We may never know our parents the way we know ourselves; insecurities, first love, purpose, and grief carved onto the crevices of our soul.
This was true for Kim Min Chae, daughter of Na Hee Do, a long-reigning South Korean fencing champion. Well, until the time Min Chae stumbles upon her mother’s journals and begins to perceive her as a whole other person.
Through alternating timelines, the screenwriter of Twenty-Five Twenty-One pieces together the remarkable story of Hee Do’s ambition, sacrifices, and the role her friends & family play in her life.
I love that the episodes go back and forth between the past and the present. It makes the narrative and the character development that much more wholesome.
With actors Nam Joo Hyuk and Kim Tae Ri at the helm of this Korean drama, the showrunners truly had nothing to worry about. But what makes the series a phenomenal success is the ease with which its entire cast carries the show forward.
Bona’s resolute portrayal of Go Yu Rim comes with the promise of gradually getting to know a multilayered character. Contrary to the pop-culture archetype, Lee Joo Myung makes Ji Seung Wan more than just an outstanding student. In her bravery to steer from the norms, you find greater courage to go after your own dreams, no matter how unconventional they may be.
Even Choi Hyun Wook, who plays the boy-next-door character lends the series a sense of lightheartedness, sometimes in the form of great comic relief.
A slice of life drama, Twenty-Five Twenty-One is 16 episodes long and has an idyllic 90s vibe. From the outfits of the cast to the end credits and the eagerness with which Yu Rim & Hee Do race to the comic book store for the next instalment of their favourite series, there’s a lot in the show that will resonate with the 90s’ kids. The production pulls out all the stops to make it a compelling Korean TV series.
Hee Do’s character, with her bubbly persona and unwavering determination, draws you in from the first episode.
She doesn’t get along with her mother, changes schools to be trained by a different coach, and befriends people easily. You can clearly see screenwriter Kwon Do Eun’s flair for writing memorable characters in the way Na Hee Do’s storyline pans out.
And it’s not just that! I also found Nam Joo Hyuk’s character’s backstory to be heartrending. You can’t help but cheer Baek Yi Jin on and wish that his hardships come to an end. Being the elder son, trying to ease the troubles of his family after their business goes bankrupt, and trying to find a place of his own in this world – many aspects help us form a more in-depth understanding of Yi Jin.
There are some time leaps, and there’s also an underlying romance angle with regard to a few characters. But all in all, it’s a sports drama.
As such, it perfectly captures various phases of an athlete’s journey – being undermined, finding opportunities, and practising tirelessly (seriously, Yu Rim and Hee Do seemed to have unending reserves of strength!).
You’ll find yourself sitting at the edge of your seat through numerous fencing contests that Hee Do and Yu Rim participate in. And to say that they’ve been shot wonderfully is not far-fetched. These scenes are neither too long nor too frequent to overshadow the rest of the episode(s).
I know many viewers were disappointed with the direction the story takes towards the end. But I can see why Hee Do makes the decisions she does. One has to be in her shoes, and have experienced the turmoil she has in order to share her perspective.
People can often have a black-and-white approach to life. And when something challenges that, they may not necessarily react tactfully. So, don’t let that deter you.
As long as you watch this Korean drama with an open mind, you should be able to enjoy it wholeheartedly. I did, and it is one of my top favourite Korean dramas of 2022; perhaps, of all time too!
The soundtrack is well put-together. Although extremely hard to pick, a couple of my favourites are Wonstein’s Your Existence, Taeil’s Starlight, and With sung by the five main leads of the show. It’s nostalgic, feel-good music that you’ll turn to every now and then.
The charm of this TV series is certainly its characters, their friendships, and the meaning you can take away from it. At the same time, one can’t discount how empowering it is in its depiction of youth and the thirst with which individuals who are passionate about something take charge of their lives.
I highly recommend that you watch Twenty-Five Twenty-One! In fact, it is worth re-watching too.