“20th Century Girl” is the story of Na Bo Ra as she falls in love with a boy, Poong Woon Ho. It is the story of first love, the trials and tribulations that come with it as it clashes with friendship and, ultimately, about being honest with yourself. Our teenage years bring a host of new emotions. After all, that is when we are starting to become adults. There is either an inflated sense of responsibility or utter recklessness. Even when we do think of others, we may not always understand them. Imagine falling in love at a time like this. It’s confusing and exhilarating. That is an age when we don’t really know why we love someone, if we ever do. It goes something like this: you like me, so I like you. But once in a while, something happens. You stare into the eyes of a person who you would probably never think of a second time and feel butterflies in your stomach. That is what happened with Bo Ra. All she was doing was helping out a friend, but she found something for herself.
Let us start with the basics. The cinematography is excellent. The details of the world of 1999 seemed pretty much on point. And you can always count on Korean movies to deliver the best fashion looks, no matter the era the film or series is set in. The dialogue, especially the one that expresses the difference between interest and liking, conveys all the painful awkwardness of letting your crush know that you are not interested in the guy he is discreetly questioning you about. There is something about young lovers trying to talk to each other through pagers, emails, and the early versions of cell phones. There was a time when love required effort. Maybe that made it more genuine. Because when communication needs you to struggle at a payphone, you know it better be worth it. There was also something very genuine about the friendship between Yeon Doo and Bo Ra. The former had spent a lot of her life being weaker than others due to her heart condition. Of course, as her best friend, Bo Ra constantly took care of her. However, somewhere along the line, she had become more of a caretaker than a friend, as can happen with most people in that situation. It wouldn’t have been selfish of Bo Ra to follow her heart, but love and friendship are a part of each other, and you make compromises for that. It was a necessary moment when Yeon Doo confronted her about it, bringing to light the fact that caregiving should not overshadow friendship.
We do have a complaint, however. Setting “20th Century Girl” in 1999 brought in some nostalgic vibes for us, but did we need the characters to be the same as what we had been watching since 1999? Na Bo Ra is an innocent girl who is selfless and thinks of others before herself. Poong Woon Ho is a mysterious guy who is tall and hopelessly in love with her. What’s new about these characters? We understand that Bollywood and Hollywood might not break out of the tropes they have set for their female characters for a few more decades to come. But Korean cinema is known for being path-breaking and coming up with concepts never thought of before. Yet, when it comes to love stories, it is as if the entire genre exists only for these two characters. Did Bo Ra really have to be holier than thou? And we would like to know which teenage boy is as smooth as Woon Ho. The editors also did him dirty with the filters in quite a few places.
The thing is, “20th Century Girl” is the story of Bo Ra, so she is the main focus. But Woon Ho wasn’t given much of a personality other than being her love interest. As a saving grace, he was given a complicated past to add some depth to him, but otherwise, he was just attractive because he was supposed to be. Hyun Jin felt a lot more impressive, especially in the bits where he was riding his bike the way he was. That is what teenage girls fall for. For a minute, imagine if Woon Ho and Bo Ra had interacted more. If only their love story had been as fun as it was sweet, we would have remembered it the same way Bo Ra does for years to come. Instead, it was just some pleasant, stress-relieving weekday viewing.
There is no real criticism we have for “20th Century Girl” because it did not break new ground to speak of. Everything about it has been done before, even the setting. Not to say it wasn’t nice, but that’s all it was. The actors were stunning, and those minute expressions of Byeon Woo Seok, who plays Woon Ho, elevated the scenes and became the reason we felt so drawn to him despite his cliched character. Also, we are fans of Na Bo Ra’s hair. Its perfection is believable and aspirational. Would we recommend that you watch the movie? Sure, why not? As we said, it is good enough and sufficiently sweet and fun. This would be ideal for those people who want to explore more content but keep rewatching older stuff because they don’t want to mentally invest in anything new. “20th Century Girl” is the kind of movie that would go well with some pizza and wine, so add it to your watchlist and make that plan.