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Film Review #19: 20TH CENTURY GIRL

Written by Hazel Sim


Photo Credit: Netflix

20th Century Girl is a South Korean heartwarming coming-of-age drama about young love and friendship. It perfectly captures the youthful exhilaration and yearning, as well as the intense feelings that go along with everything from friendships to first loves.

Set in 1999, we’re taken back to the time of pagers and VHS tapes. Our heroine Bo-ra (Kim Yoo Jung), a 17-year-old high school student, sets out to learn further about Hyun-jin (Park Jung Woo). Hyun-jin is the boy Yeon-doo (Roh Yoon Seo), her best friend, has a crush on, while Yeon-doo undergoes heart surgery abroad in the US. She grows closer to Hyun-jin and his best friend, Woon-ho (Byeon Woo Seok).

Bo-ra, fiercely loyal to her ailing friend, employs inventive, if occasionally silly, methods to learn more about Hyun-jin, dutifully e-mailing all that she learns, anything from his height to his best friend’s home address. Things take an unexpected turn when Bo-ra realises she is falling hard for a boy for the first time in her life. Bo-ra is unprepared for what awaits her when Yeon-doo returns.


Photo Credit: Netflix

While Woon-ho assists Bo-ra in obtaining the information her best friend requires, there are a few confusions about who likes who in our quartet of personalities. As Bo-ra and Woon-ho gradually realise they like each other, the film revels in the innocence of a time when everything is still unknown. Their chemistry on screen was amazing; they make you root for them and make your heart flutter. There is a plot twist about halfway through that is very predictable if you are familiar with South Korean drama conventions. Unfortunately, this is the point at which the film’s charm begins to fade. The climax may not be popular or convincing to some as the film departs a few of its key characters with unexplored backstories, amidst its two-hour running time. A few critical conflicts are resolved rather prematurely and, in some ways, too easily.

With sensitivity, Bang Woo Ri captures the times when the protagonists had butterflies in their stomach. It maintains compassion for its characters, even though their romance is immature. It lightheartedly celebrates immaturity itself.


Photo Credit: Netflix

Romantic comedies have always been a source of fascination and derision. Those who believe it is a sugar-coated representation of reality mock it. On the other hand, it is hailed for its pleasant depiction of romantic fantasies that are a joy to watch on the big screen. 20th Century Girl is a hybrid of the two. What makes it difficult to pull your gaze away is more than simply two lovely people falling in and out of love. It is the careful treatment of the portions of the characters’ collective psyche that makes its appeal irresistible.

20th Century Girl adds to the well-worn theme of first love by exploring what makes certain moments and certain people in life unforgettable. The coming-of-age magic is present in director Bang Woo Ri’s debut feature, which at first seems a little cliched, but quickly becomes a compelling watch. Despite its candy-flossed cinematography, there is a lot of heart poured into carving out the protagonist’s journey, which elevates the cliched romance to a poignant one. The film is a good reminder to be honest with the people we love because life is short; it’s a bittersweet realisation that while some people were never meant to stay forever in our lives, they do still leave beautiful memories with us.

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This review is published as part of *SCAPE’s Film Critics Lab: A Writing Mentorship Programme organised by The Filmic Eye, with support from the Singapore Film Society and Sinema.

About the Author: Hazel is a lover of cinema, music and culture. She is particularly fond of Asian narratives that go untold and the slow burn in films, much like the Kacey Musgraves song.

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About the Movie:
Directed by: Bang Woo-ri
Cast: Kim Yoo Jung, Byeon Woo Seok, Park Jung Woo, Roh Yoon Seo

Year: 2022
Duration: 1h 19mins
Language: Korean

Synopsis:
In 1999, a teen girl keeps close tabs on a boy in school on behalf of her deeply smitten best friend, then she gets swept up in a love story of her own.

20th Century Girl is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.

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