Edited by Young Jun Yang
Translated Yu Jin Kim
First love. Just thinking about the word makes us feel like looking into faded photos from our past. We’re talking about the pictures that capture our young, heart-fluttering, touching memories of our old days. Netflix’s 20th Century Girl is a movie that brings us back to our good old days with a nostalgic memory of our first love.
Set in 1999, a 17-year-old girl named Na Bo Ra (played by Kim Yoo Jung) makes a promise to her best friend Kim Yeon Doo (Roh Yoon Seo), who soon has to get heart surgery. She promises to keep close tabs on a boy named Baek Hyun Jin (Park Jung Woo) in school on behalf of her deeply smitten best friend while she stays abroad for her surgery. To keep an eye on her best friend’s crush, Bo Ra decides to be friends with his closest friend Poong Woon Ho (Byeon Woo Seok). However, things take an unexpected turn as Bo Ra realizes she gets the ‘crazy flutters’ from seeing Woon Ho. Maybe this is a sign that Bo Ra has found her first love.
The movie’s plot alone is fundamentally not much different from other existing youthful romance dramas. 20th Century Girl is filled with familiar tropes of friends becoming lovers, a protagonist torn between love and friendship, and the painful struggle rooted in a twisted love triangle. On top of that, vintage retro props that bring a nostalgic feel to the film, such as a pager, public phone booth, videotapes and camcorders, are the ones that we have already seen in other projects alike.
Then, what makes us love the film so much? Ironically, the flavor you know is what will destroy you the most. The word “first love” itself gives a heartwarming feeling for all of us. Despite how overused the plot may be, we find ourselves laughing and crying along with the characters before we know it as we recall memories of our first loves.
The same goes for the ‘retro vibe’ in the film. The pagers, the phone booths and the corded telephones each household had all give us a throwback to the past and make us reminisce about the youthful days when we waited to hear from our crush, family and friends. Such props bring back good old memories to the people who lived through the time and give new flutters to those who weren’t there at the time. Making us recollect memories and dreams we kept to ourselves is one reason why viewers are crazy about 20th Century Girl.
Plus, the casting of Kim Yoo Jung, Byeon Woo Seok, Park Jung Min, and Roh Yoon Seo is perfect for a youthful romance film. The sweet chemistry the four showcase, while they explore friendship and love, heightens the heart-fluttering tension throughout the movie. The sentiment of Internet novels from the 90s sometimes distracts us from focusing on the film, but the actors’ excellent performances offset it.
Although all actors did a wonderful job, Kim Yoo Jung was the one who left the strongest impression. She convinces us to think that “Kim Yoo Jung makes everything work” and leads the story with her brilliant portrayal of Na Bo Ra and makes viewers sympathize with her character.
Thanks to Kim Yoo Jung, the movie thoroughly unraveled Bo Ra’s narrative but didn’t spare much in terms of details and characters’ emotions for Woon Ho, Yeon Doo, and Hyun Jin. It’s a shame that the movie didn’t shed more light on other characters, as they also exude irresistible charms. It almost seems like it would have been better if it was made into a drama instead of a movie.
20th Century Girl is a great movie to rewatch once in a while. Who cares if it is a cliched romance movie that solely depends on the nostalgic feel it gives off? We all know that nothing could be more fun than sharing memories. Fortunately, director Bang Woo Ri revealed that she has plans to produce its spin-off, and it should definitely get one for all the waiting viewers. (8/10)
Editor Yang Young Jun: There is at least one good part in every movie or TV series. A media geek who isn’t picky with genres.