First Impression: Twenty-Five, Twenty-One

Drama Profile

Title: Twenty-Five, Twenty-One
Main Cast: Kim Tae-ri, Nam Joo-hyuk
Writer: Kwon Do-eun
PD: Jung Ji-hyun (You Are My Spring)
Timeslot: Saturday and Sunday, 21:10
Network: tvN
OTT: TVING, Netflix
Episodes: 16
Genre: Romance drama, coming of age

Plot Synopsis:

In a time when dreams seem out of reach, a teen fencer pursues big ambitions and meets a hardworking young man who seeks to rebuild his life. (Synopsis from Netflix)

Maknae’s Impression:

“Everyone has their first day” and Twenty-Five, Twenty-One’s first day didn’t disappoint. 

In its pilot week, we met the main characters Na Hee-do (Kim Tae-ri) and Baek Yi-jin (Nam Joo-hyuk).

Na Hee-do is so passionate about fencing that she’d be willing to risk getting arrested just to continue her dreams. This eighteen-year-old high school student is at times chaotic and mostly acting on impulse but her passion for her dreams and sport is so infectious that even a pragmatic person like Baek Yi-jin starts to toy with the idea he can think about his dreams again. There’s nothing actually unique with the plot and character introductions in this new series but there are a few reasons why I enjoyed it very much. 

The first reason is that they used a framed narrative style to tell Hee-do’s story. We’re watching Hee-do’s story through her written diaries and through the eyes of Kim Min-chae (Choi Myung-bin), her daughter in the future timeline. The way they framed the narrative felt like we’re just reminiscing Hee-do’s memories together with Min-chae. Their chosen narration technique amped up the nostalgic effect they wanted to convey in addition to the detailed 90s mise-en-scene and its playful editing style. Technical details aside, seeing the “future Hee-do” gave me an assurance that the lovely heroine we just met will have a good future and that she survived whatever happened to her in the past. It’s just a matter of how.

At first, the pilot episode gave me the impression that this series will center on Hee-do and Yi-jin will just be a charming love interest. But I was wrong. The storytelling might lean mostly on Hee-do’s point-of-view but Yi-jin is no mere love interest only. By episode 2, we’ve seen why Yi-jin had this tired distraught look in his eyes the moment we first saw him. Fate or as they call it in the series “the times” destroyed his dreams, future, and family all at once. And he’s a survivor of bad fate and he’s trying to live day by day with a more grounded approach in life. This subtle difference between him and Hee-do is what makes their interaction very appealing to watch. There’s an excitement buzzing in the air whenever they are both on screen sharing their honest thoughts to each other – Hee-do with her dreamer-type personality and Yi-jin with his realist mind. Given this initial impression with this pairing, I think Yi-jin could become Hee-do’s kite spool who could guide her to fly as far she could without getting lost; Hee-do, meanwhile, could push Yi-jin to dream again. This, of course, remains a headcanon for now but I would really, really love it if the series would go in this direction (writer-nim hear me out!). But for now, let’s stick to the present story where it seems like this loveline is leaning more on the slow-burn side in the romance pacing scale but things might pick up in the next episodes. Either way, I like that they build a bond of friendship between our two leads first.

I’m also betting we will not finish this series unscathed. The series seems to promise to give us very relatable coming-of-age woes that could still tug one’s heartstrings even if they’re not that young anymore. The dialogues are actually what I love the most about the first two episodes. The actors deliver lines that can make you feel like you want to crawl up in bed, lay down, and just cry. But in the follow-up scene, the dialogue will then put a blanket on you and comfort you. Case in point are these quotes from two different scenes:

Yi-jin: “The times can easily take away your dream. Not just your dream. It can take away your money and even your family. Sometimes, it takes all three at once.”

Hee-do: “Remember what you said to those men earlier today? You said you’ll never be happy again. I’m against that. The times took everything from you. You can’t give up on happiness. But you already gave your word to them. How about this? From now on, when you hang out with me, you can be happy and keep it a secret. When it’s just us two, let’s be happy when we’re together, albeit temporarily.”

Aside from the individual characters’ arcs and the main loveline, I’m also excited about how the subplots in this series will unfold. The mother-daughter relationship between Hee-do and Shin Jae-kyung (Seo Jae-hee) is giving us sign that there would be emotional tale about maternal love in the coming episode. The pilot week has also established the rivalry/comrade dynamic between Hee-do and Ko Yu-rim (Bona/Kim Ji-yeon). And some would also probably sympathize with Yu-rim who seems to be hiding her own insecurities and fears behind her strong façade. Another intriguing character to watch out is Coach Yang Chan-mi (Kim Hye-eun). Something happened between her and Jae-kyung and I wonder if it would utilize as a parallel narrative for Hee-do and Yu-rim’s own story. There’s a possible second couple too in this series involving Yu-rim and class 7’s pretty boy Moon Ji-woong (Choi Hyun-wook). Although it could be a brewing love triangle if you put Ji Seung-wan (Lee Joo-myoung) in the picture. But aside from these romance, I wonder if these young characters would be friends with each other. It would be nice to get another solid K-drama squad.

There’s really a lot to look forward to Twenty-Five, Twenty-One. But as far as its pilot week is concerned, this series is hitting all the right chords for a coming-of-age series – with its 90s backdrop giving it a more refreshing (and very nostalgic) feel. Its possible biggest strength, however, could definitely be the series’ way of touching people’s hearts at a profound level through its relatable characters and their stories.

Afterthoughts:

-The writer is also a scripter from Search: WWW and Mister Sunshine!!!

-I love that everyone appreciates NJH’s “improvements” BUT he has been growing as an actor role after role and I don’t know why some still refused to acknowledge that. You all should watch “The Light in Your Eyes” – that’s the project that I would really say is his turning point away from his rookie actor image. 

-I usually follow how the official streaming site romanized the names of the characters but er, I prefer “Baek”

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