The coming-of-age drama that can’t be much closer to reality.
“Twenty-Five, Twenty-One” tells a love story between Na Hee-Do (Kim Tae-Ri) and Baek Yi-Jin (Nam Joo-Hyuk).
Na Hee-Do is a member of her high school fencing team. Due to the South Korean financial crisis, the high school fencing team gets disbanded. Getting through all the difficulties, she becomes a member of the saber fencing national team.
The South Korean financial crisis also causes Back Yi-Jin’s father’s business to go bankrupt. This leads to a life change for Back Yi-Jin, from living the life of a wealthy person to a poor person. While studying, he works part-time jobs like delivering newspapers. Later, he becomes a sports reporter for a broadcasting network.
–Source: Asian Wiki
TLDR: Basically the plot of the drama is to show how a group of five friends came together in the late-teens and accompanied each other through their growing up lives and reach for their dreams.
*** Spoiler Alert ***
Honestly, I think the plot started off a little slow and boring. At the start, I had even thought of giving up watching this drama after the first 5 episodes. Episode 1 and episode 2 sets the context of the show — dated in 1998 when South Korea was badly hit by the IMF crisis. It showed how the IMF crisis has affected the ordinary lives of the people back then — with Baek Yijin’s family facing bankruptcy and being separated, and Na Heedo’s dream as a fencer being hindered.
I didn’t crush your dreams. The times did.Na Heedo’s coach from Seongjung Girls’ High School when dismissing the school team in Episode 1
It’s so easy to accept fate as it is but Na Heedo didn’t — I think that’s the beauty of this show and her character. I like the relentlessness and determination that Na Heedo possessed. Facing the gloomy circumstances and her mother’s doubts about her abilities, Na Heedo stood firm in her dreams of becoming a professional fencer. I think in growing up, we often face questions from people and difficulties along the way as we try to pursue what we want. Many people eventually resign to fate and let the times carry them on. I like how Na Heedo defied the times and fought hard for her dreams — although this was after the encouragement of her Internet friend Injeolmi. I think this is also the charm of her character. It’s very inspiring to audiences who are working hard in aspects of their lives. I personally liked the positive energy radiated from this character.
While the first five episodes show the development of Na Heedo and Baek Yijin’s friendship and their characters’ background, they also mainly focused on Na Heedo’s early stages of her career development in becoming a professional fencer. In episode 5, we saw that Na Heedo’s hard work paid off as she successfully got accepted to the National Fencing Team. Unfortunately, Ep 5 also ended with Baek Yijin packing up and leaving for the rural after his brother faced bullying from his school.
In episode 6, we saw how Baek Yijin took the time off in the rural to collect his thoughts and pick himself up again as he fights for his dream: to become successful to protect his family. We also saw how priceless his friendship with Na Heedo was. They were rooting for each other no matter where they were at and they always believed in each other that they would make it through regardless. This episode highlights the faith the two main characters have in each other. Eventually, Baek Yijin returned and found an opportunity for his path to succeed — as a reporter. The two characters eventually reunited.
From episode 7 onwards, the plot began to put some focus on the side characters (while there was also some focus on them in the earlier episodes) as we see more interactions between Na Heedo and the other character (such as Go Yurim). Since episode 2, we all knew that Go Yurim had a bad relationship with Na Heedo. Through the subsequent episodes, we watched how Na Heedo and Go Yurim tried to resolve this friction and it turned out to be so simple: they were each other’s internet confidants and had supported each other through difficult times. They immediately became closer friends and we were able to watch how the two friends became invaluable to each other as they also supported each other in their professional growth by training and sharing their passion for fencing together.
Through episode 8 and episode 9, we saw a shift in the relationship between Na Heedo and Baek Yijin. Na Heedo mentioned that she felt a growing distance between her and Baek Yijin as she watched how Baek Yijin gains traction in his life and was becoming more like an adult, while she continues collecting stickers like a teenage girl. Fortunately, they both spoke up and sorted their relationship out. The episode ended with Baek Yijin confessing his feelings for Na Heedo.
Although there’s no word to describe it (our relationship), we can just make one up ourselves.Na Heedo to Baek Yijin in Episode 9
I honestly like this scene when Na Heedo was trying to define her relationship with Baek Yijin. On the one hand, it shows how valuable and unique her relationship with Baek Yijin is, on the other hand, it also encapsulates her personality in defying the norms.
Episode 10, viewers were treated to a ride as we watched the group of five enjoy their weekend getaway to the beach.
Episode 11 focused on Na Heedo’s relationship with her mother — how the fact that her mother’s job had always obstructed their relationship and how she could never understand why her mother had always placed her job before her family even during her father’s death. In this episode, we also saw relationship development between Moon Jiwoong and Go Yurim. Jiwoong confessed his feeling for Yurim during a music festival and Yurim eventually agreed to their relationship.
Episode 12 was all about bravery and courage and leaving behind things that once mattered to you. A fencing junior declared her intention to quit fencing, while Ji Seungwan was faced with the dilemma between continuing her studies and defending her morals. This episode highlighted the existing issues of school bully in Korea in the late 1990s. Given the context of the show, it appeared that the government had only recently removed corporal punishments in school. However, due to the lack of enforcement and the outdated mindset, teachers still had the stemming habit of resorting to corporal punishments. Since I didn’t grow up in Korea, I am not sure how true this was but a broad internet search revealed that eliminating corporal punishments from the school system has always been a struggle in South Korea even in the 2010s. Ji Seungwan was no longer able to tolerate her best friend being beaten up by their teacher at school for minor mistakes and she stood up for it by calling the police, which caused a huge commotion. She later brought this incident to her online podcast session and revealed the identity of the teacher. Clearly aware of Seungwan’s doings on the internet, the teacher used this recorded podcast as a threat and demanded Seungwan apologise for defaming the teacher otherwise she would be expelled. As Seungwan did not see any wrong in her actions nor had the teacher apologised to Jiwoong for beating him, Seungwan decided to quit school even though this would mean that she will have to miss the high school examinations.
Dropping out of a trashy school like this won’t leave a spot in my daughter’s life.Ji Seungwan’s mother to the teacher as she applied for Seungwan’s drop out from school in Episode 12
Episode 13 and onwards reintroduces the pragmatism and cruelty of reality and how the paths of each other’s dreams and careers could possibly harm each other down the road. Baek Yijin’s identity as a reporter may one day be forced to broadcast and uncover the ugly doings of the nation’s athletes — Na Heedo or Go Yurim.
We witnessed this in episode 14 when Go Yurim signed herself to the Russian national team as they were able to offer her a much better compensation. This also came as her family faced another round of financial burdens when her father became responsible for a traffic accident. Separations and partings — this episode has it all. However, in spite of it all, I think it was still beautiful that Go Yurim was able to walk down her path as a professional fencer, albeit under a different team.
If there’s anything I did sell, I sold myself (my abilities) for money.Go Yurim to a Korean Chinese restaurant owner in Episode 14
Episode 14 once again brought the viewers back to the cruel reality of Baek Yijin’s career as he was the one who first whoo reported Go Yurim’s decision to change her nationality. This was also when he realised how he may also need to do the same to Na Heedo in the future, which was the last he wanted.
In episode 15 we saw that Baek Yijin has requested to transfer out of the sports department to another department so he could avoid being in the position to harm Na Heedo the way he did to Go Yurim in the future. By now, the viewers were also given hints that Baek Yijin and Na Heedo’s romantic relationship did not last. However, viewers were kept in suspense about how their relationship ended. Episode 15 denied the possibility that it could have been due to something similar to what Na Heedo’s mother had done to Yang Chanmi.
At the same time, we could also see that the distance between Na Heedo and Baek Yijin has also begun to grow as a result of their career choices. Eventually, Na Heedo was placed in a situation to properly reconsider her romance choice when her mother questioned her if she was willing to accept to live through her childhood of always being disappointed by her loved one all over again.
One person is always sorry, and the other person always gives up. Are you really okay with a relationship like this?Na Heedo’s mother to Na Heedo in Episode 15
Episode 15 gave some reality checks to Na Heedo about her relationship with Baek Yijin. She had finally come to terms with the fact that she and Baek Yijin might not work out.
The long-awaited episode 16 revealed everything. Na Heedo and Baek Yijin eventually break up and Go Yurim and Moon Jiwoong got married. The five characters had also achieved something they want in their lives.
I watched Twenty-Five, Twenty -One as it was being released. By episode 15, alongside many other viewers, I read a lof of theories on how the ending would be. Many fancied a miracle to happen or a plot twist so that our lovely main leads would end up together. Sadly, the ending couldn’t be more simpler than being as realistic as reality.
I understand that many viewers were upset about the ending. I was like the many who had hope for a miracle (like all other kdramas do) and that Na Heedo and Baek Yijin eventually got back together in the last episode. Unfortunately, this was just wishful thinking. However, I think the bitterness from this was what made the entire drama so beautiful. I think the bitter-sweet feeling that this drama had given is what exactly youth is all about.
I mentioned earlier that this drama is filled with positive energy as the characters strive to pursue their dreams. They worked hard and were fearless in chasing their dreams. I think this was a beautiful side of the drama, in showing the pricelessness of companionship and friendship, and courage that can only be obtained as a youth.
I cannot agree any further on how beautiful the ending is from this final scene:
I think the production team really ended off well by highlighting that even though they no longer walk down the same path, they were thankful and happy that they had spent their times together. They had also affirmed their unwavering support for each other, be it in the past or in the future. I think this ending rounded the plot really well and preserved the essence of the relationship between the two main characters: that they were always supportive of each other and that they always had faith in each other that they would eventually succeed in whatever choice they make. And it also reflected the cruelty of reality, at how sometimes life would just catch up and people can no longer be at where they had always been at and they need to move forward. It really leaves that bitter-sweet feeling in me.
Honestly, the plot started off really slow. At one point in time, I really wanted to give up on this drama because of how slow the plot was going. And I’m glad I didn’t. Unlike most kdrama, the last few episodes of the drama didn’t feel too rushed as well. Although I would have hoped episode 16 to be a little longer so more of my curiosity could have been addressed — like who exactly is Minchae’s father and how is present-day Baek Yijin?
Nonetheless, I think the last episode was a decent one and rather well-paced. I am also glad to see the episode showing how all the characters eventually succeeded in their aspects of lives by 2009. I would have hoped for a reunion of the five friends in present-day, but I think the lack of it only further reflects the reality of life.
I think all the actors and actresses were really great in bringing life to the characters they played. They did a good job in carrying the emotions during the sad scenes of the show and also the energy of a youth in most of the episodes. I think Nam Joohyuk (acted as Baek Yijin) shed the most tears in this show.
I just want to make a speical mention to Kim Taeri (acted as Na Heedo). I’ve been a big fan of Kim Taeri since her past drama in Mr. Sunshine. Her performance didn’t fail to meet my expectation in this drama and I truly enjoyed her acting. It really surprises me that she’s passed her thirties given how well she had portrayed Na Heedo’s character as an 18 year-old through the show.
Overall, I would rate this drama 8.5/10. And I would definitely recommend a watch (only if you are prepared to have a broken heart).