Sweet 18

Reviewed by: Bridget

January 22, 2009

Rating: three

Year: 2004
Korean Title: Nang Rang 18 Seh
No. of episodes: 16

Han Ji-hye as Yoon Jung-sook
Lee Dong-Gun as Kwon Hyuk-joon
Lee Da Hae as Moon Ga-young
Lee Joon as Jee Chul-Reum
Yoo Hye Jung as Kwon Sun-Ah
Park Hyung Jae as Kwon Jin-sa
Kim Hae Sook as Jeong Sok-mo
Jung Kyung Ho as Jung-Sook's blind date


What is with me and watching Korean series knowing I'm pretty much in for the same formula over and over again? I can tell you why. The Koreans have got heaps of actors and actresses who have the likability (onscreen and off), acting ability, and charisma to get an "awwwww" out of me every time. Compared to TVB's actors' over-exposure, offscreen b_tchiness, and questionable acting and Taiwan's irksome accent and bogus tomboys, Korea always manages to give us a pleasant experience. It may not be particularly compelling or even logical, but it's always pleasant. And at least they don't try to cram everyone in the studio on set. Did I say that out loud? Let me slap myself.

Sweet 18 takes on a serious premise (arranged marriage) and takes it to hell and back. 18-year-old high school graduate Jung-sook and 28-year-old prosecutor Hyuk-joo meet under circumstances where Jung-sook calls Hyuk-joo an "old nerd" to his face and receives an "immature brat" in return. They are horrified when they discover their grandfathers have set them up. Literally.

Pause: I watched My Little Bride a few weeks before watching this series. Allow me to say right here that Sweet 18 is unoriginal at worse and a good effort at best.

What ensues is a romantic comedy that is uniquely Korean. The two decide to carry out the arrangement for various reasons that defy logic. Things get complicated when Jung-sook actually falls in love with Hyuk-joo and when his first love, Ga-young, returns and wants him back. HJ gets jealous when he realizes JS is actually pretty attractive and when she keeps talking about her first love (which, unknown to him, is HJ himself). Eventually they confess their feelings - cue happy ending.

This kind of romantic comedy can only succeed with a pair of decent actors, because the two are in 90% of the scenes, by themselves. It helps significantly that Lee Dong Gun and Han Ji Hye were actually a real-life couple when filming this, so their chemistry is nothing short of impeccable. From My Boyfriend is Type B fame, they manage to be endearing and frustrating at the same time in Sweet 18. Problem is, they only work as a pair. Individually, their acting needs some improvement, especially Han Ji Hye.

Lee Dong Gun is too young for this role. I thought his character was about 24 and was shocked when they revealed he was 28. He does not convince as a lawyer but does well with the romantic, comic, and family scenes. Many fans find him super good-looking, whereas I think he almost looks like a frog with his bulgy goldfish eyes and big lips. When he smiles, though, he looks like megastar Jang Dong Gun.

Han Ji Hye is pretty raw in this role, as she was only 19 during filming. She's afflicted with the Korean "act like a tomboy" technique, which means big gestures and lots of screeching. Not fun. However, she is fresh-faced and her sunny disposition onscreen is pleasant to watch. She does better in the family scenes, and her best scene is the one where she tearfully and respectfully bows to her mother after getting married.

Lee Da Hae was a shock. I remember watching her quirky performance in My Girl, so watching her in this b_tchy, conservatively dressed role was a surprise and I thought she did well, even better than the sometimes forced comedy that she put in her previous performances. The older cast was fantastic, with performances led by the actors who played Jung Sook's mother and Hyuk-joon's grandfather.

Funniest moment in the entire series is when Jung-sook gets insulted by a kid in the village and says "but you're such a cute kid, so I'll forgive you", and it turns out that the kid is Hyuk-joo's uncle! I was dying from laughter during that scene.


Why does Jung-sook call Hyuk-joo ahjussi (sir), even after they get married and when they fall in love? I know it's in Korean tradition to address elders even after you get together (in All About Eve, Sun-mi still calls her boyfriend song-bei (senior) even after they get together), but if Jung-sook calls Ga-young unnie (older sister), and Ga-young is the same age as Hyuk-joo, she should be calling Hyuk-joo oppa. It makes their pairing pretty creepy (if the 10-year difference isn't enough) when JS continues to call him ahjussi.

Why is it that Jung-sook wants to be a stay-at-home mom/wife her whole life and then does a 180 and decides she wants to get a job at the end of the series? Lame plot gimmick in an attempt to bring a last-minute 'climax' to the series.

Do clan members living in Korean villages still dress the way they do in this series? Or was that just to show the difference between traditional and modern?

To Watch or Not to Watch, That is the Question
If you can get over the strange premise and logical flaws, this was a very entertaining, light-hearted comedy. A must-watch for Korean romantic comedy fans.

Through the Grapevine
Lee's 3-year relationship with Han was highly publicized, starting from him announcing that she was his girlfriend on a talk show (with her present), to interviews where he has openly revealed why he fell in love with her: "She has the ability to cheer up a whole room. That's an amazing gift".

2008 was, to put it mildly, a bad year for Lee Dong Gun. Aside from announcing that his relationship with HJH ended, he was expelled from college for bad attendance, and worst of all, his younger brother was stabbed to death in Sydney, Australia.

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