20th Century Girl review – a heartfelt and heartbreaking love story

By Romey Norton
Published: October 21, 2022 (Last updated: January 24, 2023)


A sweet romance film with a hard-hitting second act I wasn’t expecting, coupled with a 90s nostalgia, makes for an easy watch.

The South Korean Netflix film 20th Century Girl was a highly anticipated release – here is our official spoiler-free review.

There has been a huge surge in South Korean media recently with its audience growing and popularity in the west expanding. 20th Century Girl is a South Korean romantic drama film directed and written by Bang Woo-ri, which is her feature directorial debut and stars Kim Yoo-jung, Byeon Woo-seok, Park Jung-woo, and Roh Yoon-seo

We meet Bo-ra in 2019 as an adult, and when a mysterious tape brings back her memories from high school and her first love, we’re taken back to 1999, when Bo-ra is a 17-year-old high school student. She’s an active member of the broadcasting club at school and is best friends with Yeon-doo. Yeon-doo has a huge crush, probably in love with a cute boy called Hyun-jin, and Bo-ra begins keeping a close eye on him, hoping to play matchmaker. However, our loyal best friend ends up in a love story of her own, also falling in love with Yeon-doo’s charming prince. Will their friendship survive this? Who will win the heart of this young man? Is it even the same boy?

Crafting a story of friendship and romance, the film has a relatable story of high-school crushes and errors. The film is very well shot, there are typical rom-com moments and dream-like romantic moments such as being surrounded by plum trees and sitting in the rain, but they all add to gentle and sweet storytelling. 

To say that everything is presented as a memory and cherished moment, it’s not as cheesy as it sounds. What is lovely is a film taking high-school love seriously, and showing the complexities teen relationships can have. I know for me, I hated high school, so it’s nice to see that people can look back with happiness and almost a longing for a time that was so fresh and new to us.

Actors Kim Yoo-jung and Byeon Woo-seok have warm chemistry that makes the move from close friends to a romantic partnership believable and honest. This film heightens the importance of being friends first and letting a relationship develop naturally — How us modern-day lovers yearn for this. 

There is a lot of nostalgia created seeing old computers, the excitement of creating emails, not constantly being on a phone or a tablet 24/7, and actually having to investigate, to find out someone’s phone number and their interests, rather than just being fed it all online. You actually have to see and talk to a real person, not swipe left or right on them. 

Overall this film is a nice watch, although with a sweet start it ends sour and had me almost in tears. There’s a small twist, which makes the love story slightly sadder, and the reality is hard to stomach. There are scenes that contain violence, abuse, and discuss death so I would be mindful of that but it’s still suitable for audiences over 12. With a runtime of 119 minutes, voice-over, and subtitles available, this romance film is one to add to your list. 

What did you think of the South Korean Netflix film 20th Century Girl? Comment below.

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