ONEAs we often find out throughout our lives, time is the most important currency of all. As with all currency, it loses value when you have too much of it. When we dive into See you in my 19th life, Ban Ji-eum (Shin Hye-sun) view time with some disdain. After all, she has lived for over 1000 years, having been reincarnated about 18 times with perfect memory of each of her previous lives. She is exhausted: every time a life ends, she prays that it would be her last.
But what is that saying? You only realize how important something is when it slips out of your hands, or at least threatens to. In her 18th life, Ban Ji-eum (then 12-year-old Yoon Joo-won) meets Moon Seo-ha (Ahn Bo-hyun): a seemingly rich chick, whom she befriends and eventually develops love for. However, when her life is cut short due to a car accident, Joo-won makes another wish – to be reborn again and find Seo-ha in her next life.
Her life as Ban Ji-eum is not easy, but she perseveres and works her way from the ground up to the strategy team at MI Hotel – of which Seo-ha is now the CEO. Her goal now is to see her love story fulfilled by getting Seo-ha to recognize her. There is also the matter of uncovering the secret behind her death in the past life, which may have been premeditated after all.
While the drama certainly stays true to the larger plot points of its webtoon origins, letting the writers add their own twists certainly makes for a fresher, more fleshed-out execution. Chief among these is the dynamic between Ban Ji-eum and Kim Ae-kyung (Cha Chung-hwa), the owner of a small restaurant and (technically) Ji-eum’s niece from her 17th life. Shin Hye-sun and Cha Chung-hwa reunite after the massive success of Sir. Queenbut their easy, light banter makes it seem as if they never left at all.
What we also appreciate is the development of Ji-eum’s character—at least what we’ve seen of it so far. After passing from one life to the next, Ji-eum develops an isolated, often selfish point of view. However, in her 19th life, she is surrounded by people whose lives were permanently changed by her death in her previous life. Facing the very human consequences of death from a different perspective smoothes the edges, bringing heartbreaking cases to light as she struggles with longing for the people she thought she had left behind. It makes her progressively more likable as the show goes on.
In contrast, Ahn Bo-hyun as Moon Seo-ha is refreshingly restrained and endearingly naive at times. A tumultuous life at home, the loss of his mother and Joo-won as a child, and hearing problems related to the accident that claimed the latter’s life have understandably left him with abandonment and anxiety issues. He has never been able to forget Joo-won, which is why Ban Ji-eum’s bullish insistence on socializing with him leaves him curious and afraid lest he betray the memory of his first love.
One particular bone – also carried over from the webtoon – we have to pick with the story is the very obvious romanticization of borderline stalking. In her 19th life, Ban Ji-eum is so focused on finding and being with Moon Seo-ha that she tracks him down and follows him around as a child. As an adult, she makes no secret of why she leaves a cushy job to move to the strategy department—the premise may have defied the laws of time and space, but it’s still uncomfortable to watch Ji-eum’s actions on screen.
Points are also given for some tried-and-true tropes that creep into the story—the evil stepmother, for example, or the classic miscommunication subplot where the female lead mistakes the male lead’s relationship with another woman as romantic. If you can look past that though, See you in my 19th life makes for a perfect heart-warming watch. It’s a fast-paced story filled with both humor and drama, balancing the heavier questions with moments of contemplation and development.
See you in my 19th life can be streamed on Netflix