In South Korea, the legal age of adulthood is 19. But what if you are 18 and eager to leave your youth behind? For Tae-Hoon, this is a painful transition, full of heartache, disappointment and rebellious angst.
Jang Kun-jae’s remarkably authentic directorial debut is so emotionally raw that it would not be surprising if it were autobiographical. From the opening scenes, when young lovebirds Tae-Hoon and Mi-Jeong arrive at a seaside town during the dead of winter, Jang observes the couple carefully, from their awkward postures to the way they communicate in silence. But drama mounts when the two return home and are faced with their angry parents, who demand to know where they were. In a shocking scene, Mi-Jeong’s father loses his temper and acts out violently. In spite of the risk for clichéd melodrama, Jang conveys this scene with sensitivity and uncanny realism.
After the confrontation, the couple is forbidden to see each other until both have completed their studies. But for melancholic Tae-Hoon, this proves to be too difficult, and he stubbornly defies his parents’ directives. The young man’s inability to accept the consequences of his actions drives him further toward irrational and impulsive behaviour.
The story could easily have become a predictable Romeo and Juliet-style romance, but the subtle dialogue and meticulous handheld camerawork elevate this drama to a powerful yet heartbreaking character study. Deservedly, the film has already garnered critical kudos and festival awards, with Variety hailing it as an “impressive debut” that is “exceptionally well-acted by Seo Jun-yeong and Lee Min-ji as young Seoul lovers.”
For anyone who has experienced first love, Eighteen will not leave you unaffected.
– Raymond Phathanavirangoon