Still 17 (also known as Thirty But Seventeen) is a touching 2018 drama starring Shin Hye-sun and Yang Se-jong about a young violinist who wakes from a thirteen-year coma and has to adjust to life as an adult.
I know what you’re thinking, could Still 17 be Koreas Thirteen Going on Thirty? Because if there is any show that matches the strange insecurity of suddenly having adulting forced on you and smiling through it, it’s that show. One has magic making the hop, the other has science, but they both have that lost in another world feel.
The first episode alone saddled me with anxiety. At seventeen, Woo Seo-ri (later played by Shin Hye-sun) is a force to be reckoned with. She’s auditioning for a prestigious music school in Germany and has just been asked to play second chair by her current instructor. Her peers are shook, specifically another violinist named Kim Tae-rin (later played by Wang Ji Won). She’s jealous of Seo-ri’s talent, and it’ll come into play in future episodes.
Enter Gong Woo-jin (later played by the adorable Yang Se-jong), he takes notice of Seo-ri in one of the cutest, quirkiest montages I’ve ever seen. First, he spots her standing on a bridge peering through her fingers at the moon, while the twinkling sounds of a keychain resembling a rabbit slung over a crescent moon fills the air. Then he sees her wearing mismatched sneakers and being splashed with water someone was throwing out because she was too busy reading music.
If you’re charmed, join the club. Woo-jin starts drawing her with commentary from his inquisitive nephew who poses an essential question, “Bruh, do you even know her name?”
Okay, that’s not exactly what little Yoo-chan (later played by Ahn Hyo-seop) said, but it might as well be.
What happens next is basically one of the drama’s biggest conflicts. Woo-jin sees Seo-ri out and about with friends who shout the name “Noh Soo-mi”. He later sees Seo-ri wearing a gym uniform with the same name, and reasonably assumes that’s her name. He doesn’t know the uniform actually belongs to her best friend. Armed with this information, Woo-jin plans to give Seo-ri the picture he’s painted of her. He gets the prime opportunity when they meet on a bus by chance, and she asks him what the correct stop is for the art hall. He tells her to get off one stop late, so he has the chance to work up the nerve to present her with the painting. But when the real Noh Soo-mi gets on the bus and cheekily asks Seo-ri who Woo-jin is, he freaks and runs off, accidentally snagging Seo-ri’s rabbit keychain on the painting’s container and taking it with him.
It starts raining, and minutes later that bus gets into an accident and flips on its side. He’s there to witness it too. Soon after the bus pulled away, he had a change of heart and ran after it. The scene is visceral and emotional and ends with him thinking Seo-ri is dead, because of seeing the name “Noh Soo-mi” listed as one of the deceased on TV.
Thirteen years later, Woo-jin is still blaming himself. He’s become a stage designer with a very homeless-looking beard just living and not really feeling. Unbeknownst to him, Seo-ri wakes up from a coma in a rehabilitation center and has to grapple with the fact that she’s missed the best years of her life and is now an adult. She gets the physical therapy her body needs and escapes it in search of her uncle.
She goes home, but it isn’t her home anymore.
Woo-jin now occupies it along with his nephew Chan, who is a strapping high school senior.
Both Shin Hye-sun and Yang Se-jong do a phenomenal job with their roles.
Shin Hye-sun is completely believable as a seventeen-year-old girl stuck in a thirty-year-old’s body. Her reactions to things are hilariously naive, and even though sometimes they verge on being over-the-top, you can tell it’s for comedic relief and not because she’s a bad actress. She also conveys Seo-ri’s confusion, disbelief, and pain really well.
Yang Se-jong’s performance as Woo-jin is another heart-wrenching one. I felt his guilt and grief on my own shoulders as I watched. I didn’t like how rude he was to Seo-ri at first, but I understood why he had walls up and the walls pretty much crumble the closer he gets to her. Even though he thinks she’s someone else for most of the drama.
I loved both Seo-ri and Woo-jin, but the secondary characters in Still 17 pretty much steal the show.
At the beginning of episode one, I didn’t expect the little boy grilling Woo-jin about the girl he was sketching to be the second male lead. But as soon as Ahn Hyo-seop appears on screen I’m on board. I know, I’m shameless. Yoo-chan (“Chan” for short) is such a likable character. The SLS (Second Male Lead Syndrome) is strong with him because even though he’s only a senior in high school, he’s the most empathetic and emotionally mature out of all the main characters. Granted, Seo-ri and Woo-jin are stunted, because of the trauma they faced, but it’s hard not to be drawn to such a sweet character.
Chan is the one who begs Woo-jin to let Seo-ri stay with them in the house until she finds her uncle. He proves to be a great listening ear, and Seo-ri’s biggest cheerleader when she decides to take up the violin again. So, a love triangle develops (of course) and with how I feel about Noona romances, I was ready for it, but they didn’t have any romantic chemistry. Chan feels very much like Seo-ri’s little brother, so I like the route the drama takes.
Chan plans to tell her about his feelings after winning a rowing competition that would place him in the nationals but ends up making the mature decision to tell Seo-ri he’s thankful she was his first love. He realizes part of the reason he’s drawn to her is because he views her as a seventeen-year-old.
I think it was one of the healthiest, most self-aware things I’ve ever seen in a drama.
The rest of the secondary characters are notable as well. There’s Jennifer, the boys’ mysterious housekeeper. She’s cool, robotic, and quotes random proverbs in a monotone voice. I thought she was going to be a weird throwaway character, but she’s really nice and looks out for Seo-ri. She ends up having a tragic backstory too. Her husband died in the same bus crash that put Seo-ri in a coma, and the pain was so much, Jennifer miscarried their baby. Since then, she didn’t believe she had the right to express emotion. Whoa. Heavy.
The closest thing this drama has to a villain is Kim Tae-rin, who I mention was jealous of Seo-ri’s talent. There’s a little storyline of them meeting back up now that Tae-rin’s a famous violinist. When Seo-ri starts playing the violin again, Tae-ri does a little bit of sabotaging, but it doesn’t go very far or go on for long. Tae-ri lets go of her childish jealousy, wishes Seo-ri good luck, and goes to study in Germany to rediscover her love for music.
There’s also Kim Hyung-tae (played by Yoon Sun-woo) and Kang Hee-soo (played by Jung Yoo-jin). Kim Hyung-tae had a crush on Seo-ri when they were younger and became a doctor after the accident. He’s been looking for her ever since she ran away from the rehabilitation center. Hee-soo is Woo-jin’s boss at the design firm. In another drama, these two would be doing their best to split up the leads, but in Still 17 that isn’t the case. They do their job as supporting characters by adding dimension to the story without falling into the tired cliche of being vengeful people who’d do whatever it takes to end up with the person they like.
The incorporation of animals is also delightful. I love Fang AKA Deok-gu (Seo-ri’s long-haired chihuahua who is now Woo-jin’s) and Chick (the chicken Chan saves and decides to raise instead of fry).
Climax & Resolution
Still 17 had decent pacing, but it did try to cram too many things in toward the end. Chan saves a little boy from drowning and his mom turns out to be Seo-ri’s aunt! She continues to dodge her niece for a while out of shock and guilt. In the meantime, Woo-jin finds out Seo-ri’s actually the girl he thought had died. After Chan winds up in the hospital with an ankle injury and Seo-ri reunites with Kim Hyung-tae, she finally finds out Soo-mi died in the bus accident. Her and Woo-jin go to see Soo-mi’s ashes, so when she cries and calls out “Soo-mi” Woo-jin realizes the girl he thought had died had been living with him for weeks. He grabs her and hugs her with tears sliding down his cheeks, and utters one of the best lines in the show, “Thank you for being alive.” The acting in this scene gave me goosebumps, and I definitely teared up. I was wondering when the show was going to reveal this and it certainly took a while, but the payoff was worth it.
There’s a bit more conflict with Woo-jin trying to skip town after realizing who Seo-ri is because he still feels like everything was his fault, but he comes back. And Seo-ri’s aunt finally decides to talk to her. She explains Seo-ri’s uncle always visited her in the hospital and gives her his journal. Seo-ri finds out all about how her uncle’s business partners betrayed him, so in an effort to protect his family, he divorced her aunt, so she could keep the house and other assets. He knew Seo-ri loved the house and didn’t want the courts to take it. We see all of this in flashbacks that end with Seo-ri’s uncle getting liver disease and dying.
It’s a sad scene because for most of the drama you think he’s a shady jerk, but in actuality, he loved Seo-ri until his dying breath.
The last big hurdle is Tae-rin calling Seo-ri from Berlin and asking if she wants to come and study music with her. Woo-jin is supportive and says that now he’s found Seo-ri, he will wait for her, but if she goes they’ll be apart for a while. Seo-ri agonizes over this decision and almost leaves but decides to stay. She comes to the conclusion that priorities change, and since she knows how it feels to lose time, she wants to spend the remainder of hers with Woo-jin, Chan, Jennifer, and Fang (aka Deok-gu).
It’s a beautiful sentiment, but I love that the drama didn’t leave it there. Seo-ri is still allowed to be defined by her love of music and chooses to pursue music therapy even though it will take her a while to get her degree.
Her and Woo-jin get married, and it’s the perfect ending for a near-perfect drama.
I adored this drama! It taught me you should always strive for personal growth and you should never take time, or your loved ones, for granted. It left me with a full heart and a smile on my face, and right now with us being shut in our homes with our loved ones getting on our nerves, we could use that reminder.
Watch On: Viki