A pacy opener that delivers necessary context, intrigue, and everything in between with a youthful flair.
This recap of the K-Drama Netflix series Twenty-Five Twenty-One season 1, episode 1 contains spoilers.
There’s a lot to like so far with Twenty-Five Twenty-One. It has the feel of youth to it that is hard to feel disengaged with, and a nice balance between genuine emotion, humor, and plot set-pieces. Whether it can keep the pace remains to be seen, but for now, it’s certainly looking like a decent entry into the romance genre.
Twenty-Five Twenty-One season 1, episode 1 recap
We start with the unenviable backdrop of COVID protocols, ones that restrict entry until hands are sanitized, masks are worn and QR codes are scanned. Then, we meet Na Hee-do, an assumed celebrity who is there to support her daughter, Kim Min-chae, in a ballet contest. However, no performance is given in spite of a carefully delivered motivational speech, as the contestant runs off, overawed by the occasion. It leads to worry, as well as a slight argument, which then turns into Min-chae running away from home to temporarily live with her Grandmother after stating she wishes to quit ballet.
After a heart-to-heart with her elderly relative, Min-chae begins to rummage around her mother’s old things, looking at them with a bored curiosity. That is until she stumbles across her mum’s diary, an item that suddenly becomes inseparable from the young girl. At that point, following a particular reading of a line about Hee-do’s old romantic partner, we flashback to July of 1998.
When there, we see Hee-do as a bright, charismatic student of Seon Jung High School, energized by the thought of her life. She goes to school to meet her minimum attendance (she’s on the fencing team, so gets some leeway), sleeping through the classes dreaming of her inspirations and ambitions. When it’s time to leave, Hee-do runs carefree through the streets, only stopping to ensure that a copy of Full House is reserved. With that being said, there is a more serious undertone present, the IMF crisis lingering over clear blue skies and youthful high spirits. But, that doesn’t stunt Hee-do, who admires the pretty scenery of the fake white flowers at the Korean film industry protest, and dismisses the “adult stuff” as something that does not concern her. “I’m just 18, too young to lose anything,” she says, with the harmless verve of a student just happy to be living life.
After that, she continues her trek, and we stumble across her fencing inspiration, the same-aged athlete Ko Yu-rim. There’s a flashback to a competition in Singapore the year prior, where Ko claimed gold for Korea, and we witness just how much her success means to the budding upstart Hee-do. “My dream is to become her rival,” we hear, a statement that might sound strange, but is delivered with an innocence that diminishes all potentially sour meanings.
At this point, we flash forward a little bit and find out that the IMF crisis that allegedly did not concern Hee-do, in fact, does. Due to underfunding, the fencing club she is a part of at school shuts down, and the student is forced to contend with uncertainty. When a solution looks like it may be found, we cut to our first glimpse of Baek Yi-jin, a delivery boy who shares the same uplifting attitude as our female protagonist, and who is able to put a positive slant on situations that may seem frustrating to others.
Following some more context about the IMF situation, more specifically the gold donation side of things, we hear that Hee-do wishes to transfer to Tae Yang High School, otherwise known as the place Ko Yu-rim plies her trade. Her television anchor mother does not seem interested in the request though, nonchalantly telling her daughter to give up fencing. As expected, the two then bicker over the comment, in addition to the selling of Hee-do’s father’s wedding ring, but no resolution is found. Tension doesn’t linger, though, and before long there’s a humorous scene involving a broken peeing boy statue, which couples as Hee-do and Yi-jin’s first encounter with each other.
Next, we’re given some backstory to the changing lifestyle of Yi-jin. He used to be a fairly well-off, cozy college student with basketball posters all over his huge bedroom, but now finds himself working part-time jobs in a small neighborhood while he rents a run-down apartment. This does serve some purpose, however, as we see that he has taken up a role at the DVD/comic rental store Hee-do frequents and that the young man has not kept behind the issue of Full House she had requested. Adding insult to injury, a snot-based accusation is leveled at Hee-do regarding the state of a returned comic. Yet the two come to a compromise in their petty confrontation, with the pseudo-debt of the broken peeing boy statue set to be settled by way of Hee-do getting the latest edition of Full House the following day.
After this, Hee-do sneaks into Tae Yang School’s fencing gym and finds herself with an opportunity to convince Coach Yang to let her transfer. It does, unfortunately, fall flat, but the student is adamant that she shall be given a chance. This does seem to make a mark on the coach, who heavily suggests that a transfer should do the trick. So, an assault plan is hatched which would force a change in school for Hee-do. It doesn’t work, as you could imagine, and fails in an unexpectedly funny way.
As such, the aims for a transfer only grow stronger, with Hee-do wishing to get involved in a gang attack to gain her chance to attend Tae Yang High School. Surprisingly, the fight she chooses to join allows for a fencing showcase with a bully-like man, but still nothing in the way of an assault charge that would allow for a change in school. A tantrum is then thrown before Hee-do decides to observe Yu-rim again.
Shortly after, a storm hits. Yet this is no time for solemnity, as Hee-do gives up her umbrella to the student she wishes to become the rival of. Another fruitless attempt at obtaining a school transfer then follows one which sees her end up thrust into a private room at a club, and ultimately protected by a stern, concerned Yi-jin. This allows for the pairing to know each other a little deeper, even if the bankrupt young man delivers a harsh life lesson during their open conversation.
Later on, the two bond outside the rental store, and it appears like they are forging a mutual liking and respect for each other too. There’s both maturity and sweet juvenility to the way they converse together, and it makes for an intriguing dynamic. The day after, Hee-do gains the courage to request help from her mother, but it falls on deaf ears, and her nightclub delinquency is swiftly brought up. Once more, there’s an argument between parent and child, something syringed with hostility as the relatives pour their hearts out to each other with both anger and upset.
Little does Hee-do know, after their confrontation her mother has been on the phone to someone who may just end up coming in handy. This doesn’t help in the present though, with the student’s dismay over the massacred Full House comic, and her poorly executed repair tactics, taking center stage. There’s also a test involving Coach Yang and potential admission into the school she wishes to attend which adds to the anguish, but it’s short-lived pain, as it all eventually culminates in an offer for Hee-do to join Tae Yang High School. So, in a way, everything kind of works out. Oh, and in case it wasn’t clear, it was Coach Yang who Hee-do’s mother, Shin Jae-kyung, was pleading with.
Immediately after, we get an opening look at the backstory between Coach Yang and Jae-kyung, but everything remains unspoken and subtle. There’s an apology that’s needed, and a falling out that was had, that much is certain, with the pieces likely to be filled in as the series develops.
Next, there’s another scene between the parent and daughter which shows the mutual knowledge of the imminent Tae Yang High School transfer, before we cut to Hee-do’s first day. Enthused and motivated, she immediately catches the newspaper upon delivery and shouts towards Yi-jin in a bid to bask in her good fortunes. With a smile on her face, the episode slowly ends, her friend muttering “congratulations” to himself as he glides along on his bicycle.
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