Twenty-Five, Twenty-One is a Profound K-Drama about Navigating Life Through a Crisis

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It takes a perceptive or experienced mind to be able to understand the meaning and commentary behind Twenty-Five, Twenty-One. The recently-concluded k-drama is not a shallow teenage romantic comedy. Director Jung Ji-Hyun dives deep into the waters of the harsh reality of life.

The five main characters of Twenty-Five, Twenty-One each have their struggles in life. While some may have more significant challenges than the rest, one cannot take for granted each character’s story.

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One: Characters Cruising Life Through Crisis

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One gives us a lesson about navigating life, especially when there are not enough opportunities around and our surroundings are difficult to pass through. In the drama, the first struggle was South Korea’s IMF crisis in 1998. We see an 18-year-old high school student Na Hee-Do (played by Kim Tae-Ri), frustrated after her high school stopped its fencing activities. On the other hand, a college dropout, Baek Yi-jin (portrayed by Nam Joo-Hyuk), struggles to find a full-time job after his wealthy family becomes bankrupt, again due to the IMF crisis.

One of the top fencers in South Korea, high school student Ko Yu-Rim (played by Bona), seem to have it all, but again, due to South Korea’s IMF crisis, the government cannot support their athletes very well. On top of that, Yu-rim’s main sponsor is Yi-Jin’s family (who are also struggling during the 1998 crisis).

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Cast L-R: Lee Joo-Myoung, Kim Tae-Ri, Nam Joo-Hyuk, Choi Hyun-Wook, and Bona

Among these three, Hee-Do is the luckiest since it seems like she isn’t the most affected by the IMF crisis. Her fighting spirit soon makes her practice to be able to join one of the few fencing teams in Seoul.

Hee-Do and Yi-Jin met up at their worst times and became instruments for each other’s betterment. But it wasn’t easy for Yi-Jin.

In the middle of the drama, rival fencers (they hated each other) Hee-Do and Yu-Rim got bogged down in a scandal. Again, reality bites.

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Despite everything, the three characters have navigated life and fought for themselves, with love and friendship as inspiration. It turns out that Yu-Rim and Hee-Do are anonymous chatmates who share their most intimate details. After figuring out about each other, they become best friends, more than being rivals.

In addition to the three main characters is childhood best friends Moon Ji-Woong (Choi Hyun-Wook) and Ji Seung-Wan (Lee Joo-Myoung), who entertain us with their uttermost support for our three leads. However, it’s also good that director Jung Ju-Hyun injected within these characters some commentary scenes about South Korea’s societal problems.

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Original Soundtrack
Get Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Official Soundtrack Album Here: LINK

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One: The Polarity of the Five Characters

The central conundrum of the drama is, again, navigating life during hard times, and it is highly relatable to what the world is currently facing. The five main characters in the k-drama represent different things and ideals.

The Idealists: Hee-Do, Ji-Woong, and Seung-Wan

Throughout the drama, Hee-Do, Ji-Woong, and Seung-wan were the least affected by the harsher realities of life. Hence, they had the unlimited fighting spirit to do the best they could and get the life and reality they desired.

Ji Seung-Wan

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One discussed several societal issues, one of which is Corporal Punishment. In South Korea, corporal punishment against children was legal until 2021. Parents and even teachers were allowed to hurt their misbehaving children and students through spanking and other violent means. Most municipalities in the country have banned corporal punishment since 2008, but in 2010, when I participated in teaching Korean high school students, teachers still spanked the students with sticks when the students were not on their best behavior.

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Seung-Wan
Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Seung-Wan

In Twenty-Five, Twenty-One, top student Seung-Wan did not compromise her stand against corporal punishment despite having to be dropped out of high school once she insisted. She did not swallow her pride and remained adamant about her decision to speak against a teacher who was being violent toward his students.

Seung-wan’s decision was not because she was bored and privileged but because she wanted to prove that the fight against corporal punishment was worth her last year in high school (even when she was at the top of her class). Her mother would even remind her again if she were very willing to let go of everything for her stand, and she was. Hence, her mother allowed her to drop out if it meant that she’d stand a chance to foster change in the current school system.

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Moon Ji-Woong

Ji-Woong, the popular and talented high school boy, has decided for himself that Yu-Rim is the woman he wants to spend his life with, no matter what. Towards the end of the drama, Yu-Rim was once again put to the test and had to do something difficult in order to save her family.

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Yoo-Rim and Ji-Woong
Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Yoo-Rim and Ji-Woong

Yu-Rim’s family was her priority, so she tried breaking up with Ji-Woong. To her shock, Ji-Woong would not give her up and promised to do everything for them to work out their relationship. True to his words, Ji-Woong worked hard to be able to see Yu-Rim every now and then because of their long-distance relationship. The two lovers ended up together because Ji-Woong fought and worked hard for the love of his life. His idealistic stance was not without obstacles, but he was able to combat the difficulties and succeed in the end.

Na Hee-Do

As I’ve said, Hee-Do is one of the most privileged characters in the series. She was rich (her mother was one of the most highly-successful news anchors in the country), and she had everything she needed. Even though she had some mother issues, she did not stop working towards her dream of becoming the best fencer in South Korea. 

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Hee-Do
Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Hee-Do

After Hee-Do’s father died, she didn’t yearn to do better in fencing and was left to be in the middle or lower-skilled players. Hence, instead of becoming a catastrophe, the IMF crisis became an opportunity for Hee-Do’s growth as an athlete.

Hee-Do, apart from Ji-Woong, is one of the most optimistic characters in the Twenty-Five, Twenty-One. She was also generous, kind, strong, and supportive. She was always there for her friends. Even if there were bad times, she didn’t let these times bog her down. Hence, if we think about it, that may be the reason why she was the most blessed person in the series.

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The Realists: Yu-Rim and Yi-Jin

We now move on to the two characters who have navigated life the hardest. The times and situations weren’t very nice to them.

Ko Yu-Rim

Of all the characters in Twenty-Five, Twenty-One, Yu-rim was the one who compromised a lot, especially towards the end of the drama.

Although she is a top athlete, Yu-rim was not born with a silver spoon in her mouth. Because of her skills and talent, however, she was able to put herself and her family in a better position. However, because of the IMF crisis, she lost her sponsor (Yi-Jin’s family, who became bankrupt). The Korean government was also at a loss, and national athletes weren’t given top priority.

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Yu-Rim
Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Yu-Rim

While being on the national team and competing with flying colors, Yu-rim’s family was still struggling. Towards the middle-end of the drama, her mother had to close down her business due to being included in an investment scam.

During the final parts of Twenty-Five, Twenty-One, Yu-Rim faced what seemed to be the greatest hurdle of her life. Her father had an accident and was responsible for the victim who was hurt the most. By this time, Yu-Rim was already a strong woman. Because of everything she has been through, it was natural for Yu-Rim to sacrifice everything for her family.

Every top athlete in every country gets excellent offers to play for other national teams. Because of her family’s debts, Yu-Rim decided to take Russia’s offer to be on their team and renounce her Korean citizenship.

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Ji-Woong and Yu-Rim Kissing Scene
Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Ji-Woong and Yu-Rim Kissing Scene

South Koreans are highly patriotic, and one could not imagine someone like Yu-Rim doing what she did, especially since she was Korea’s fencing darling. However, Yu-Rim was mature and strong enough to deal with all the hate she got.

At the end of Twenty-Five, Twenty-One, however, Yu-Rim got her happy ending. She was able to return to Korea and put up a profitable fencing club, apart from being engaged and married to her loyal beau Ji-Woong.

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Baek Yi-Jin

From being a wealthy CEO’s son to having to drop out of college and work for the sake of his family and face some people to whom his father is indebted, Yi Jin had to swallow what was left of his pride many times in the series.

Ideally, Yi-Jin’s dream was to become an astronaut, and his college course had something to do with him being able to pursue that dream. However, after his family’s bankruptcy, he had to make do with his other talents and experiences. He was a member of the broadcasting club in high school, so he opted to become a reporter instead.

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Yi-Jin
Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Yi-Jin

During the first part of the series, Yi-Jin couldn’t get better jobs, and the people to whom his father is indebted have been assaulting him and his little brother, so he instantly decided to run away and sell fish in a rural area in South Korea instead.

Because of Hee-Do’s support and his own determination, Yi-Jin came back to Seoul to try out for a better job and not give up, despite not being a college graduate. In the end, he was successful in being a reporter and eventually a news anchor.

Hee-Do and Yi-Jin’s Relationship

Hee-Do and Yi-Jin met at the most bizarre of times. One could wonder how the two of them could get together and be close despite being in entirely different situations. However, they complemented each other. The two have always been for each other in support, in bad and good times.

It was apparent that they would eventually become lovers, but to be honest, Hee-Do did not strike me as Yi-Jin’s type, especially since she was very childlike, but I guess it was this characteristic that made him adore her, as he forgot about his harsh reality every time he was with her. It was also a big bonus that both lovers swore to share in each other’s sadness and happiness.

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Yi-Jin and Hee-Do
Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Yi-Jin and Hee-Do

However, in the last part of the drama, reality bruised what would become the star-crossed lovers of Twenty-Five, Twenty-One. Hee-Do had mother issues in the k-drama. Because of the nature of her career, Hee-Do’s mom has always taken her family for granted (to the point of not attending her husband’s funeral). Even though Hee-Do eventually understood and forgave her mother, she wasn’t open arms to cater to that kind of relationship again.

When Hee-Do and Yi-Jin finally decided to become romantically involved with one another, sparks flew wonderfully. However, Yi-Jin’s career was also flourishing. He had sacrificed being in the sports news to transfer to local news so that he wouldn’t have to deliver news that could hurt Hee-Do (as he did when it came to Yu-Rim), but the shift came with a higher price.

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Yi-Jin had become busier and busier with work, even to the point of being sent to New York to cover the 9/11 attacks. Because of the dreadful events that occurred there, Yi-Jin had a lot of internal issues that have got to do with his duty as a reporter and as a human being, and he forgot about his relationship with Hee-Do.

Hee-Do and Yi-Jin’s correspondence became more infrequent that it reminded Hee-Do of all her mother’s shortcomings and the sorrow she had to go through because of it.

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Yi-Jin and Hee-Do
Twenty-Five, Twenty-One Yi-Jin and Hee-Do

During this part of the story, Hee-Do was the one being realistic and practical, even to the point of pessimism. On the other hand, Yi-Jin simply wasn’t making sense. He wanted to keep the long-distance relationship with Hee-Do, even though he himself did not inform Hee-Do that he applied as a long-term correspondent in New York. Apart from that, he was taking Hee-Do for granted and would keep to himself, despite their promise to share and wallow in each other’s suffering.

Even though Yi-Jin wanted to save the relationship, they both knew that it wasn’t the right timing for it. Unlike Ji-Woong’s fighting spirit for his love for Yu-Rim, and Yu-Rim’s reciprocation despite the distance, Yi-Jin and Hee-Do’s relationship was not working as it used to. Factor in Hee-Do’s issues with her mother and Yi-Jin’s tendency to keep to himself, and you conclude that it’s a relationship that’s not going to work out.

In that regard, both Hee-Do and Yi-Jin have been bitten by reality and embraced pragmatism and understanding that they cannot be together anymore, even if there is still love left. Audiences are left to debate whether or not they should’ve fought for the relationship, which is an excellent specific headwork for the drama, especially since the other lovers in the series, Yu-Rim and Ji-Woong’s relationship worked out.

BIGBANG's 'Still Life'

Final Realizations of Twenty-Five, Twenty-One

Twenty-Five, Twenty-One speaks about the hardships of living in times of crisis. In this tumultuous world of ours, there are several events wherein we are torn between choosing to fight for change or just being pragmatic or realistic and letting things be. As we grow older and experience life more, we will be continually stuck with that conundrum.

Despite being a drama that shows the polarity between fighting and giving up, the drama has also shown us that perception is everything. For example, in the case of Hee-Do, the IMF crisis was an eye-opener. Yes, straightforwardly, the crisis is bad news, but it takes a better mindset to be able to see the good in the bad.

One of the best moments of Yi-Jin and Hee-Do in Twenty-Five, Twenty-One
One of the best moments of Yi-Jin and Hee-Do in Twenty-Five, Twenty-One

At the end part of Twenty-Five, Twenty-One, Hee-Do, and Yi-Jin met up because it was only 12 or 13 years after when Hee-Do found her second diary and Yi-Jin’s last letter for her. From what I see, this scene reveals that reality, and even fate, has played with the two star-crossed lovers. Years after, it would just be something that they accepted and even laughed about, and that’s what truly life is about.

If we dwell on it deeper, Twenty-Five, Twenty-One can show us more facets that would keep us thinking and reasoning. I can’t wait for more realizations once I rewatch the drama.

Watch Twenty-Five, Twenty-One on Netflix.


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