Why Lee Do Hyun’s ‘18 Again’ outperforms Zac Efron’s ‘17 Again’

In case you didn’t know Lee Do Hyun, he’s that four-eyed leader in this webtoon-turned-Netflix Original Series titled “Sweet Home” with Song Kang as the main lead. That was the first time I watched Lee Do Hyun. His underrated charm has tossed me to discovering his acting catalog. My first LDH discovery was his recent work which is ‘18 Again’ — the 2020 Korean Drama remake of the popular Zac Efron and Matthew Perry (Friends) 2009 film ‘17 again.’

Credit where credit’s due, I enjoyed 17 again in all its comic glory. But JTBC’s 18 again created a satisfying stretch, enough to unravel the potential layers of its mother concept. Ha Byung Hoon’s 18 again colored the story with interesting subplots that went beyond the shallow intentions of Burr Steer’s 17 again. Much to say, 18 again shows a lot of heart.

What I love about the screenplay was how they lodged on the underrated hardships of Lee Do Hyun / Yoon Sang Hyun (Secret Garden’s Oska) as a father. I appreciate the dramatic treatment and the melodious telling on how a young dad strives hard to provide for his young family while struggling with life regrets and workplace discrimination as a high-school degree holder. He could’ve been a basketball star but he ended up a residential machine fixer.

Kim Ha-neul reprised the role of 17 again’s female lead. Unlike in the movie, her character wasn’t put on display. Here in 18 again, Da Jung carries an important fight of a woman who suffers from societal discrimination because of her past: a young mom, a divorcee, and a late-career pursuer. It has been Ha-neul’s lifelong dream to become an announcer (landscape artist in 17 again) but it was halted after she got pregnant in high school. Her controversial background (controversial for the judgemental naysayers) somehow blurs the talent and the drive that this 37-year-old woman has.

The story goes beyond why the relationship didn’t work. It also teaches adults how their actions affect the morale of their kids and how their decisions and miscommunications walled off the parent-teenager relationship. If 17 again has Maggie and Alex, 18 again gives us a twin in Si-u and Si-a; having a twin at a very young age added weight on the struggle of the couple as young parents. Throughout the series, the frustrations and regretful vibe of the parents affected the twins.

18 again also did some character redemption. If you remember Stan The Bully from 17 again, he got a special spotlight in 18 again. Hwang In Yeop (True Beauty’s Han Seo Joon) reprised Stan’s role in 18 again. The K-version of Stan tells a life of a struggling teenager from a broken family who suffers physical and mental abuse from his father. (Sounds familiar?). This high-school bully turned out to be Si-u’s good friend in the end; also Si-a’s admirer, though it’s only a one-sided love since Si-a is paired with her childhood friend Ji-ho).

There are subplots that I dig in 18 again that aren’t present in the film. One is the administrative fraud where coaches bribe the parents so their kids get a good playing spotlight. Well, it’s so KDRAMA if it gives us some kind of insider trivia like this! Another one worth rooting is the character of Ye Ji-hoon (Wi Ha-joon) — a young baseball star who got attracted to Kim Ha-neul during her stint as a sports announcer.

This series made us appreciate all the little things that we often devalue and all the good things that we miss just because we are too busy wandering on the what-could’ve-been’s of our youth. So much tug at the heart! So if you are up for a heartwarming family content with a good mix of mature love and young love, then you have to watch 18 again. And oh, before I forget, Lee Do Hyun is the future of Hallyu.

I believe 18 again made Zac Efron proud. On another note, 18 again simply tells us that this is how you do remakes.

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