Below is a review of tvN’s “Twenty-five, Twenty-one.” This article contains spoilers of the drama.
Many people who have struggled to overcome difficult math questions in their middle and high school days have probably heard a lot of the following two sentences. “Solve the problem by writing down the solution” and “the answer doesn’t matter”. For Korean students, who prioritize finding the answers faster than anyone else, emphasizing the importance of the process was actually unfamiliar advice. That kind of advice just means asking for a more twisted and prolonged solution, until you get the same concepts and principles wrong one after another.
This is also the reason of defeat for tvN’s drama “Twenty-five Twenty-one,” which should have become a successful series, but cannot. This is because “Twenty-five Twenty-one” made the mistake of overlooking the process for the answer, resulting in despondency and emptiness even though it reached the correct answer.
“Twenty-five, Twenty-one” that wasn’t supposed to have romantic details
In fact, the goal of “Twenty-five, Twenty-one” was clear. It was to become Korea’s “La La Land”. The answer was actually already known at the beginning of the drama. The fact that Na Hee-do‘s first love, Baek Yi-jin, and her daughter, Kim Min-chae, have different surnames is no different than an indication that the love story of this drama will never be a happy ending. In other words, “Twenty-five Twenty-one” has put out an early declaration that it would show the companionship of two young people who walked together at the crossroads of love and dreams, instead of following the cliché romantic story of them being happily ever after with each other.
The relationship between these two main characters is exactly like Sebastian and Mia in “La La Land,” which means “Twenty-five Twenty-one” can be called the “La La Land” of Korea. Sebastian and Mia were the reasons and passion for jazz and acting to each other in “La La Land“. However, their love is divided in front of the reality of pursuing different dreams.
Sebastian, a jazz pianist, doesn’t understand Mia‘s world and says, “You can do rehearsals anywhere, let’s go together.” On the contrary, Mia also doesn’t know Sebastian‘s world, asking him when the band tour ends and only ended up hurting each other. That doesn’t mean “La La Land” only shows the sad ending of a separated couple, because both have succeeded in achieving their dream. Therefore, “Twenty-five Twenty-one” also had to show the world of its two main characters, the conflict caused by the difference between those two worlds, and that neither of the two main characters would give up their world.
In fact, the development of the drama from the beginning to the middle did not deviate from that framework. This is why the emotions between Na Hee-do and Baek Yi-jin was used, not as a simple indication of love, but to show their ambiguous relationship between love and friendship. As a result, the story of the two main characters was more like a narrative in which two people from two completely different worlds, fencing and journalism, met and grew with each other.
A representative detail is the scene where Baek Yi-jin relieves the injustice towards Na Hee-do, who was falsely accused of despite winning a gold medal at the Asian Games. In the same context, Yi-jin also gained strength as a reporter after watching Hee-do who is not afraid of failure and never gives up even when defeat is just around the corner. Therefore, it is not surprising that the relationship between those two can only remains as a team of support for each other even though they have developed into lovers because it cannot go beyond their dreams and career goals.
The structure that collapsed in the second half of the drama
Of course, it is very difficult to maintain the tension of the story and attract viewers at a time when the final answer is already half-released. However, “Twenty-five, Twenty-one” did the difficult task by showing a fresh charm that destroys the cliché in the process of solving the answer. A typical example is that it differentiated itself by appropriately mixing the background of the 1990s with a plot development that almost followed the footsteps of any common trendy drama.
In the case of Baek Yi-jin, he is actually a person who should be in the position of a prince on a white horse between two female protagonists, Na Hee-do and Ko Yu-rim. But the context of the IMF makes him no less a poor character than Cha Eun-sang of “The Heirs”. And that doesn’t mean he’s only there as a tool for Na Hee-do‘s growth. He also faithfully shows his original narrative of gathering his scattered families again and growing up as a reporter.
In addition, “Twenty-five, Twenty-one” highlights the genre characteristics of sports and twists the obvious love triangle. Na Hee-do and Ko Yu-rim could have been in a relationship with Baek Yi-jin. However, instead of anger and jealousy between these two women, the drama focuses on the their bonding as they faced the same difficulty. Since they are fencers, they share points that only they know and understand, and as a result, they build friendships as well-intentioned rivals and best friends. This is why the scene of revealing the identity of the friend they met in an anonymous online chat left a strong impression.
Thanks to that, just as friendship was highlighted in the relationship between Na Hee-do and Baek Yi-jin, the brother and sister’s affection was able to stand out in the relationship between Ko Yu-rim and Baek Yi-jin. Furthermore, this is also the background of the dramatic revival of the character Go Yu-rim. Instead of struggling to be loved by the male lead, she experiences numerous setbacks and growths in the face of realistic worries.
Thanks to the boldness of knowing how to escape the cliché and the synergy of each character’s growth narrative that does not sink into romance, “Twenty-five, Twenty-one” was able to come out as a warm, lovely, and subtle youth story. Rather than revealing the dark story hidden deep inside of each of the five main characters with tears, the development was fresh as it focused more on their smiles and how they overcome the difficulties.
However, advantages such as the fresh plot disappeared together when the basic structure of the story collapsed in the second half. The original youth and growth drama, which reminds viewers of an early summer night, turns into a familiar melodrama that repeats crying and laughing in love at some point. The clichés of tears take their place. Na Hee-do, who did not know how to hesitate, becomes a tragic heroine who perseveres in everything for her boyfriend. The process of change in which Baek Yi-jin chooses career success instead of love is full of crying and soju. You can actually meet this story in reality, but the story of Go Yu-rim‘s immigration, which came out quite suddenly, is also dotted with tears.
As a result, the narrative of the clear and solid character collapses, and a big hole is made in the probability of the rest of the series. It is typical that the growth of Baek Yi-jin, the main character, is hard to find in a drama that should be a growth narrative. Hee-do eventually wins both a gold medal and a friend even after her school fencing team is disbanded and being treated coldly by her idol. Yu-rim chooses to go to Russia for her family, regardless of the criticism she will face. Ji-woong keeps his relationship and succeeds in areas no one expected. Seung-wan proudly confronts the absurdity of the school and goes back to the path of entrance examination that could have been easily completed. On the other hand, Yi-jin has been lethargic in the situation, which eventually results in his breakup with Hee-do.
Therefore, even if they move toward the answer they expected, questions will naturally follow every step they take. The last episode, which devoted a long amount and lines to explain each other’s emotional lines, is proof.
The biggest power of “Twenty-five, Twenty-one” lies in the vividness of the fantasy of youth on the screen. And the fantasy seemed to be forever, but at some point, when the viewers looked back, all they see is the faintness of a faded and blurred memory. A little bit of bitterness at the end of the sweetness may be the biggest driving force behind the competition for its No. 1 on Netflix’s TOP 10 a few days after the drama is over.