It's a fact that Korean cinema rarely disappoints. They may not always produce groundbreaking content, but at least they make sure they don't let down those who have put their trust in them. That's what the “20th century girl” is all about. It's a story about first love and the meaning it has for the rest of their lives. It follows Bo Ra as she balances her feelings for Woon Ho and her friendship with Yeon Doo, while maintaining a bright spirit that adults would have a hard time emulating. We have to admit that the characters were somewhat generic, but we'll forgive that considering the story feels right. Let's take a look at how the story unfolded in 1999.
Bo Ra and Woon Ho's love story
It's 1999 and Bo Ra's best friend Yeon Doo is traveling to the United States to undergo heart surgery. She tells Bo Ra that she has fallen in love with Hyun Jin, a boy who goes to her 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 he will help her find out more about him. Yeon Doo leaves and Bo Ra leaves to collect all the information about him. She stalks him and discovers his height, his favorite drink, and even his shoe size, regularly emailing these details to his best friend. He is usually accompanied by her best friend, Poong Woon Ho. One day, in an effort to find her phone number, he goes through an entire list in the phone log before finding any gold. On her last coin, she hits his number, but he realizes that she is the one calling him. The next day, he finds out that all this time he was chasing Woon Ho and not Hyun Jin. He tells her that he will get information about her friend if she gets the things he wants. He demands that she bring an NSFW film from her store. She does, but ends up getting caught by the teacher. These little encounters keep happening until one day he injures his leg in an effort to rescue Hyun Jin from some local thugs. Hyun Jin shows up the next day and asks Bo Ra out, but she declines and runs out of the restaurant. Woon Ho follows her and helps her tie the bandage on her leg. He softly asks if she likes Hyun Jin. Bo Ra sees Woon Ho in a new light as he tends to her leg, and he looks really good doing it. She tells him that she is interested but doesn't like him. Any normal teenager would have struggled a little harder to know the exact meaning behind such a vague statement. But Woon Ho is the mysterious hero of the K-drama land and he takes what she says.
The next scene shows everyone going on a school trip, where once again, Hyun Jin tries to flirt with Bo Ra, but she turns him down yet again. Observing 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 beautiful eyes and that she likes him. From there, it's the beginning of your 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's a wrench in his plans. Yeon Doo returns and it turns out that the person she had a crush on was Woon Ho and not Hyun Jin. Bo Ra is unable to confess to him 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, he calls Woon Ho from the payphone. He asks her to count to 10. When she's done, he's in front of her. K-dramas know how to bring on butterflies.
But everything is far from ideal when Bo Ra tells him she has no feelings for him and breaks up with him. That night, when he returned home, he remembered how he fell in love with her when he returned to Korea. He fell in love with her first and wanted to tell her before he went back to New Zealand. There is some awkwardness between them over the next few days, which Yeon Doo notices. Everything comes to a head when, during a double date at the amusement park, Woon Ho accepts and confesses his feelings to Bo Ra. He tells her that he is leaving, but Bo Ra doesn't react and hides feelings from her. Hyun Jin tells Yeon Doo that they are seeing each other. Upon returning home, the two best friends fight and Yeon Doo tells her that she should have been honest with her.
'20th Century Girl' ending explained: Why does Woon Ho stop contacting Bo Ra?
Later, she herself tells Woon Ho about the reality of Bo Ra's feelings and encourages him not to give up just 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 him that Woon Ho is leaving and that he should go find him. She arrives at the train station just in time and the two confess their feelings for each other before parting ways. That was the last time she saw him. They kept in touch for a while, he was planning to enter a university in Korea, but one day, he stopped responding to his emails. She doesn't hear from him again. Confused and angry, she tries to forget about him until one day she has a blind date with someone also named Woon Ho. She breaks down in tears and makes one last call to him from a payphone, where she tearfully tells him that she will never think of him again.
Time passes and he is a distant memory in the back of your mind. One day when he receives an invitation to an art exhibition from someone named Joseph. She understands that this has something to do with Woon Ho and accepts it. In the exhibit, she is shown memories of their time together before Joseph approached her. He is Woon Ho's younger brother and tells him that he died many years ago. But in his short life, he loved Bo Ra sincerely and cared for her a lot.
“20th Century Girl” ends with Bo Ra watching a video Woon Ho created about their time together, reliving their memories and feelings from the last year of the 20th century when their love blossomed.
Final Thoughts: What Works for '20th Century Girl'?
It's not a complicated story. The film makes it clear that it is a story of love and nostalgia, and it delivers with precision. Aside from the characters coming across as a bit clichéd, it gave off an overall sweet vibe. The scenes are beautiful and the actors are in good shape. There's no real villain here, just complicated feelings and a bit of miscommunication that isn't exactly made easier by not having cell phones. This movie is a great way to spend two hours on a weekday and we wouldn't mind recommending it to our friends. K-drama can always be counted on to deliver a good love story, and it's one of the saving graces of a genre that's hanging by a thread.
“20th Century Girl” is a 2022 romantic drama film directed by Woo-ri Bang.
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