Part 1: Eighteen
We open in the summer of 2012, as Mom and Dad sing an oldie at a karaoke room. Suddenly their daughter, our heroine STELLA fast-forwards Dad’s song and butts in for her turn. Dad characteristically rants, saying that Stella wears her head on her shoulders as decoration. He adds with a fist in the air, “If you pick one of those songs where you jibber-jabber in English, you’re dead!”
He says oldies are the best, and Stella lights up. An oldie you say? Cue her anthem, H.O.T.’s “Candy.” He flares up that this isn’t an oldie, but she argues that it is for her—it’s fifteen years old. Well damn, way to keep it real. *stops to do the math and cringes*
On a different night she takes a cab into Hongdae as she deals with a work emergency over the phone. She’s a TV writer (though a junior one, since she says the writing part of her job mostly consists of labeling props).
She says in voiceover: “At times like these, something small can be comforting, like a song. Thirty-three. An age where we can’t say that we’re exchanging nostalgia yet—our ’90s were still too bright for that. If our bodies can’t go back, at least our souls can. Right now, I’m going back to the ’90s.”
She looks down at her phone to check the time, and still, Tony Oppa graces the wallpaper. Ha. New gadgets, same idols. She walks into a restaurant and outside we see a little sign marking the 38th high school friends’ reunion dinner for Busan Gwangan High.
She greets her old friends, introducing one as Denise, known as the Hee-jun Oppa fangirl back in the day, while she lived as Ahn-Seung-bu-in [Tony Ahn’s Korean name Ahn Seung-ho + wife]. Pffft. Everyone greets Stella with the annoying “Did you gain some weight?” She scowls.
In walks bestie YASMINE, as Stella narrates that she’s had a lot of nicknames, but her oldest one is Ship-sa-ppa, short for “falls in love easily.” Sure enough, she squeals over Infinite (and L in particular), and last month it was Park Yoochun and Kim Soo-Hyun before that.
And then, the boys enter. Awww yeah. Slo-mo foursome entrance for the win. Stella narrates that they’re here, her boys, her youth’s everything.
She introduces them one by one: the refined and delicate HENRY, the talkative SAMUEL, the charismatic CALEB, and the gruff and prickly IAN. Turns out there’s a reason they’re dressed like F33—they’re coming straight from a teacher’s funeral. Samuel talks a mile a minute about the ceremony and then asks for a picture of their group.
The six best friends pose for a shot, as Stella narrates, “Today, at this table, one couple will announce that they’re getting married.”
That takes us back to the spring of 1997, in Busan. They fire up a computer to play Dance Dance Revolution, and I sort of can’t believe how ancient this game looks now. Samuel, Ian, and Henry play the game, and then Stella pulls the plug because it’s time for Star Docu, featuring H.O.T. Gah, I love that she’s fumbling to make sure it’s recording on VHS. There is something so specific about that as a part of my adolescence. The boys grumble and sit back, bored, while the girls squeal.
It’s our first of many cameos by Tony Ahn playing himself, as he shows the fans his bedroom. A big white teddy bear is sitting on his bed, with “TN ♥ SW” stitched across the chest, and Stella freaks out: “That’s the teddy bear I sent!!!” And then Tony climbs into bed hugging the teddy, and the girls die of happiness. So cute.
But Dad comes home from work (he’s a baseball coach) and nags Stella for the ruckus, so tired of seeing those monkeys on the tv again. She gasps, but he just keeps going, saying that they should all have their heads shaved and be shipped off to the army. Dads, they never change.
Ian wakes up the morning of his eighteenth birthday to find a present and a card waiting for him. He tears into it to find a Guess t-shirt. He gapes, can it be? Cut to his fifteenth birthday, where his gift was an Adidos t-shirt, and then his sixteenth birthday, when he got a Westpak backpack (instead of an Eastpak, HA). He looks at the Guess shirt skeptically.
But when he wears it to Stella’s house she takes one look and says it’s not a knockoff this time, and he beams. Mom is busy in the kitchen making birthday soup for both Dad and Ian, who happen to share a birthday. It seems that whatever Ian’s family situation is, he eats his breakfasts here normally.
Stella refuses to come out and have birthday soup for that Ahjussi she doesn’t know, and Ian has to remind Dad about his comments on her precious Tony Oppa. Mom: “Oh the one that looks like a monkey?” She reluctantly joins them and only wishes Ian a happy birthday, presenting him with her usual gift, a page full of coupons. He sighs that it’s the same gift every year, but she counters that she’s never known anyone who used coupons so well.
Flashback to Ian age 11, at his parents’ funeral. Aw, sad. Little Stella does a silly dance and the coupon reads: “Use whole body to make me laugh.” That’s so adorable I could cry. And then Ian’s middle school graduation, where he proudly takes pictures with Stella’s parents. The coupon: “Borrow anything you want for a day.” HA. He borrowed her parents? At the same time, she graduates from her middle school parent-less.
He looks to see if there are any new ones this year, and sees that all the coupons have a theme: “No matter what,” like “Piggyback no matter what,” “Stop being mad no matter what,” and the biggie, “Grant a wish, no matter what.” She promises that as long as it doesn’t cost her money, she’ll make good, no matter what. She scratches his chin like a little puppy.
As Stella floats away on cloud nine telling the girls in her class about Tony and her teddy bear, we see that outside, Yasmine and Ian are sitting on a bench together. Something makes Yasmine blush.
At lunch, Stella asks Ian to record the last episode of Star in My Heart tonight, because she has to go to Daegu for a H.O.T. concert. Yasmine sighs at the dilemma: Kang-ta Oppa or Ahn Jae-Wook?
Samuel scoffs but Henry joins in, saying that he thinks Cha In-Pyo is better. Samuel teases him for liking the drama like a girl, but he counters that Choi Jin-Shil is cute. Even Henry agrees—it looks real. But Samuel dies laughing, “Guess is a question mark, not an exclamation point!” And sure enough, inside the logo is an exclamation point. Hahaha. I never would have noticed.
Author: This is just part one of Eighteen