Recently, I’ve come across a new Korean drama series my sister introduced to me. It’s entitled Still 17, also known as Thirty But Seventeen. She told me to give it a try. So, I did.
Because it’s a great Kdrama, I wanted to share my experience with you through a Korean drama series review. Primarily on how the writer planned the whole show out and why it remains a popular short drama series up to this date.
As one of the most recently aired Korean series on SBS for three months—on July 23, 2018, and ended with a 32nd episode on September 18—I thought it’s worth sharing to you.
The show starred Yang Se-Jong as Gong Woo-Jin, Shin Hye-Sun as Woo Seo Ri, and Ahn Hyo-seop as Gong Woo-jin’s 19-year-old nephew Yoo Chan. Both Seo-Jong and Hye-Sun played as 30-year-old adults with difficult lives.
I don’t want to give spoilers to those of you who haven’t watched the series yet. I recommend you watch the series now or after you read this post to shed the light of the general feeling it shares with its viewers within 32 episodes.
Actually, Still 17 as a Korean drama series is structured short with only more or less 30 minutes versus the typical approximately 1-hour episode among Kdrama. To me, with only a short span and easily distracted, it’s a big plus. Especially to light romance as this, it’s a big yes.
As a writer myself, I observed the story overall based on the techniques the writer used in the storytelling process, which helps you (if you want to start writing your first book) to structure the book using the drama as an analogy.
I know some authors and some articles discouraged writers to refer to movies and series to gather ideas on writing their fiction. However, to me, it’s a big help. If you’re critical enough, itty-bitty details on the process are indeed helpful.
So here’s my take on SBS’s Still 17.
Still 17 Korean Drama Series Plot
If I were to write a premise for the series, it’d look like this:
A 17-year-old violinist wakes up in a 13-year comatose only to find out she’s already a 30-year-old woman. She struggles to live as an adult, resenting her failed dream, having herself skipped her 20s. Shortly after, she meets with a 30-year-old man, struggling with self-blame and depression, only to find out he’s her childhood crush living as an immature adult stuck in the past he couldn’t let go.
If you got the idea of how the story would go in the series, then it’s great. Basically, the story revolves with how two people in different worlds could interact, given the odd circumstances they’re in as an adult.
Woo Seo Ri woke up as an adult. She never experienced the slow process of adulthood as others do. From a 17-year-old ambitious (yet humble and clumsy) violinist to a 30-year-old woman, imagine how difficult it is for her. Even I, in the mid-20s, I am still learning about it and constantly wishing to return how I was in my teenage life. I believe you, too, experience the burdens of an adult.
Full of responsibilities. A lot.
This is her adventure. She meets different adults in varied backgrounds, even Woo-Jin. He’s a full-grown man, a 30-year-old stage designer, with a stable career and financial status. But he lives immaturely and continues to burden his family with his sudden change. He’s once a cheerful kid, who turned cold without telling them why.
Because of Seo Ri’s honesty (as most teenagers do), Woo-jin slowly musters his courage to replicate her and lets go of the past he’s resenting for a very long time. A past he wants to end and start a new chapter. However, due to complicated events, he’s meeting several challenges that lead him to fall in love with her.
This leads me to the next point.
How Still 17 Effectively Builds Up The Characters
In order to create a colorful set of characters for your story, you need to allow a special connection between them. You see, they’re different persons and you’re trying to connect them.
What makes them spark?
What creates the connection, the bond between these two different people?
Highlight #1: 2005 Accident
In Still 17, the writer, Joo Sung-hee, does it with the bus accident that killed two people and injured 19, including Woo Seo-ri. He uses that as a strong connection between Woo Jin and Seo-ri, which plays a big role in creating twists and turns in the series.
Highlight #2: Woo-jin and Seo-ri’s clashing personas
In addition to that technique, he uses the opposing characters or the irony. You see, Woo-jin is an adult but he’s life stuck 13 years ago. Seo-ri is a 30-year-old woman but she thinks like a mature 17-year-old girl.
You see the difference?
The writer creates the irony to emphasize the differences between them so effectively that we always look forward what’s next for them. It’s a hook.
Highlight #3: Chan’s confusion over being teenager & adult
Further, Sung-hee uses Yoo Chan as another mirror to Woo-jin’s persona. Chan is only 19 years old but he thinks and acts maturely, although he can’t help but unleash his being teenager.
If you were to compare him to his two friends, Dong Hae-bum and Han Deok-soo, he’s more mature than the rest. His presence makes the two, Woo-jin and Seo-ri’s colorful differences, spice up. That heated up when he starts to fall in love with the 17-year-old Seo-ri.
Highlight #4: Jennifer’s provoking statements
Although Ye Ji-won’s character as a cold housekeeper is quite unique, her presence mediates the whole clashing points. Woo-jin’s cold persona and Seo-ri’s cheerful side, plus Chan’s childish-mature teenager is quite complicated to balance.
The writer has to create a character to mediate them. The person whose role is to bond these characters and push towards the turning point of the story. The truth.
And to highlight herself amid the strong characters living inside one house, it’s important to make her cold and unique at the same time.
You better watch the series to know what I’m talking about. *winks*
In my own perspective as a writer, Sung-hee does a great job in creating realistic characters in Still 17. Though I don’t mean to ridicule overreacting characters as other Korean drama series do, it’s still important to make them as real as possible.
When I say real characters, people don’t overreact even in difficult situations. Sure, we’re going to show tantrums or outbursts from time to time, but not to the point we’re exaggerating the whole event. Seo-ri is a strong woman and as a feminist, I liked the fact Sung-hee created her as a person who doesn’t want to depend on others to stand for herself and for her dreams.
From that standpoint, any man will fall in love with that kind of character. Of course, there are times a woman needs help from a man. But not all the time to the point she’s clingy.
Because of her perseverance to endure the difficult times for her goals, no wonder Woo-jin falls in love with her. I can testify to that. My husband told me he fell in love with me because of my independence. Hihi.
In addition to Sung-hee’s effective methods in building his characters, he created Chan with the burden of being a mature young man for the sake of his Uncle Woo-jin. He knows his mom (Woo-jin’s sister) is already struggling and worrying about it. For a teenager, that brings a huge responsibility to act wisely on his part.
The only time he’s wavering is when he meets Seo-ri and learns she’s thinking like a 17-year-old girl. And he sees that. He’s an athlete (a rowing champion), so he’s quite sharp to studying her behavior. Plus, she isn’t lying to him at all. That’s another admirable trait capturing the two guys’ hearts.
She doesn’t deny her past, her comatose, her life before the accident, and even her feelings for Woo-jin. She’s a mirror, a direct reflection to Woo-jin’s pretense. The worse thing is Jennifer’s role in pushing these characters to limits through provoking comments and philosophies.
With these characters playing an active role in driving the viewers crazy on the plot, it’s a no surprise why Still 17 receives a high remark from the global audience. Google Reviews gave them 8.5 over 10 overall rating.
How does this apply to your story writing?
If you want a compelling story, make sure you create a unique premise. A strong premise. Never be content with the status quo by following the trend. Challenge the cliches and drive the plot by creating characters with more realistic personalities.
Although tropes are present, never overuse them and apply the methods only in appropriate situations. As much as possible, give your characters clashing point of views. Make them angry at their selves for being that person. Lead them to situations where they become sad and frustrated to the point of losing their selves.
Put yourself in their shoes and see yourself how you react to their situation. On top of that, create dialogues that strike by pointing out the mistake. Make one character reveals herself and confronts the other through insults to wake them up. Create a situation like this in the turning point or your climax. Don’t resolve to denouement or the falling action (see parts of the plot) immediately.
After the first confrontation, add more confrontations. Like Seo-ri to Woo-jin. He didn’t change after the first confrontation. Sung-hee added more situation where Woo-jin is deeply challenged and only through Seo-ri he mustered his courage to make things right until he changed (and returns to how he was before the accident).
If your character feels aggravated after the first encounter, add more. Let them face their limits. This gives your readers a reason why they have to turn to the next page. If you’re an audience, this gives you a reason why you need to wait for the next episode.
I hope my Still 17 Korean drama series review gives light to your curiosity as detailed as I can. They deserve a clap.
P.S.: You might want to check out my post to start writing your book now. Click here to read the whole post.
Photo credits: Still 17 on SBS