Like its title, Sweet 18 (2004) is sweet indeed. Some of us might find ourselves floating out of our skins because as feel-good dramas go, this one is hard to beat. Some of us (especially if we watch the drama now) might experience an attack of the sniffles. Why? Because the happy-ever-after that we wanted for the leads (the actors, not their characters) did not quite materialize in the end, that’s why! WAHHH! But I digress…
Yoon Jung-sook (Han Ji-hye) is a ditzy 18-year-old high school student with equally ditzy friends. Her mother owns a modest drycleaning business and Jung-sook drives her mom crazy because she keeps
stealing wearing the customers’ clothes. Kwon Hyuk-joon (Lee Dong-gun) is a 28-year-old public prosecutor. She in her school uniform and psychedelic-colored winterwear. He in his plain white shirt, black suit and tie. You get the picture.
The first time they actually speak to each other is when he almost arrests her at a nightclub and she shoots a sassy retort back at him. His first impression of her: “What a brat!” Her first impression of him: “This old fuddy-duddy!” Imagine their mutual horror then when they find out that they are supposed to marry each other in a pact their respective grandfathers made years ago.
Hyuk-joon is the firstborn son in the revered Andong Kwon clan, its members still very much steeped in the old ways. His marriage to Jung-sook is a duty; opposing it is out of the question. Initially aghast at the whole idea (what day and age is this to be honoring such harebrained pacts?), Jung-sook changes her mind when she realizes that Hyuk-joon is actually the mysterious stranger that she’s been having a crush on. So, after a series of comic misadventures, our mismatched pair finally get married.
Still in her teens, the impetuous high-school kid that we saw in the first episode has now become the hanbok-wearing wife of Prosecutor Kwon. But instead of fighting her new and frighteningly foreign role, Jung-sook embraces it. Her compelling reason? She loves her husband.
Two obstacles stand in her path, however. First, he is not in love with her. Second, his old flame has returned.
I liked Sweet 18 because it was full of sweet and romantic moments that made me go, “Awwww…” It was also really funny in places. But more than all that, what I liked most about the drama were its many heartwarming moments.
I loved Jung-sook’s devotion to Hyuk-joon and the steadfast way in which she trusted him, even in her dark hours of fear and uncertainty. I loved that, unlike some wishy-washy male lead characters (can you say Full House and Attic Cat?), Hyuk-joon was so faithful in his commitment to his bride. I loved watching the slow and awkward way in which he fell in love. He did the funniest and sweetest things for her! I also really enjoyed watching their banter.
The supporting characters also did a wonderful job. Lee Da-hae made a lasting first impression as Hyuk-joon’s ex-girlfriend now come back to renew her claim on him. (Aside: I like Lee Da-hae best when she’s playing serious characters. Her role in Green Rose is still my favorite.)
Hyuk-joon’s grandfather was wonderful, possibly my most-loved character in the whole drama. One of my favorite scenes was when he came to Seoul and Jung-sook took him out to see the sights. She was hurting so much inside, but she put on a brave front for him and they had so much fun exploring the malls. Everyone was staring at them because he was such an oddity in his traditional Korean clothes, but he just took it all in his stride.
I watched Sweet 18 thrice, in quick succession. That was how much I was enamored of it four years ago. I’m not sure how I’ll feel about it now, though, especially when I look at some of the pics of Han Ji-hye (she seriously looks like she’s overacting, no?). Still, my lingering memories of this drama are warm and positive ones. I loved its old-world charm (an early introduction to the period drama which I have now come to love fiercely) and its old-world values. If you want to feel uplifted and transported when you watch your Korean dramas, this one is about perfect.