverted to his 18-year-old self, and now, in his teenage form, he will be able to relate to his children even more. The noona romance between young Dae-young and Da-jung also gave me butterflies in my stomach, and I’m looking forward to seeing the magic Kim Ha-neul and Lee Do-hyun will create together.