See You In My 19th Life is one of the newest K-Dramas to premiere on Netflix, and it takes us into the (many) lives of main character Ban Ji Eum and the exhaustingly predictable life of her grumpy and rich childhood love from a past life, Moon Seo Ha.
The K-Drama immediately caught our attention as a breath of fresh air among recent releases… until it wasn’t. Here’s what went well and what was a bit disappointing.
The K-Drama is an adaption of the popular webtoon of the same name, but our familiarity with the story before watching the first episode was limited to its summary.
Ban Ji-eum can endlessly reincarnate. But when her 18th life gets cut short, she dedicates the next one to finding her now grown-up childhood love.
Coming in without reading the webtoon, it was pleasantly surprising that the plot wasn’t complicated to follow. Many book-to-tv or book-to-film adaptions over the years have struggled to fit volumes of books within the confines of a few episodes or films, but See You In My 19th Life does a great job of setting a steady pace while moving the storyline along in a way that makes us want to see more.
The first thing that drew us in was how visually stunning the show was. Much of the first episode took place outdoors, in rich and colorful settings. The backgrounds were cluttered, the buildings were aged, and every scene felt lived-in.
While the show appeared bright with its use of vibrant colors, the soft lighting gave it a nostalgic and cozy feeling. Its cinematic production value, artful framing, and dynamic camera work in the first thirty minutes of the episode felt more like a feature film.
The elements that impressed in the first half of the episode dwindled as many of the scenes shifted from outdoor shots to indoor sets. That, coupled with the underwhelming introduction to the current-day versions of Ban Ji Eum and Moon Seo Ha, dampened our initial excitement from the beginning of the episode.
We are introduced to the adult current-day version of Ban Ji Eum (portrayed by Shin Hye Sun) a little over mid-way through episode one. Ban Ji Eum, in her 20s, bears little resemblance personality-wise to the determined, spunky, and charming younger self that we are first introduced to.
As an adult, Ban Ji Eum maintains her determination but shows little of her personality outside of being a genius, thanks to the skills learned in her previous 18 lives.
The character’s childhood current-day self took over the scene whenever she was on-screen. Her younger self constantly displayed her many talents, from flamenco dancing to Japanese, Chinese, and Arabic language skills, adding depth to her character.
This exploration of her past lives’ talents doesn’t carry into her adulthood. Instead, her talents are limited to appearing as a list on her résumé, which ends up backfiring as the employer deems her a bit “strange” thanks to her wide range of skills that don’t seem to be connected by any common theme.
Comparing how her adult self is portrayed versus the charismatic performance of child actress Park So Yi, who plays her younger self, causes the introduction to current-day Ban Ji Eum to fall a bit flat.
The introduction to both the younger and current-day versions of Moon Seo Ha (portrayed by Ahn Bo Hyun) is underwhelming, though his character maintains his same personality through his transition from childhood to adulthood.
The slightly standoffish, rich, and brooding male lead is a trope that’s often overdone, and so far, there’s nothing that sets his character apart from similar ones in other dramas. As with other shows, there’s sure to be more character development as his feelings inevitably develop for Ban Ji Eum.
What made the show stand out among common romance-genre K-Dramas in the first half of the episode was all but lost as the current-day characters fell into patterns so often played out in other dramas that we could almost guess what would happen next.
Still, what the show does well, it exceeds in, and what falls into recognizable patterns is still enjoyable.
Based on the episode’s final scene, we should have a better idea from the next episodes—whether the K-Drama will continue down a predictable and done-before path or stand out among this year’s releases as the two childhood lovers reunite.
The biggest takeaway from the first episode is that we may be witnessing a rising star in child actress Park So Yi, who already has an impressive list of acting credits.
Actress Park So Yi portrays Ban Ji Eum’s nine-year-old self in her 19th life. As an actress, Park is tasked with playing a character who has been reincarnated over the past century, and with that, there’s an added wisdom of multiple lifetimes she needs to portray.
There’s a palpable difference in how she portrays the character’s maturity after she gains the knowledge of her past lives. Park’s character, though still nine years old, is suddenly much wiser, and Park’s emotional depth in the role shows a wide range of versatility for the young actress. Her captivating performance dominated the screen time she had and made her a stand-out talent among the show’s cast members.
The show’s talented cast and intriguing use of foreshadowing excite us for future episodes, and we’re eager to see how certain storylines will play out.
What happened to the other driver involved in Ban Ji Eum’s car crash in her 18th life? How will Moon Seo Ha’s father and the MI Hotel CEO inevitably derail his plans to restore his mother’s hotel to its former glory? And the famous question, how long will it take the two characters to stop getting in each others’ way before falling in love? Only the next nine episodes will tell.
Check out the trailer for the show below!