Kdrama Review: 18 Again (Spoilers!)

I think the last time I did a drama review on this blog was last May 2020, so it has been around nine months since I’ve last written a drama review to the point that I’m almost scared that I’ve forgotten how to do it, but nevertheless, here goes.

This was actually on my radar as I did enjoy the American movie that it was based on, and because more often than not, I do enjoy the Kdrama remakes I’ve seen of American tv shows before. Aside from this, I was also very interested in seeing Golden Child’s Bomin act, as I didn’t end up watching that other drama he is in, “Melting Me Softly”. This drama was such a gem, and belongs in a very special category that’s in between “Familar Wife” and “30 But 17/Still 17”. It’s a wonderful drama that teaches life lessons about relationships of different sorts (marriage, friendship, and parental love); and that has wonderful performances from the cast, especially from Lee Do Hyun, who is the breakout star, heart and soul of the entire drama.

The drama was directed by Ha Byung Hoon and was written by Kim Do Yeon, An Eun Bin and Choi Yi Ryun. It ran on JTBC for 16 episodes from September 7 to November 10, 2020. It starred Kim Ha Neul, Yoon Sang Hyun, Lee Do Hyun, Han Seo Eun, Choi Bomin, Wi Ha Joon, Hwang In Yeop, Kim Yoo Ri, Lee Mi Do, Kim Gang Hyun, Roh Jeong Eui, and Ryeo Un to name a few.

Image Source: JTBC

As mentioned earlier, this drama is a remake of the American movie “17 Again”, which starred Zac Efron and Matthew Perry. The drama follows 37 year old Hong Dae Young (Yoon Sang Hyun), who isn’t having much luck in life. He is looked down upon at work; is a bit estranged with his 18 year old fraternal twins; and is in the midst of a divorce, although he has no idea why his wife, Jung Da Jung (Kim Ha Neul), wants to divorce him. Unsure and downhearted about life, Dae Young wishes to become young again, and one night miraculously transforms into his 18 year old self, although he retains all his experiences throughout the years. Wanting to give life a second chance, Dae Young (Lee Do Hyun) starts going by the name Ko Woo Young, and begins attending his old high school, where he encounters his teenage twins, who also attend the same school as him. As Woo Young, Dae Young strives to be closer to his family in any way he can, and learns several life lessons in return. Meanwhile, Da Jung gets accepted into her dream job as a news anchor, and throughout the series, also learns some life lessons and learns more about Dae Young in the process.

The entire cast was great, but kudos really goes out to Yoon Sang Hyun and Lee Do Hyun for portraying the dual role of the older and younger Dae Young respectively, especially as they were able to seamlessly bring Dae Young to the screen, from the way he talks, moves, to the little expressions and gestures he does. These two were really in sync, and it was believable that they were one and the same person. Yoon Sang Hyun is such an expressive actor, and you can see it not physically, but in his expressions, especially his eyes. Lee Do Hyun is definitely the breakout star and the heart and soul of the entire series. This was a very good showcase of his acting abilities, and I cannot wait to see what he does next.

(L-R) Lee Do Hyun, Kim Ha Neul, Kim Yoo Ri, Yoon Sang Hyun, Wi Ha Joon Image Source: JTBC

I’ve been around dramaland for a while now, but I really haven’t seen Kim Ha Neul in anything yet. However, her portrayal of Da Jung was superb, as she showed all of Da Jung’s facets, in a very realistic manner, and was very relatable as well. Aside from her being such a classy character, Kim Ha Neul managed to also show us Da Jung’s personality and vulnerabilities as well. Just like Yoon Sang Hyun and Lee Do Hyun, both Kim Ha Neul and Han Seo Eun did a great job at portraying two versions of Da Jung, especially as you can see little quirks and gestures that Han Seo Eun would do that Kim Ha Neul would do as well.

Bomin was really my main draw to this series, as I have been wanting to watch him act for quite some time now. However, “A-Teen” didn’t seem like my cup of tea, and I never got to check out “Melting Me Softly”, so this was the first time I’ve seen Bomin act. To be honest, and also because I’ve been following Golden Child pretty closely right now due their recent album promotions for their fifth mini album, I had a difficult time not calling Bomin Bomin every time he showed up on screen. However, before the series ended, I managed to finally call him by his characters name, Seo Ji Ho. I just got too used to him as Bomin. I thought that he did a great job for an idol-actor, and as he is still young, I’m very much interested to see how he progresses as an actor as he gets more and more roles and experience.

Actor Bomin. Image Source: JTBC

I really liked Wi Ha Joon, who portrayed ace pitcher Ye Ji Hoon. Characters of this type are usually the ones that I get annoyed a lot, but he also managed to endear himself to the audience pretty quickly as well. His portrayal was also realistic, and I’m glad that he was given an interesting storyline and his own realistic set of problems that he had to deal with. Hwang In Yeop quickly stole my heart as well, as he managed to endear himself to the audience after a couple of episodes of him being a bully. Special shout outs go to Kim Mi Kyung, who portrayed Da Jung’s mother; Lee Byung Joon, who portrayed Dae Yong’s father; and Kim Gang Hyun and Lee Mi Do, who portrayed the best friends of Dae Young and Da Jung respectively. 

“18 Again” was a gem of a drama that taught life lessons about different kinds of relationships in a very realistic manner,  and was elevated not only by a great script and direction, but with a solid cast of actors who gave great performances from start to finish. Aside from this, the drama was a wonderful vehicle for rising star Lee Do Hyun to showcase his acting range, and he managed to impress, as he was the heart and soul of the entire drama. If you liked the movie “17 Again” or enjoy themes of getting a second chance with a science fiction or fantasy twist, or if you were a fan of the drama “Familiar Wife”, you should definitely check this drama out.

Now, before we move on, you know the drill.

From here on out, there will be spoilers!

Before we delve deeper into Dae Young and Da Jung, let’s talk a little bit about some themes of the drama that stood out to me.

The entire show really talked about the importance of being honest with each other, whether it be in your marriage, friendship, or even between child and parent; and how one sometimes needs to look at a different perspective, be patient, and wait for the other one to be ready to open up while still being supportive and encouraging of them. The lack of communication between everyone in the family was pretty evident, even though it sometimes stemmed from a good place, such as Dae Young not wanting to tell Da Jung about the fact that he’s having a rough time at work, which ended up causing him to start to drink, and Da Jung starting to get annoyed at him for drinking; or Da Jung not telling Dae Young about the guilt she’s been nursing inside ever since that day he chose to give up his basketball dreams. All of these little things piled up, it became a habit not to talk to each other, which resulted in not being able to understand each other anymore. I also appreciated the fact that at the end of the drama, they showed us that they still do have their misunderstandings, but that they now have made it a habit to actually talk to each other after cooling off and calming down a bit. After all, the only way a person would understand what the other is truly feeling is if they open up and actually communicate to each other about it.

The show also reminds us that we can get so caught up in trying to go about our daily lives, earn a living, provide for ourselves and/or families that sometimes we take the people around us, our families, for granted. In this show, it’s more evident for Dae Young, who came to realize how much he had missed out on, and the little things that he realized needed adjusting, such as changing his tone from being a nagging parent to patiently listening to his kids. For the kids, it’s Dae Young being missing that makes them miss him more, even though they say they are used to him not showing up. In line with the other theme of not communicating with each other well, it’s also when Dae Young isn’t around that she learns how much he Dae Young did as well, such as learning that he had another chance to do basketball but gave it up because Si Woo had asthma and they needed money to be able to afford his medicine. Sometimes, its that little shift in perspective that really helps us understand others better.

Another big thing that we saw in this drama is the gift of second chances, the power of one’s choices, and that strength to stand by them so as not to regret anything and live happily by that choice. Here, we see that in getting a second chance in life, Dae Young still and will always choose the major decisions that he previously made, as he will always choose the things that he cherishes most of all in life, Da Jung and his family, over anything else, with no regrets at all. Dae Young having this shift in perspective reminded him of that, something that he forgot while he was trying to earn money over the years to be able to sustain his family.

Our main love triangle-Ye Ji Hoon, Da Jung and Dae Young Image Source: JTBC

Although I’m not fond of divorce storylines, I was curious to see how this storyline would be played out here. I love how it played out, because in the end, Da Jung was trying to release Dae Young from everything because she felt guilty about how things turned out. I also really enjoyed how the love triangle was done. Ji Hoon is a very patient and great guy, and would have been great for Da Jung, but it’s pretty obvious that she isn’t over Dae Young at all. Although it hurt him, he graciously bowed out of the race, and just decided to become friends with her. Also, I love how she gave him parenting tips as well. I also love how our young Dae Young just wanted her to be happy, and I liked that when he revealed himself to her, he didn’t insist too much or force anything on Da Jung.

Yoon Sang Hyun as Dae Young
Lee Do Hyun as Young Dae Young

Dae Young is an extremely good man, through and through. We can see it in the way he makes his choices, and always does things because its right, without wanting anything in return, such as him sparing no thought to help Ji Hoon’s older brother and rescuing Seo Hyun, and refusing to accept any sort of reward in turn. He always tries to do what’s right for his family, but as you can see, he just got so caught up in and became so tired, that he started to overlook the little things that caused him and Da Jung to fight, and for him and the twins to be estranged. However, becoming younger, and as Woo Young, he was able to realize the things that he overlooked, and tried even harder to be there for his family no matter what, even though they had no idea who he really was. For example, for the twins, he became more encouraging and more patient instead of nagging at them. You can see this plainly in one scene where he, as Woo Young, was going to start nagging, but decided against it.  And, you could really see it in his eyes, and in his tone of voice that he so badly missed his family. After realizing why exactly Da Jung wanted the divorce, he understood her and apologized to her in court. After all of this, he really came full circle, and worked harder at being better, and I absolutely loved that in the end, he was able to actually have a wedding with Da Jung, as well as pursue his dream of still being in the sports field by teaching kids the fun and wonder of sports.

I also really loved every second of Dae Young as Woo Young with him just being there for Si Ah and Si Woo, and even becoming a little bit of a mentor to Koo Ja Sung (Hwang In Yeop) as well. However, it was those moments that he had as his younger self with Da Jung that were just golden.

What I didn’t expect to see though, were those wonderful arcs with his father and his mother-in-law. Becoming younger and encountering his father again made him realize a lot of things that he didn’t realize in the past, mostly, again, because of lack of communication. He always thought of his father as selfish because he drank, not knowing that it was because of the mother’s sickness that they were hiding from Dae Young; and Dae Young was the same- he began drinking after he gave up a second chance at basketball as he needed to work more because of Si Woo’s asthma. However, this experience made him realize these things and allowed him to actually reconcile with him. With the mother-in-law, I just loved how she accepted him into her arms and told him to call him his mother after she made him galbi jjim (beef braised short ribs) that reminded him of his late mother’s own cooking. I love how consistent Dae Young is too, always getting her red bean buns before a bus trip home and giving her extra pocket money to take a taxi home so she’s more comfortable.

In dramas like this, normally, viewers end up getting annoyed at how the wife is written. In the movie, there wasn’t enough time to expand on the role, but the drama, given its run time, was able to really show us Da Jung’s side of the story as well. For Da Jung, every move that she made, especially the decision to divorce Dae Young, was born out of a whole lot of guilt that had been welling up inside her since that fateful day that Dae Young decided to throw everything away to start a family with her. She felt that she was setting him free, but again, because of lack of communication, she didn’t know that Dae Young didn’t mean it entirely. Sure, he had some regrets, but we can see that over and over again, he would always choose her and their family. It was also plain to see that even though she was already divorced to Dae Young, she was still very much in love with him; and I’m glad that she and Ji Hoon ended up having a great friendship instead of a relationship.

Breaking News Anchor Da Jung. Image Source: JTBC

However, I loved seeing Da Jung coming into her own, watching her finally get into her dream job, even though she’s way older than most of the fresh new faces there; and how she handled everything with grace, although things might seem quite insane.

During the course of the show, Da Jung learned a lot about Dae Young that she didn’t know before, because he never really felt the need to tell her. However, telling her would have had let her understand why he began acting the way he did. Having Dae Young as Woo Young around allowed her to become a teenager in love again, and although we only really had one episode with the two going on dates before the finale, I happily took in every scene!

Young Da Jung (Han So Eun) and Young Dae Young Image Source: JTBC
Dae Young and Da Jung Forever! Image Source: JTBC

I really admire Dae Young and Da Jung. They went through so much hardship as they became young parents and dropped out of school to raise a family. However, their love for each other always remained strong and resilient.

I thoroughly enjoyed the acting of Si Ah and Si Woo, and I loved seeing them interact with Woo Young a lot. I thought that there was a lot less Si Woo than Si Ah, but it didn’t bother too much, although Si Ah is a very fierce young lady, just like both her parents. I also enjoyed Kim Gang Hyun as Ko Deok Jin, and Lee Mi Do as Chu Ae Rin. These types of best friends are those that you really want in your best friend squad always.

Ryeo Un as Si Woo
Roh Jeong Eui as SiAh

I actually really liked how the drama was written, especially as they actually gave Ji Hoon and Koo Ja Sung (Hwang In Yeop) realistic background story lines as well.

If I were to be nitpicky about the show, the only things I didn’t like were Choi Il Gwon and his scheming to get Da Jung and Teacher Ok to like him; and the annoying little fakeouts like Si Ah’s stalker, and Da Jung’s classmate whose a troll on the internet. But these didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the drama as a whole.

In the end, “18 Again” was a great drama bolstered by a great script, great peformances, and life lessons that anyone can easily relate to, no matter what your stage in life is.

If you liked this drama, and are looking for a drama that also talks about marriage and relationships with the theme of a change in perspective and don’t mind having a sci-fi/fantasy little twist to it, I highly recommend “Familiar Wife”. If you are looking for a little glimpse of Lee Do Hyun and are looking for a nice healing drama that does talk about relationships and healing, go ahead and check out “30 But 17/Still 17”!

What did you think about “18 Again”? Let me know in the comments below! Also, if you have any drama recommendations based on my current drama taste, please don’t hesitate to suggest them in the comments below!

Image Source: JTBC

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