I have never missed being a teenager. You have dreams, but no control over your life. You want to grow up, but are not ready for the responsibility of it. You have urges, but are not supposed to act on them. Basically it sucks. It sucks being a teenager here in Canada, and it sucks being one in Korea, too. The new film Eighteen gives us a glimpse of two teenagers feeling this way, growing up in modern South Korea.
Directed by Jang Kun-Jae in his second feature film, Eighteen tells the story of two teenage lovers, Mi-Jeong (Min-ji Lee) and Tae-Hoon (Jun-yeong Seo), in Seoul, South Korea. The story is told in flashback to a time when the lovers are sixteen. The film begins just after they have run away together, but like typical teenagers, they don’t think their actions through and run out of money soon after. They make their way back home and are confronted by their angry parents. After an intense confrontation between both sets of parents and children, they are forbidden to see each other until after their 18th birthday. The kids agree to the terms, but only because they have no other choice.
Although we do see a brief scene Mi-Jeong’s family, the majority of the story is told from Tae-Hoon’s point of view. Confusion is usually on the menu for teenagers and Tae-Hoon is no different. He flips back and forth between giving up on school and wanting to do well. He gets a job as a delivery boy, both to save money for he and Mi-Jeong to run away together, but also as a way for him to pass the time while he and Mi-Jeong are separated.
The story is less about this romance and more about the struggles of growing up. The film isn’t breaking any new ground, but its beauty is in how the story is told. Jang Kun-Jae doesn’t go for many bold camera moves, and most of the time he picks a corner of the room and lets the action play out. This is a good thing because it really heightens the realism of the situation. So much so, that I forgot I was watching a movie; it felt more like a documentary. The film tends to be a little slow and dry at times, but it is done for a reason. There are some amazing moments of high drama and by having the dull/quiet bits left in, it makes the drama that much more intense when it happens.
I was struck by the realistic portrayal of the main characters. Part of the strength of the film is Jun-yeong Seo. It’s a great reminder of how phony Hollywood films can be when it comes to teenagers. It’s told from a teen’s point of view, but doesn’t shy away from their flaws. For the most part, the parental characters are pretty reasonable, and if they had not chosen to run off together in the first place, their parents would have likely supported their relationship. So in many ways, the misery this couple goes through is largely of their own making, simply due to them being the age that they are.
The award winning Eighteen will have its Toronto premiere at the 2010 Toronto Reel Asian International Film Festival on November 13th at Innis Town Hall. It is worth checking out “” especially to remind yourself that it is much better to be an adult.