“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 and the trials and tribulations that come with it as it clashes with friendship and ultimately with being honest with yourself. Our adolescence brings its share of new emotions. After all, that’s when we start to grow up. There is either an exaggerated sense of responsibility or complete recklessness. Even when we think of others, we don’t always understand them. Imagine falling in love at a time like this. It’s confusing and exhilarating. It’s an age where we don’t really know why we love someone, if we ever do. It goes something like this: you love me, therefore I love you. But once in a while, something happens. You look into the eyes of someone you would probably never think of a second time and feel butterflies in your stomach. That’s what happened with Bo Ra. All she did was help a friend, but she found something for herself.
Let’s start with the basics. The cinematography is excellent. The 1999 world details seemed about right. And you can always rely on Korean movies to deliver the best fashion looks, no matter what era the movie 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 you’re not interested in the guy he’s quietly asking you about. There’s something about young lovers trying to talk to each other through pagers, email, and early versions of cell phones. There was a time when love required effort. Maybe that made it more authentic. Because when communication requires you to struggle with a payphone, you know it’s worth it. There was also something very genuine about the friendship between Yeon Doo and Bo Ra. The former had spent much of her life being weaker than the 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 this situation. It wouldn’t have been selfish for Bo Ra to follow her heart, but love and friendship are part of each other, and you compromise for that. It was a necessary moment when Yeon Doo confronted her about it, shedding light on the fact that caregiving shouldn’t overshadow friendship.
We have one complaint, however. Filming “20th Century Girl” in 1999 gave us nostalgic vibes, but did we need the characters to be the same ones we’ve 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 man, tall and desperately in love with her. What’s up with these characters? We understand that Bollywood and Hollywood might not break out of the tropes they’ve fixed for their female characters for another few decades. But Korean cinema is known for being innovative and coming up with concepts never thought of before. Yet when it comes to love stories, it’s as if the whole genre only exists for these two characters. Did Bo Ra really have to be holier than you? And we’d love to know which teen is as slick as Woon Ho. The editors also messed him up with the filters in several places.
The thing is, “20th Century Girl” is Bo Ra’s story, so she’s the main focus. But Woon Ho didn’t have much of a personality other than his love interest. As a saving grace, he was given a complicated past to give him depth, but otherwise he was just attractive because he was meant to be. Hyun Jin felt much more impressive, especially in times when he rode his bike like he did. That’s why teenage girls fall for it. For a minute, imagine if Woon Ho and Bo Ra had interacted more. If only their romance had been as fun as it was sweet, we would have remembered them the same way Bo Ra did for years to come. Instead, it was just an enjoyable and relaxing weekday viewing.
There’s no real criticism we have for “20th Century Girl” because it didn’t break new ground, strictly speaking. Everything has been done before, even the decor. Not to say it wasn’t pleasant, but that’s all it was. The actors were stunning, and those careful expressions from Byeon Woo Seok, who plays Woon Ho, elevated the scenes and became the reason we felt so drawn to him despite his cliched persona. Also, we are fans of Na Bo Ra’s hair. Its perfection is believable and ambitious. Do we recommend watching the movie? Sure why not? Like we said, it’s good enough and sweet enough and fun enough. This would be ideal for people who want to explore more content but keep revisiting older stuff because they don’t want to mentally invest in something new. “20th Century Girl” is the kind of movie that would go well with pizza and wine, so put it on your watch list and make that shot.