Observant users noted that Netflix had altered the description of Twenty-Five Twenty-One from “romantic comedy” to “melodrama” shortly after it premiered. It should have been put in the “suspense” category. While delivering a delightful coming-of-age narrative about five friends over the course of 16 episodes, writer Kwon Do-eun kept viewers on the edge of their seats by posing questions like a master mystery writer. How did that photograph get up in the room of one of the characters? When she heard her ex-name, boyfriends why did she feel disturbed? Was it a gurgle from a baby in the background? Is it common for moms and daughters to schedule colonoscopies at the same time?
Kim Min-chae (Choi Myung-bin) is the daughter of Na Hee-do, a former fencing champion. In the current day, we witness an elderly Hee-do (Kim So-hyun) practising carpentry as Min-chae uncovers her mother’s journals from the ages of 18 to 21. Min-chae learns how Hee-do became one of Korea’s fencing stars through the journals, while the viewer travels back in time to 1998. We watch the development of a competition between young Hee-do (Kim Tae-ri) and another great fencer, Ko Yu-rim (Bona). Along the way, Hee-do befriends the class topper, Seung-wan (Lee Joo-myung), and Ji-woong (Choi Hyun-wook), the school heartthrob who has a thing on Yu-rim.
The youthful Hee-do, brought to life by Kim Tae-ri, is the star of Twenty-Five Twenty-One. Tae-ri, at equal parts hilarious, adorable, and tragic, masterfully conveys the anxious energy and emotional turmoil of adolescence.
Twenty-Five Twenty-One is near-perfect for 14.5 episodes, since it balances numerous narratives and generates suspense for what the future holds. Kwon is at the top of her writing game, especially when it comes to Hee-do and Yu-love. rim’s The formal lead couple is Hee-do and Yi-jin, who becomes a journalist, but the true love story is between the two fencers. Through them, Kwon twists the enemies-to-lovers cliche to convey a relationship that seems more meaningful than traditional romance.
Twenty-Five Twenty-One has enough talent, notably from Kim Tae-ri, to make it worth seeing, but the lack of depth and authenticity in the later chapters is disconcerting. A program that claims to be both a tutorial in writing and an instruction in how not to write a scene is rare. Twenty-five twenty-one can lay claim to that dubious distinction.
Twenty-Five Twenty-One is streaming on Netflix.