Eighteen Again: Episode 1
This remake of the 2009 movie 17 Again starts out incredibly cute and fun, but there’s a thread of seriousness underneath it all. A man whose life has turned out very differently from what he expected makes a wish to do it all again, and the universe decides to give him that chance. But is the answer really to give it all up and start over, or is it better to stay and fix what you’ve broken?
EPISODE 1: Life goes on
It’s 2001, and the high school basketball finals game is in full swing. Serim High School’s star player, HONG DAE-YOUNG (Lee Do-hyun) is expected to win the game for his school, as well as impress the college scouts who came to see him play.
He’d been feeling confident about the scouts, but when the pressure is on, he seems distracted and completely whiffs a free throw. We see that just before the game started, his girlfriend, JUNG DA-JUNG (Han So-eun) had wandered into the gym looking upset. Dae-young had refused to play until Da-jung told him what was wrong, and by his expression, whatever she’d said was devastating.
In the middle of the game, Dae-young had dropped the ball and run out of the gym, catching up with Da-jung on her way home. She had burst into tears, knowing that he’s just thrown away his chance for a scholarship to a huge university. But Dae-young had hugged her and said that this was his choice — that his future was her and their baby. Awww, I knew it.
In voiceover, Dae-young tells us: If our story stopped here like the ending of a movie, my life would have been a happy ending. But the reality is a series of open-ended stories. The unexpected misfortunes don’t even surprise me anymore. And just like that, life goes on.
Eighteen years later.
Dae-young (Yoon Sang-hyun) wakes up at his best friend GO DUK-JIN’s (Kim Kang-hyun) house, and immediately he’s bombarded with memories of vicious fights with Da-jung. Duk-jin and Dae-young have been besties since high school, and Duk-jin lives in a huge, playroom-esque home due to being ridiculously wealthy (I particularly like the life-sized zebra in the rainbow sombrero).
Meanwhile, Da-jung (Kim Haneul) has coffee with her best friend CHOO AE-RIN (Lee Mi-do), who thinks that Da-jung is leaving Dae-young because he’s let his looks decline, hee. Da-jung says that’s not why, and we see a flashback of her sitting up late at night, unable to sleep due to Dae-young’s loud snoring. She tells Ae-rin that she just can’t live with him anymore.
Dae-young snarks at Duk-jin for being immature, and Duk-jin retorts that he understands why Dae-young is getting divorced — he’s gotten “devastatingly old,” HAHA. Dae-young also remembers that night, and how Da-jung came within inches of smothering him with her pillow. He yelps that he’s done nothing to Da-jung, so Duk-jin suggests that maybe she’s having an affair. What a great friend ~eyeroll~.
Today is a big day for Dae-young — he’s certain that he’s going to get a big promotion, and then Da-jung will change her mind about the divorce. On the way to work he sees an ad on the JBC building for their blind recruitment promotion, in which they’re planning to hire a news anchor based on talent alone, regardless of age, education, or experience.
He sneers that the company is being lazy, unaware that Da-jung has applied for the job. She tells Ae-rin that it’s always been her dream, and the closer she gets to forty, the less chance she has of realizing it.
Dae-young works as an appliance repairman, and he’s so anxious to get this promotion that he lets the customers walk all over him for fear they’ll give him a bad service rating. He puts up with bossiness, yelling, and one apartment that’s literally filled with garbage yet the tenant blames his socky feet for the stench.
His last call for the day is at an older man’s house, and by the books on his shelves he appears to be very educated. There are brochures on the client’s desk asking “Do you want to be young again?” and Dae-young mutters that of course he does.
The client (cameo by Jo Sang-geon) asks Dae-young to fix an old radio-television, and although it’s outside of Dae-young’s expertise, he stays to repair it anyway. Responding to the client’s kind demeanor, Dae-young admits that he wishes he could fix his life this easily. The client asks if he should fix it for him and offers Dae-young a cup of tea, which Dae-young drinks then says that he really should fix it himself.
At one home, he watches enviously as a happy family eats a meal together. He calls his twins and invites them to lunch, but neither kid seems very into spending time with Dad. His daughter, HONG SHI-AH (Noh Jung-eui) spends the whole meal on her phone, while his son HONG SHI-WOO (Ryeo-un) morosely picks at his food.
Shi-ah whines that she wants a nose job, so Dae-young lectures that there are three kinds of people — those who do really well, those who do well, and those who just do — so she should focus on her studies and not her looks. He asks Shi-woo why he’s recently lost interest in basketball, but Shi-woo just mutters that he doesn’t like it anymore.
Dae-young reassures the kids that he and their mom won’t end up divorcing once he’s promoted. Shi-ah tells him about a dream she had about fire, which is a good omen, then offers to sell it to him for fifty bucks, lol. Her friend JEON BO-BAE (Oh So-hyun) arrives (Dae-young nags her too, for wearing too much makeup), and Shi-ah takes off with her, leaving Dae-young alone with taciturn Shi-woo.
He tells Shi-woo to be good to his mom because she’s probably having a difficult time. Cut to… Da-jung chair-dancing and singing as she gets ready for work, hee. She performs a dance (complete with backup dancers) to “Solo” by BLACKPINK’s Jennie at her studio, which is amazing.
But her boss promptly fires her and replaces her for being “just a mom.” Da-jung snaps that the real reason she’s being fired is because she called him out for groping a young employee at the latest staff dinner, which doesn’t get her job back but is certainly satisfying to watch.
Dae-young’s boss (cameo by Jung Hae-kyun) convenes the entire office to announce the promotion, which only comes around once every five years. He asks Dae-young to stand… then motions him aside so that he can promote his nephew. ARGH. Then, just to rub it in, Dae-young is informed that he’s being transferred to the Busan office.
At the staff dinner that night, the other employees complain about the blatant nepotism. Dae-young asks his boss why he didn’t get the promotion after being promised it was his, and learns that the nephew graduated from a university, while Dae-young only graduated high school.
Dae-young asks if his transfer to Busan can be stopped, since his boss knows he’s going through a divorce, and a move would definitely end things. His boss refuses, snapping that Dae-young should have been going to the staff dinners and making connections.
Dae-young retorts that he’s been abused by customers and even spent his own money on repairs for ten years, and demands to know why he’s being treated this way. His boss says that it’s his impulsive personality that’s to blame for his mess of a life. Just as Dae-young is walking away, his boss sneers, “It’s no wonder you had an accidental baby when you were young.”
Dae-young grits through his teeth that he’s only holding back for his family’s sake. He turns away again, and his boss calls after him, “Family? Aigoo… how pathetic for a woman and child to depend on a man like that. They’re obviously failures in life.” At the insult to his wife and children, Dae-young lets loose a primal scream, yells that he quits, and head-butts his boss in the face.
He’s waiting outside the house when Da-jung comes home later, and she guesses that he didn’t get promoted. She says it doesn’t matter and reminds him about their settlement meeting tomorrow, and when he says he doesn’t want to get divorced, she goes inside without a word.
Da-jung looks at the old family photos on the mantle, remembering when the twins were small and they were all so happy. Dae-young remains outside for a long time, remembering those good days, but when Da-jung caves and goes back outside to talk to him, he’s gone.
Feeling nostalgic, Dae-young ends up at his old high school. He looks at his photo in the trophy case, then his reflection, and wonders what happened to him. He wanders to the gym where the basketball net seems to mock him, so he grabs a basketball and for a moment, he’s his old self again.
He had once asked Da-jung to grant him a wish if he made a basket from the center line. As he launched the ball, he’d yelled, “Jung Da-jung, go out with me!” They’d both watched as the ball fell perfectly through the hoop.
Dae-young tries dozens of times, but he can’t make that shot anymore. He bows his head over the last ball and makes a wish, and as he shoots, he says, “Hong Dae-young, let’s go back.” The ball arcs through the air… then lightning flashes and the power goes out, and he doesn’t see if he made the shot or not.
He gets kicked out by the groundskeeper, so he wanders to a convenience store for some cup ramyun and a beer. When he goes to the counter and the employee asks to see his ID, he’s alarmed to find his own daughter working behind the counter.
He starts yelling that she should be studying, but Shi-ah asks who he is… he has no idea that he no longer looks like himself, but now inhabits his younger, 18-year-old body. He makes a huge scene over Shi-ah having a job, and gets even angrier when Shi-ah acts like she doesn’t know him.
Finally he sees his reflection in the window and freaks out, and as soon as he runs outside, Shi-ah locks the doors while a customer calls the police. He slaps himself, but realizes that he’s not dreaming, so he growls at Shi-ah that he’ll be back when he fixes this whole face situation.
He goes to Duk-jin house, and of course Duk-jin assumes he’s an intruder. He yells for Dae-young, and Dae-young is all “What??” LOL. Duk-jin grabs a firearm from the wall, but Dae-young snaps that he knows it’s a toy, until Duk-jin starts shooting (“I tuned it up in case of a day like this!”).
Duk-jin chases Dae-young all over the house with more “toy” guns in a hilariously childish battle scene. He stops when Dae-young uses his favorite anime character pillow as a barrier, only to grab his replica Thor’s hammer, forcing Dae-young to defend himself with Captain America’s shield. HAHA, this is awesome.
Duk-jin succeeds in knocking Dae-young unconscious for a moment and finally gets a good look at him, and he recognizes the Dae-young from their high school days. All of his explanations for Dae-young’s condition are straight from comics (vampire, experimenting), but Dae-young insists that all he did was shoot some hoops at the school.
They go back there, and Dae-young tells Duk-jin about the wish he made to go back. He says that he doesn’t even know if the ball went in because the power went out. He says that by “go back,” he only meant going home, but Duk-jin believes that getting a younger body is way better.
He tells Dae-young that this is a divine gift, and asks what is dream is now that he’s young enough to have one again. Dae-young thinks about it, then recalls a basketball game in 2000 where he was named MVP. He decides on his dream… and asks Duk-jin to be his dad. HAHA, what?
The next day, while Da-jung sits in court waiting for him to show up, Dae-young instead gets a more modern haircut and a new wardrobe. He eventually texts Da-jung that something came up, but by then she’s too excited to care, because she landed an interview for the JBC job.
Dae-young dons a mask to wait outside his house, expecting Da-jung to be upset when she arrives home, only to see her literally skipping with happiness as she talks to Ae-rin on the phone. He vows that, if she’s so happy, then he’s also going to live his own life.
Duk-jin has a new identity made up for Dae-young and they head to the school to enroll Dae-young all over again. They have a meeting with Dae-young’s new homeroom teacher, and as soon as Duk-jin takes a look at TEACHER OK (Kim Yoo-ri), he falls instantly in love.
After some awkwardness, Dae-young introduces himself as Go Woo-young. Duk-jin keeps monopolizing the conversation, trying to impress Teacher Ok, so Dae-young interrupts to say that he’s been homeschooled but now he wants to interact with kids his own age. Teacher Ok welcomes him to the school, and Dae-young has to literally drag Duk-jin out before he attack-hugs the pretty teacher.
Da-jung has made it to the final interview at JBC, and on the bus together, she complains to Shi-woo that he’s cold to her. Shi-ah’s friend Bo-bae is on the same bus, and she chastises a portly man for not giving his seat to a pregnant woman. Da-jung listens, impressed, as a young man sarcastically mocks the older man for certainly looking pregnant enough to use the seat, shaming him into getting up.
She can’t see his face, though something about him seems familiar. He gets off at the same stop as Shi-woo and Bo-bae, so Da-jung never does recognize Dae-young’s high school looks.
It’s Dae-young’s first day at school, and when he enters his new classroom, all the girls (and some of the boys) are twitterpated by his handsome face. Shi-ah is sleeping on her desk, and when Bo-bae wakes her up to see the new hottie, she recognizes the crazy guy from the convenience store. Oh noooo, they’re in the same class! Dae-young hides his surprise, but he yelps, “Wow, you’ve grown so much!” when he recognizes SEO JI-HO (Choi Bo-min), an old elementary school friend of Shi-ah’s.
Later, during a history lesson, Dae-young gets a call from Da-jung and casually leaves the classroom without permission, ha. He fibs that he’s on a work trip in Busan, and Da-jung tells him that he has to show up for their next settlement meeting or she’ll assume he’s relinquishing all custody of the kids.
Dae-young yells that she can’t do that, but she snaps that he’s never cared about them before. Looking in on Shi-ah at her desk, Dae-young tells her, “You may not know, but I’m closer to the kids than you can ever imagine.”
He wanders to the restroom, and a boy knocks from inside a locked stall and asks to be let out. When he opens the door, he’s surprised to see that it’s Shi-woo… oh no, is he so quiet because he’s being bullied at school? Upset, Dae-young shouts, “Who did this to you?!” but Shi-woo just mutters that they don’t even know each other.
Dae-young introduces himself as Woo-young, and Shi-woo is surprised to hear that his dad’s friend Duk-jin apparently has a son. Before he goes, he tells Dae-young not to let the other kids know he helped him or he’ll be targeted, too. Okay, he’s already breaking my heart.
At lunch, Dae-young spots Shi-woo eating alone and goes to sit with him. He asks why the other kids are bullying him, but Shi-woo just tells him to mind his own business. A look of fear crosses Shi-woo’s expression, and Dae-young turns to see four tough-looking boys entering the lunchroom.
The boys stop at their table, and the leader, GU JA-SUNG (Hwang In-yeop), sneers that Shi-woo has a friend. He bounces his basketball off Shi-woo’s head and walks away, and although Shi-woo just cringes, Dae-young leaps to his feet and yells, “Hey!” He orders Ja-sung to come back, and with an evil grin, Ja-sung aggressively throws the ball at Dae-young.
But instead of ducking, Dae-young reaches out and catches the ball with one hand. Awesome. Ja-sung demands his ball back, so Dae-young feints as if to hit Ja-sung in the head with it, causing Ja-sung to cower embarrassingly in front of the whole school. Dae-young tells Ja-sung calmly, “You need to be taught a lesson.”
In the Fall of 2001, Dae-young had listened helplessly outside Da-jung’s home as her mother (Kim Mi-kyung) ordered her not to ruin her life and to get an abortion. Da-jung had said tearfully that she was going to have her babies… “How can I get rid of them when they’re alive??”
Later, Dae-young had asked Da-jung hesitantly if they should give up the babies, but Da-jung had said that if it was too hard for him, he should go live his own life, but that she could feel their babies.
Dae-young had walked the streets until late, thinking about how his father told him that he could ruin his own life, but that he shouldn’t ruin Da-jung’s. Suddenly he’d broken into a run, and hadn’t stopped until he got to the doctor’s office, where Da-jung was having her first ultrasound.
He’d found her crying — the doctor couldn’t find their babies’ heartbeats. See the two tiny lives on the screen, Dae-young had sobbed that it was all his fault: “Daddy is so sorry! I’m sorry.” Oof, he’s killing me.
Suddenly, a pair of tiny thumps could be heard, and the doctor announced happily that the babies must have heard his voice. As young Dae-young and Da-jung cry in relief, adult Dae-young tells us in voiceover, “Life always weighs on a more important side. And even if the weight made us give up a lot more, we thought nothing would be as important as having these babies. And that’s how we became their parents.”
I watched the movie that this drama is based on, 17 Again, several years ago, but I’ll admit that mostly what I remember is some cute stuff about being young again, and Zac Efron’s abs ~shrug~. So I went into the drama expecting rom-com laughs and not much more, and I definitely got them. Yoon Sang-hyun is a personal favorite, and Lee Do-hyun’s ajusshi impression of him completely cracks me up, and I’m very much looking forward to more of their dual take on the hapless-yet-determined Dae-young. But I was also a little blindsided by how thoughtful the show can be, and the serious questions it asks about love, choices, and how people change as they grow up. Dae-young and Da-jung were only children when they found themselves forced into adulthood, and although I respect them for choosing their babies over themselves, I don’t blame them for feeling stifled and angry at what they had to give up.
I’m also excited to explore Dae-young’s relationship with his kids now that they’re on more even ground. Shi-ah and Shi-woo are pretty typical teenagers in that they mostly ignore their disconnected, naggy dad, and he really doesn’t seem to get them at all. But now that he’s in school with them, he’s already seeing that there’s more to them than what he’s been allowed to see, especially with Shi-woo being bullied. Dae-young knew that his son had changed but didn’t really dig into the reasons, and Shi-woo probably didn’t speak up at home because he feels that his parents are too preoccupied with themselves and their divorce and couldn’t help him anyway. But now Dae-young is in a position to do something about it (I loved his Big Daddy display of dominance in the lunchroom!), and I know that his relationship with his son will make me cry at some point.
I’ve been keeping an eye out for Lee Do-hyun since his role in Hotel del Luna last year, because even though he didn’t have a lot of screen time in that drama, it was a pivotal role and I thought he did a solid job with it. I was a bit worried that he landed a leading role so quickly (he only debuted in 2017), but I think this premiere proved that he’s up for the challenge. He has to play a character much older than himself, and not only that, he’s the younger version of Yoon Sang-hyun, who is known for having a very distinctive acting style. But he absolutely nailed Yoon Sang-hyun’s unusual vocal cadence and body language, and I fully believe him as an ajusshi in a teenager’s body. I think he’s going to be a lot of fun to watch in this.
Having said all that serious stuff, that doesn’t mean that Eighteen Again isn’t still a comedy first and foremost — this episode was so cute! So many quirky characters and fun moments, like Kim Haneul dancing to “Solo” and the scene where Dae-young went nuts on Shi-ah in the convenience store. And that fight scene with all the toys at Duk-jin’s house was just hilarious. I also like the clever editing, like the way Dae-young and Da-jung flip-flopped frames during their phone call, which gives the show a bit of a manga feel. I’m coming away from the premiere feeling optimistically positive about Eighteen Again… it takes a lot to make me laugh and cry in the same episode, especially during the first hour when I haven’t bonded to any of these characters yet. But it was that last scene that makes me think that this show might be something special, and believe that the love these two people originally felt for each other and for their children can help them get through any hardship.
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