20th Century Girl
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Set right before the 21st century in South Korea, Na Bo-ra and Yeon-du are high school best friends. As Yeon-du gets ready to leave for America for heart surgery, she falls head over heels for a student at her high school, and begs Bo-ra to learn everything she can about him. In the process, Bo-ra ends up getting to know his best friend. Romantic entanglements ensue in this endearing and sometimes heart-wrenching coming of age story that will make you nostalgic for pagers, video stores, and first crushes.
Also known as the “Nation’s Little Sister,” lead Kim Yoo-jung plays Na Bo-ra. She’s starred in a number of Korean movies and TV shows since childhood. You might recognize her from Moon Embracing the Sun, Lovers of the Red Sky, and Love in the Moonlight. You may also recognize Byeon Woo-seok from Moonshine.
Is 20th Century Girl a total cheesefest? Yes, but it’s an adorable and heartbreaking cheesefest. While it does follow traditional rom-com beats, there is enough to immerse and compel fans of teen romance and K-dramas, even those well past the age of the characters.
Much of the charm comes from Kim Yoo-jung, who plays Bo-ra as an awkward, relatable high school student. She calls and then hangs up on her friend’s crush when he realizes it’s her. She gets drunk and makes a fool of herself. But she’s a deeply loyal friend who kicks ass (literally – she’s a black belt in Tae Kwon Do), and she’s a heroine worth rooting for. The scenes where she shares ice cream with her newfound love interest are guaranteed to make you awww.
While 20th Century Girl explores Bo-ra’s first crush, the real love story is between Bo-ra and Yeon-du. These two truly care for and support one another. Unlike other YA romcoms, where girls are pitted against each other or break up their friendship because of a guy, Bo-ra and Yeon du communicate their feelings and recognize that no man can come between them. It’s a poignant meditation on female friendship, which can be hard to find in movies focused on high schoolers.
And then there’s the nostalgia. The film is truly a love letter to the 90s. Bo-ra’s parents, who delightfully fuss at one another and their children, own a video store. Watching Bo-ra stack shelves will remind you of the days where we wandered around Blockbuster and desperately wanted to sneak away with an R-rated movie. The characters wear sweater vests, backward baseball caps, and overalls (most of which are coming back into fashion, ironically), and the girls use dial-up internet as they discover the magic of email for the first time. This is the right way to capitalize on how fly the 90s were.
Oftentimes, high schoolers are portrayed as acting like adults. How many of us really went to ragers that lasted all night or were solving murders? None of this is present in 20th Century Girl, which also makes the film more grounded. These are your everyday kids: they tease each other, work minimum wage jobs, and go to theme parks. You’ll reminisce about your high school crush and how gawky you were. And that’s what makes your first love so special.
A sweet and sentimental 90s-set rom-com, 20th Century Girl is an endearing YA K-drama that reminds us of how important coming-of-age friendships can be.
20th Century Girl could work as a date movie, but this one is best watched with female friends, especially the ones from childhood. You’ll laugh looking back on your own teen years.
There’s a sad twist that the light tone might not prepare you for.