We discuss the ending of the South Korean Netflix film 20th Century Girl, so please be warned — it will contain spoilers!
20th Century Girl, directed and written by Bang Woo-ri, has a lighthearted and spirited first half, with the second being incredibly sorrowful, filled with some small twists that pack a punch. This really is a truly sad love story.
We start the film with a mysterious letter being delivered, which contains a DVD and right away the father accuses his daughter of dating a mysterious foreigner or watching p**n, as he doesn’t understand what the film is that’s been delivered.
Bo-Ra, in a recording studio, is now transported back to her childhood, back into the colorful, quirky, 1990s, where her best friend p****s her finger and is helped by the love of her life, like a modern fairy tale. As her best friend has to travel to New York to get heart surgery, Bo-ra sets up her email and gets to stalking the prince charming, clearly hoping to play matchmaker.
Quite stalker-ish, she follows his route, follows him on the bus, tries to guess his phone number, his pager number, and takes herself on a quest. This leads her to speak to Woon-ho and he says he will get Hyun-jin’s pager number if Bo-ra gets him a movie that he wants to see.
The schools are quite violent in this film, searching backpacks, man-handling students, and publicly humiliating them by making them hold items they shouldn’t have in their possession above their heads in the corridors of the schools.
As the film develops we see Bo-ra and Woon-ho get closer and build a gentle and sweet friendship that turns into romance. Then, Hyun-Jin wants to date Bo-ra — and it gets a little confusing on who is dating who, for us and for the characters. They’re all friends and they all like one another? A dangerous love triangle is forming, and her friend still isn’t out of surgery.
Things are developing and Yeon-doo is back from her surgery and points out that the person she loved the whole time wasn’t Hyun-Jin but Woon-ho. What a horrible twist for Bo-Ra.
Uh-ho and Bo-ra should have been going on a date and Yeon-doo goes instead of Bo-ra. As Yeon-doo is living and loving Bo-ra is clearly getting upset and calls Woon-ho from a pay phone to talk to him and tell him that she doesn’t have feelings for him anymore.
We’re taken through Woon-ho’s life as he writes Bo-ra a letter. He’s only recently moved to Korea and talks about how Bo-ra has made him feel alive and safe, how much he likes her, and that now he must return back to New Zealand soon, but the letter ends up on the floor in the rain.
All four go on a school trip to Seoul, where Yeon-doo plans on asking Woon-ho out. As they’re daring one another to go on the big rides, Hyun-jin lets it slip to Yeon-doo that both Bo-ra and Woon-ho like one another.
Whilst Yeon-doo is heartbroken, she tells Woon-ho the truth, as she also cares for her friend and her feelings.
Netflix film 20th Century Girl ending explained
In the final scenes, our devolved sweet Bo-ra is ultimately left alone in the world, after Woon-ho goes back to New Zealand and the dramatic event is that Bo-ra’s younger brother is in an accident and taken to hospital. So while Woon-ho is running to Bo-ra’s house to express his feelings, Bo-ra and her family are at the hospital so they miss one another.
At school the next day Yeon-doo pretends to faint so she can get Bo-ra out of class to chase Woon-ho before he leaves. Racing on the back of Hyun-jin’s bike they make it to the station just in time. Bo-ra cries and confesses her true feelings for him. They hug and he gets onto the train and leaves. A heart-breaking goodbye.
We cut to the school’s film festival, where Yeon-doo and Hyun-jin are flirting and clearly have chemistry. Bo-ra and Woon-ho are emailing, through the millennium, and continue to talk as the years continue, wntil one day there wasn’t a response from Woon-ho, ever again.
Until, we flash forward to Bo-ra who is now older and back at her parent’s rental shop, where she finds the post of the film and a postcard with a location. This location is an art exhibition (probably the most beautiful part of the film).
As Bo-ra is looking around there is a section that says “in memory of Woon-ho” who passed away, which is the reason why he wasn’t returning the calls or emails. His brother has put on this exhibition for him. Bo-ra then looks at lots of videos from her time in high school and reminisces about that time with a tearful smile and laughter. The film ends with a video of Woon-ho on New Year’s Day 2001, saying the 21st century will be amazing.
This film is showing audiences how friendship and love aren’t so different after all. High school is hard for everyone, and love and friendships can be hard for everyone. Here all the characters seem to have each other’s best interests at heart which makes it even more saddening, as there isn’t anyone to hate or blame. It’s a film where sometimes things can be lovely, people can be in love but things just don’t work out. People grow, they move on and change, and sometimes the most awful thing happens and people die.
This film’s sad and somber ending really is telling us to live life to the fullest, tell your truth and be yourself. All the youthful errors we make in love and friendships are okay, and we can look back on these moments with a full heart.
What did you think of the ending of the South Korean Netflix 20th Century Girl? Comment below as we’d love to know your thoughts!