Twenty Five Twenty One: Episodes 1-2 Open Thread
Heartfelt and hopeful, Twenty Five Twenty One sets us on a journey with two young people whose big dreams for the future are trampled by circumstances far beyond their control. Despite the age gap between them, they come to recognize each other as kindred spirits against the often-cruel realities of life.
EPISODES 1-2 WEECAP
We’re introduced to each episode by a glimpse into the life of our heroine’s daughter, KIM MIN-CHAE (Choi Myung-bin), who’s a high schooler in the present day. After walking out of a dance competition (because she sized up her competitor and decided she had no chance of winning), Min-chae evades her mother’s disappointed questions by running away to stay at Grandma’s house for a while. There, she discovers her mother’s diary from 1998, which chronicles the beginning of our main story.
Judging from this setup, I’d wager we’re in for a Reply series-esque guessing game of “Who’s the Father?” But the framework also gives us more insight into our characters – particularly our heroine, NA HEE-DO (Kim Tae-ri), and her mother (Seo Jae-hee), whose relationship has always been rather strained.
In the 1998 storyline, Hee-do’s big love is fencing, and in fact she was once touted as a fencing prodigy. Though she’s since hit a plateau, her one dream in life is to rival the local Olympic gold medalist, GO YOO-RIM (Bona), who’s also still in high school.
Hee-do worships the ground Yoo-rim walks on, to the point that she runs over to Yoo-rim’s school every Saturday just to watch her practice through the window. In one adorable sequence, she secretly gives Yoo-rim her umbrella and giddily runs home through the rain.
But when Korea’s IMF crisis forces Hee-do’s school to cut costs, the fencing team is dissolved. Devastated, Hee-do determines she’ll have to transfer to Yoo-rim’s school and train there. The problem? Her mother doesn’t see fencing as an important enough reason to transfer schools, especially since Hee-do isn’t performing as well as she used to.
So Hee-do decides to get herself forcibly transferred through delinquency (as one does), but she’s laughably bad at it. For example, she tries to get herself arrested by joining a gang fight… only to end up saving one of the girls from being assaulted, and to be completely ignored by the police when they arrive to break up the fight. (It doesn’t help that she runs up to the cop grinning from ear-to-ear to tell on herself for fighting.)
But her naivety takes a more dangerous turn with her next plan: getting herself caught as a minor at a nightclub. Thinking she’s in perfect control of the situation, she has no qualms about being sent into a room with a group of young adults, one of whom seems particularly eager to prey on her innocence.
Fortunately, she has an advocate in the form of our hero, BAEK YI-JIN (Nam Joo-hyuk). By this point, the two have already met a few times, because he’s picked up a couple of part-time jobs in her neighborhood. The skeevy guy is Yi-jin’s former friend, but it seems said ex-friend never quite showed this face to him before, and Yi-jin quickly and firmly ends what’s left of their friendship and removes Hee-do from the building.
She’s incensed that he’s foiled her perfect plan, and he’s equally angered – and horrified – that she has no idea how badly her plan could have ended. As someone who no longer has the luxury of asking his parents for help pursuing his dreams (more on that in a bit), he urges her to use that luxury and talk to her mom.
His words get through to her, and she takes his advice. It makes things worse before it makes them better, though, as the initial confrontation leads to a screaming argument that culminates in her mother ripping pages out of a rented manhwa and tossing it out the window into the water fountain.
The argument starts because Mom found out about Hee-do sneaking out to the nightclub, and Hee-do finally pours her heart out and explains that she was far less afraid to go to that club than she was to talk to her mom about transferring schools. That hits hard, and Mom initiates the transfer after all.
She doesn’t tell Hee-do this, however, until after Hee-do goes to Yoo-rim’s fencing coach, COACH YANG (Kim Hye-eun) to get permission herself. Coach Yang puts Hee-do through a few tests, some based purely on luck – which Hee-do fails — but she’s passed on merit of Coach Yang’s luck instead (well, and the permission Mom already got, but that’s beside the point).
Finally, Hee-do gets her wish to train at the same school as Yoo-rim. But, contrary to her hopeful expectations, Yoo-rim gives her the cold shoulder. Though Hee-do has no idea why, we eventually learn that the two actually faced each other in competition many years ago, back when prodigy Hee-do was the reigning champion. Yoo-rim had lost soundly, and still carries those feelings of insecurity alongside the pressure of being undefeated professionally.
Coach Yang has the two fight a practice match as part of Hee-do’s initiation to the team, and when Hee-do wins, Coach Yang pointedly tells Yoo-rim that it’s always more difficult to win against an opponent you don’t know, especially when that opponent knows everything about you – a dynamic she’s bound to face more and more since she’s so famous. But Coach Yang doesn’t diminish Hee-do’s win, and privately tells her she’s stronger than Yoo-rim.
Woven alongside Hee-do’s fencing and school-transfer quest is Yi-jin’s reason for taking those part-time jobs that put him in Hee-do’s orbit. He originally comes from wealth, and before the IMF crisis hit, he was on track for an engineering degree, with which he hoped to work for NASA one day.
His father tried to protect the family from the impending disaster by splitting them up – even divorcing his wife on paper so as to keep her from incurring his debt – and his company was eventually forced to declare bankruptcy, making their already shaky circumstances even worse.
That’s why Yi-jin had to drop out of college and move out on his own, even getting an exemption from military service so he could theoretically provide for his family. Now he has no one to lean on as he tries his best to find a stable job, only to be turned away time and time again because he’s seen as overqualified for anything that doesn’t require a degree.
We don’t learn a whole lot about this just yet, but it seems his and Yoo-rim’s families are close (or were, before his family had to disperse), and that his family even sponsored Yoo-rim’s fencing pursuits in some capacity. Of course, that’s no longer possible now.
The full, crushing reality of Yi-jin’s situation hits both us and Hee-do when she overhears a confrontation between him and two of his father’s former employees. The men are at their wits’ end, and though they know Yi-jin can’t possibly help them, that doesn’t stop them from taking out their desperation on him. All Yi-jin can do is promise with all sincerity never to be happy again – and goodness, Nam Joo-hyuk killed me with his acting in this scene.
Throughout these episodes, Yi-jin and Hee-do have developed a budding friendship, and as Hee-do does her best to cheer him up after the above encounter, he admits that he sees his younger, carefree self in her. She radiates innocence, ambition, and hope – everything he’s lost.
In response, she gets him to smile again by taking him to her old school and showing him how to turn the outdoor sink’s water faucet into a sprinkler. A new joy lights up in his eyes, and he excitedly turns all the faucets on, much to her awestruck delight. Referencing his promise not to be happy anymore, she proposes he limit his moments of happiness to when the two of them hang out – it can be their little secret.
So far, the relationship between Yi-jin and Hee-do is a wholesome, supportive friendship between a discouraged young adult and a teenager who’s determined to take on the world. But I can certainly see how that connection has potential to blossom into something more than friendship once Hee-do grows up a little more. Beyond that, I don’t really know where Twenty Five Twenty One will take us from here — but these two have already captured my heart, so I’m eager to find out.
- Premiere Watch: Forecasting Love and Weather, Twenty Five Twenty One
- Watching dramas with Kim Tae-ri in new promos for Twenty Five Twenty One
- Kim Tae-ri and Nam Joo-hyuk reminisce about summer in Twenty Five Twenty One
- Looking back on 1998 with Kim Tae-ri and Nam Joo-hyuk in Twenty-Five Twenty-One
- Casting lineup complete for youth drama Twenty-Five, Twenty-One