It is a fact that Korean cinema rarely disappoints. They may not always produce path-breaking content, but at least they make sure to not let down the ones who have placed their trust in them. That is what the “20th Century Girl” is. It is a story about first love and the significance it holds for the rest of your lives. It follows Bo Ra as she balances her feelings for Woon Ho and her friendship with Yeon Doo, all the while maintaining a bright spirit that fully grown adults would struggle to emulate. We have to admit, the characters were somewhat generic, but we will forgive that, considering the story got all the feels right. Let us take a look at how the story unfolded in 1999.
It is 1999, and Bo Ra’s best friend Yeon Doo is going to America for her heart surgery. She tells Bo Ra that she has fallen in love with Hyun Jin, a guy who goes to their school. She doesn’t want to go anymore because she wants to stay back and be with him. Bo Ra tells her that she is being stupid (we agree) and that she will help her find out more about him. Yeon Doo leaves, and Bo Ra sets out to collect any and all information about him. She stalks him and discovers his height, his favorite drink, and even his shoe size, regularly emailing these details to her best friend. He is often accompanied by his best friend, Poong Woon Ho. One day, in an effort to find his phone number, she goes through an entire list in the telephone registry before striking gold. At her last coin, she gets his number right, but he figures out that it is her calling him. The next day, she comes to know that this whole time, she was stalking Woon Ho and not Hyun Jin. He tells her that he will get her info about his friend if she gets him the stuff he wants. He demands that she bring an NSFW movie from her store. She does so but ends up getting caught by the teacher. These little encounters keep happening until one day, she injures her leg in an effort to rescue Hyun Jin from some local goons. Hyun Jin shows up the next day and asks out Bo Ra, but she turns him down and runs out of the restaurant. Woon ho follows her and helps her tie up the bandage on her leg. He gently inquires whether she likes Hyun Jin. Bo Ra sees Woon Ho in a new light as he tends to her leg and looks quite handsome doing it. She tells him that she is interested but doesn’t like him. Any normal teenage boy would have prodded a little more to know the exact meaning behind such a vague statement. But Woon Ho is the mysterious hero of K-drama land, and he accepts what she says.
The next scene cuts to them all going on a school trip, where once again, Hyun Jin tries to flirt with Bo Ra, but she turns him down yet again. Seeing these interactions, Woon Ho gains confidence that he has a chance after all. That night, Bo Ra gets drunk with her classmates and runs into Woon Ho. She tells him that he has pretty eyes and that she likes him. From then onwards, it is the start of their story. He tells her that he misses his brother in New Zealand and wants to see her again. She asks him for a movie, and he agrees. But there is a wrench in their plans. Yeon Doo returns, and we come to know that the person she had a crush on was Woon Ho and not Hyun Jin. Bo Ra is unable to confess to her that they have started seeing each other and decides to back off of her own accord. She sends Yeon Doo in her place for the movie. That night, she calls Woon Ho from the pay phone. He asks her to count to 10. By the time she is done, he is in front of her. K-dramas know how to deliver butterflies.
But it is all far from ideal as Bo Ra tells him that she doesn’t have feelings for him and breaks up with him. That night, when he was returning home, he remembered how he had fallen in love with her when he had come back to Korea. He had fallen in love with her first and wanted to tell her that before he returned to New Zealand. There is some awkwardness between them in the coming days, which is noticed by Yeon Doo. It all comes to a head when, during a double date to the amusement park, Woon Ho just goes for it and confesses his feelings to Bo Ra. He tells her that he is leaving, but Bo Ra doesn’t react and hides her feelings. Hyun Jin tells Yeon Doo that they have been seeing each other. While going back home, the two best friends have a fight, with Yeon Doo telling her that she should have been honest with her.
Later, she herself tells Woon Ho about the reality of Bo Ra’s feelings and encourages him to not give up on them yet. That night, he goes to meet her, but she is in the hospital with her brother Ba Da. The next day, Yeon Doo tells her that Woon Ho is leaving and that she should go and meet him. She reaches just in time to the train station, and the two of them confess their feelings to each other before separating. That was the last time she saw him. They kept in touch for a while, with him planning to get into a university in Korea, but one fine day, he stopped replying to her emails. She doesn’t hear from him again. Confused and angry, she tries to get over him until one day, she goes on a blind date with someone who is also named Woon Ho. She breaks down in tears and makes one last call to him through a payphone, where she tells him in tears that she will never think of him again.
Time passes, and he is a distant memory in the back of her mind. One day, when she receives an invitation to an art exhibition from someone named Joseph. She understands this has something to do with Woon Ho and accepts it. At the exhibition, she sees the memories of their time spent together before she is approached by Joseph. He is Woon Ho’s little brother, and he tells her that he died all those years ago. But in his short life, he had sincerely loved Bo Ra, and she mattered a great deal to him.
“20th Century Girl” ends with Bo Ra watching a video film that Woon Ho had put together of their time spent together, reliving her memories and feelings of the last year of the 20th century, when their love had blossomed.
It is not a complicated story. The movie is clear that it is a story of love and nostalgia and delivers accurately. Other than the characters who felt a little cliche, it gave an overall sweet vibe. The shots are beautiful, and the actors are in good form. There is no real villain here, just complicated feelings and a little lack of communication that is not exactly made easy by not having cell phones. This film is a good way to spend two hours on a weekday, and we don’t mind recommending it to our friends. One can always count on K-drama to deliver a good love story, and it is one of the saving graces of a genre that is hanging by a thread.
“20th Century Girl” is a 2022 Drama Romance film directed by Woo-ri Bang.
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