Netflix’s Latest, 20th Century Girl is a cheater. The film has all the shades of a sweet, sentimentally romantic comedy set in a high school where a loyal girl wants her close friend to end up with the boy of her dreams. Of course, needless to say that the girl herself falls in love with the boy and a rift ensues. And then, in a largely diabolical way, all that joy is suddenly crushed in a way that reminds one of twenty five (Those wounds will never heal), but what hurts here is that it doesn’t have exactly the same effect. You just walk away feeling a little disappointed.
Set in the 90s, Kim Joo-yung’s Na Bo-ra and Roh Eun-seo’s Yeon-do play two close friends. Before Yeon-du leaves for America for heart surgery, she tells Na Bo-ra about the new boy she falls in love with, whom she names Baek Hyun-jin (Park Jung-woo). Na Bo-ra promises to investigate the boy thoroughly, only to fall in love with his best friend, Poong Woon-ho (Byeon Woo-seok). The film has genuinely healthy and enjoyable moments- scenes from high school activities such as debating clubs, sneaky drunken escapades, memories of high school crushes and innocent first dates. The film emphasizes the purity of teenage love, without leaning towards any toxic traits. None of the kids are bad – they really seem like teenagers, with their own lingering concerns mainly related to exams and crushes.
However, according to fate, Yeon-doo is actually in love with Woon-ho, leading to the events of Ek La Mujhe Dosti Karoge, where Bo-ra plays every quintessential sacrificial heroine in Bollywood and Yeon-doo is in love. Decides to leave her crush for Du. , But the friendship and brotherhood are very strong and before leaving the country Bo-ra, Woon-ho have a sweet reunion at the railway station. Even the film is engaging and wholesome.
This is followed by a diabolical twist – as someone viciously throws water at you, as if you were enjoying a warm and relaxing nap. We all wanted to see happy endings and a romantic reunion, but that clearly wasn’t the idea behind the conclusion, and you want to draw your own conclusion.
While I am in for good pain and tears in movies and shows, moments in this movie felt like I was being deliberately provoked to sob even though I was a little sad, not to mention rather shocked. It seemed like a forced reminder of Twenty Five Twenty One, a show that followed a similar path to first love, only to not see the lead couple again at the end, except that it was a story like that. Which was far more nuanced, nuanced, which is probably why the ending hurts so much.
Yet the film’s final few moments are a reminder of why it was enjoyable in the first place. An adult watches an old video of Bo-Ra Woon-ho, his short collection of clips that also features him. It was an emotional punch, far more impressive than Bo-Ra’s scene from his younger brother. Even if it was supposed to have a sad ending, the conclusion could have been a lot more subtle and a lot harder with less heavy exposure—which somehow ruined the effect of the film.
20th Century Girl is by no means a bad movie, even if the last 30 minutes have been disappointing. It had all the parts of the ’90s, the close friendships, the thrills and fears of first love, and the silliness that any television would want to portray in high schools (we’re the generation that had Gossip Girl, The O.C., One Tree Hill) and Euphoria now). The acting is impeccable, and Joo-young brings out all the complexities of Bo-ra and his little quirks – like Woon-ho, we love them too.
Ironically, most of us turn to Korean shows and movies when we’re looking for comfort, so when we don’t see the happy ending we want it to be quite upsetting. Ah, whatever works for good storytelling.