Moment Of Eighteen
열여덟의 순간
JTBC (2019) 16 Episodes
Coming Of Age K-Drama, Grade: A
Korean Drama Review by Jill, USA
(Some Spoilers)

After enjoying a darling short Korean slice-of-life drama titled Would You Like A Cup Of Coffee? (2021) I went looking for other K-dramas the excellent young lead actor Ong Seong Wu had appeared in because I had found him so intriguing to watch. I discovered his very first drama, Moment Of Eighteen (2019, both are on Netflix), and plunged in with high expectations. He didn't disappoint, and I was very impressed by his performance in his premiere drama, which showcased a lot of compelling character growth. Amazing! Even by episode two he was making me cry hot tears onto my pillow! And once his character began to find some love and acceptance in his life I found myself melting with happiness. K-dramas are superb at creating that common juxtaposition of sadness and humor in their stories. It's one of the endearing reasons I became hooked on them, oh so long ago. The best film artists for over a century have understood that power, for instance world renowned silent film star Charles Chaplin, who often combined pathos with laughter.

To be honest, high school themed dramas are not often my cup of tea; I bypass most of them since I'm a senior citizen now, but I'm sure glad I didn't miss this one! As high school dramas go this one is quite powerful! The writing is exceptional. The teens in the story are a solid representation of young people you'd meet in the real world today; they keep a lot of secrets within themselves and it takes awhile for the audience to uncover those secrets. The drama can turn dark at times, but doesn't life itself, for all of us, turn dark at times? We can learn valuable lessons from watching other people's life challenges and struggles. Even if they happen to be fictional characters! 

The young lead actress Kim Hyang Gi never disappoints me. I had loved her in The Queen's Classroom, Revenge Note, and the film A Werewolf Boy. Her character was a sweet, comforting presence to many students in the high school setting the drama was centered around, and eventually to Ong Seong Wu's lonely transfer student character as well. Then, in addition, a huge highlight of the drama for me was watching the sympathetic adult homeroom teacher, played by the irrepressible Kang Ki Young, who had played the lead attorney so brilliantly in Extraordinary Attorney Woo. He is quite the scene thief in this drama and I grinned like crazy every time he appeared. I just wanted to hug him. He was the students' best advocate during the entire story, especially when they were in trouble!

Probably the actor who had the most challenging role in the drama was Shin Seung Ho, below, who played the second male lead student character; his character appeared as a good, moral student leader on the surface, but underneath he was a very tormented soul from an abusive home. His first scenes were meant to fool us, but soon we realize that he is one of the most disturbed students on campus. Even though my first reaction to him was positive he soon had me wanting to scratch his eyes out! That kind of acting prowess is very difficult for most actors to achieve. In most K-dramas the second male leads are usually playing very sympathetic characters. Not here! Kudos to him!

The Story:

Just turned eighteen, new transfer high school student Choi Joon Woo (Ong Seong Wu) arrives on campus and on his first day is almost run over by the car of another student's mother, Yoon Song Hee (Kim Sun Young, Crash Landing On You), when he bends down to talk to a wandering stray cat near the street. The daughter of the woman is student Yoo Soo Bin (Kim Hyang Gi) and she is horrified that her Mom almost hit this young man. She approaches him later and apologizes for her Mom and soon they both realize they are in the same homeroom and have the same kind teacher, Oh Han Kyeol (Kang Ki Young).

Soo Bin is one of the most outstanding students in the school, but a lot of that is due to harsh pressure from her socially ambitious Mom, who wants her to get into the top prestigious Seoul University at any cost. Although new student Joon Woo is very quiet, and rarely smiles, Soo Bin continues to be kind to him, knowing he might have troubles adjusting to a new school. In his spare time Joon Woo loves to draw, and is quite the artist. His mother Lee Yeon Woo (Shim Yi Young, who played the ditzy auntie in The Suspicious Housekeeper), doesn't live with him but in another city, where she runs a small restaurant that is on the verge of failing. His father had deserted the family when he was young and started a new one; that abandonment continues to bring sadness into the heart of Joon Woo.

MV: Ong Seong Wu Sings An OST Song

False rumors start to fly that Joon Woo had transferred because he was a troublemaker at his old school. Other students are wary of him at first, especially a young man named Ma Whi Young (Shin Seung Ho) whom all the teachers and administrators seem to trust (maybe his filthy rich parents have something to do with that!). Whi Young is often put in responsible positions at the school and he doesn't want his good reputation ruined by a new supposed troublemaker. However, Whi Young is really not what he appears to be on the surface; he comes from a very troubled home and he has his own mental issues that he tries to hide well. At one point he steals an expensive watch and tries to blame it on Joon Woo. Due to this duplicity Joon Woo quickly realizes that Whi Young is a danger to himself and others. He tries to stay squeaky clean on his new campus, and even gets a part time job at a convenience store to help support himself, but Whi Young seems determined to destroy Joon Woo.

It doesn't help much that Whi Young has a crush on Soo Bin, and resents seeing her grow close to Joon Woo. Thankfully, kind teacher Oh Han Kyeol goes to bat for Joon Woo on multiple occasions, and the blame for supposedly stealing the watch is eventually deflected away from Joon Woo. Soon something even more serious results, when Whi Young targets an old childhood friend of Joon Woo's and the boy ends up dead. Although Joon Woo has no definitive proof against Whi Young being involved in his friend's accident he loses it emotionally, and punches out Whi Young at his friend's memorial service!

All the troubles at the school between the classmates brings Soo Bin and Joon Woo closer together, despite all odds. They fall in love and even share some tender, pure kisses. Soo Bin's ambitious Mom is not happy with this turn of events and plots to separate her daughter from her first love. She even pretends to be friends with Joon Woo's mother when she comes to visit her son, but she has ulterior motives behind her surface kindness. Meanwhile Joon Woo's Mom admits her restaurant is failing, especially since her sister had stolen money from her that was meant to upgrade the restaurant. Joon Woo contemplates leaving the school and going back to his home city to help his Mom, but Soo Bin is devastated at the thought she might lose him. However, Joon Woo wants to do the right thing for his Mom, the only real family he has. Since life is often so unpleasant at this new school what will he have to lose if he leaves and goes to an art school while watching over his mother? Only Soo Bin, it seems. Will he be able to bring himself to leave her, his first love?

During the story we meet other students with other problems as well, including a secretly gay boy student named Jung O Je (singer-actor Moon Bin, who sadly committed suicide on April 19, 2023, RIP) who inexplicably has feelings for the troubled Whi Young, of all people. A girl named Da Huin (Kim Bo Yoon) likes him and he finally admits he likes someone else and that that person is male, not female. A gossiping student overhears their private conversation and announces O Je's secret to the whole high school campus! Yikes! What will the troubled Whi Young and the rest of the school do about this revelation?

RIP Moon Bin

All the complexities of teenage years are well represented in Moment Of Eighteen. The audience roots for all students to achieve their dreams, and for Whi Young the antagonist to finally mature, sincerely apologize to those he has wounded, deal with his unhappy home life, and create a better future for himself. Will he be able to accomplish these seemingly impossible tasks? Will Joon Woo and Soo Bin be able to remain close to one another, even though their own family and future college pressures seem insurmountable?

I hope all these wonderful actors continue to achieve great roles in future projects. I really grew to care about them watching them flesh out their characters so phenomenally well. It was kind of difficult to say a final goodbye to this drama. Maybe I shouldn't be so quick to dismiss future high school themed Korean dramas. This one truly delivered! Seek it out, and enjoy!