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“Alam mo ba (you know), I could not sleep last night thinking what could have happened, and wishing in my dreams na sila pa rin (that they would have stayed together),” reads the message from a pediatrician friend, in her 60s, the morning after the final episode of Twenty-Five Twenty-One ran, showing young lovers Na Hee Do and Baek Yi Jin—they in whose relationship countless viewers were immersed—saying goodbye to each other.
“Am in a bipolar state of mind, mourning the Yi Jin-Hee Do non-union, and swooning over the BinJin (Hyun Bin and Son Ye Jin) wedding. These Korean writers do know how to play with our emotions, ” she adds.
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In fact, that’s even putting it mildly. If Crash Landing on You (CLOY) caused separation anxiety among many, Twenty-Five Twenty-One didn’t just tinker with the viewers’ emotions, on the way to the apex of ratings (Ep 16 finale April 3, 11.5 percent nationwide, 12.6 percent in Seoul), but also, the viewers worldwide worked themselves into a frenzy of anticipation and excitement over whether the teen lovers Yi Jin (played by Nam Joo Hyuk) and Hee Do (played by Kim Tae Ri) would end up marrying each other in the final episode, and if Yi Jin is the father of Min Chae, the tween whose flashback is used as the narrative of the 16-episode series.
Now, weeks after the series’ finale, K-netizens are rooting for Season 2, even if the male lead Nam Joo Hyuk is reported to considering doing another drama series (Vigilante). K-netizens say that the series deserves a Season 2, as shown in these comments on TheDiarist.ph Facebook.
can you believe it? 8 weeks of headache thinking why the hell minchae is “kim” is finally coming to an end…#TwentyFiveTwentyOneEp16
— 제로 (@imzeroclock) April 3, 2022
the way it started with “who tf is minchae’s father”
and they ended it literally leaving just like that 🙂#TwentyFiveTwentyOneEp16 pic.twitter.com/vtRmUpRiev
— meimei🍿| re 🐦 bot era | (@rroksii_jeon) April 3, 2022
did we just spent 8 weeks thinking and making theories about baekdos’ endgame and minchae’s real father for it to end like this???#TwentyFiveTwentyOneEp16 pic.twitter.com/PFNoDnjhzW
— ya (@teuwiceu) April 3, 2022
In the run-up to Ep 16, Twitter and Facebook heated up, with K-netizens rooting for a happy ending—or even penning the ending they want. This is audience engagement at its peak. Even BTS Jungkook, when he went on VLive, refused to have a sad ending and said, let’s tell the director. Hashtags such as #happyending, #TwentyFiveTwentyOneEp16, even #minchae trended on Twitter. We realize that in our digital era, audiences and readers and social media users are not just fence-sitters; they shout out their opinions and feelings and believe themselves to be the “influencers” who can dictate outcomes. They are already used to being heard and wield their power to drive up ratings.
In our digital era, audiences and readers and social media users are not just fence-sitters; they believe themselves to be the ‘influencers’
YouTube teemed with “theorists” on 1) would the couple really end up with each other, based on clues thrown in by the writer in earlier episodes; 2) who is the father of Minchae? Why doesn’t she recognize Yi Jin in the old photos if he’s really her dad? One “school of thought” says that’s precisely why the producers tap different actress to play the adult Hee Do, to indicate that the fencing champion really has taken a different path to adulthood, away from her first love; and 3) more clues on why they believe the ending would be happy.
In truth or in fact, the series’ writer obviously heeded none of the YouTube theorists. None of the “theories” we watched on YouTube panned out. In the last episodes, the two young lovers have acrimonious arguments, self-mortifying reflections to come to the conclusion that they can’t be together: he is now a broadcast journalist committed to changing a post-9/11 world, she is Korea’s well-loved fencing gold medalist—yet now at their peak they feel they fall short of supporting each other, or worse, of needing each other. Today, when he’s 25 and she’s 21, he’s no longer confident about what he felt years ago, when he told her, as they watched the rainbow, “You bring me to a good place,” and when she asked what their relationship was, was it a rainbow, he replied to her shyly yet firmly, “Love.”
I would rather accept that they did broke up than to wonder forever. Don’t give us an open ending please😭#TwentyFiveTwentyOneEp15 #TwentyFiveTwentyOneEp16 #TwentyFiveTwentyOne pic.twitter.com/2FG9axJLzX
— Amberle (@amberlexxx) April 2, 2022
Imagine the kilig viewers felt week after week, for eight weeks—they became emotionally invested in the relationship of the pair, intensely for many, only to be left with more questions, not catharsis, in the final episode. For some, no closure. For others who accept the ending, that’s as good as it comes. A viewer’s message to TheDiarist.ph: “It was a happy kind of sad. It wasn’t open-ended. There was closure.”
It may not have been a fairy-tale swoon of an ending. Yet the series rolled out a coming-of-age love story that was realistic yet so human, profound and nuanced—and superbly acted (Kim Tae Ri is a 31-year-old playing an 18-year-old student).
‘This drama awakened in my soul the joy and the pain of young love. And it’s hard at my age to let this go’
They better make it a happy ending or else…
— cip님🌷 (@kdrama_baragi) April 2, 2022
They celebrated new year alone and not with each other anymore )): and this new year also marks how their twenty-five and twenty-one already ended. #TwentyFiveTwentyOneEp15 pic.twitter.com/m7aiJpsEhy
— Eun²⁵²¹ (@eun__xx__) April 2, 2022
I refuse to believe that they’re not meant for each other. #TwentyFiveTwentyOneEp15 #TwentyFiveTwentyOne pic.twitter.com/L4ZPZeks0v
— Cassidy Bartley (@bartleycassidy) April 1, 2022
Another viewer messaged TheDiarist.ph: “My heart is still on it—analyzing and thinking back, how familiar those feelings are even now, how difficult it can be when one is young—tough decisions. Yet how resilient the young can also be, when they have convictions and dreams, and when they choose to hang on to them. This drama awakened in my soul the joy and the pain of young love. And it’s hard at my age to let this go, to actually have a clear look back on my life and feel—all is well. God is good.”
However, there are viewers who obviously haven’t moved on and are convinced that the writer merely left the door open for a Season 2—based on what they construed were teasers, such as Yi Jin remembering his old password, his first love’s name in Barro (not coincidentally the search engine in the drama Search: WWW written by the same writer); a glimpse of the red car the adult Hee Do ran to after finding her old diary—could it be the red sports car Yi Jin drove?
Others feel that’s it—the end, of the love couple and of the series.
That the writer loves to tease the viewers or play with their emotions is an understatement. The series’ writer and producer/director merely did what masters of the digital era are adept at—baiting and lassoing in the viewers, keeping them immersed and engaged, and making them feel as if they had the power to map out the story.
This is what the creators of K-drama have achieved, more than their western counterparts perhaps—they maximize social media and the digital platform to engage their audience fully, raising their involvement to a higher level, to make them believe they have the power to dictate the outcome of the drama series through ratings and by trending in social media. Content creation has never been as participatory as it is now, and the Koreans are apparently experts in this.
Such power to engage, however, didn’t happen overnight. A 2011 drama starring Lee Min Ho, City Hunter, had an ending which many viewers found so vague (did he die or not?) that they filled online with comments and speculations, prompting the producer to issue an “official statement” clarifying the ending. Only in K-drama.
Today, Twenty-Five Twenty-One took it several notches higher by drawing out “theorists” on YouTube. The engagement and discussion continue. The series’ writer must be enjoying the fact that viewers are taking over the story, appropriating it as their own. In the digital age, everyone could be empowered “to write” his or her own version of the story. Everyone is free to daydream. Fiction becomes a medium of self-expression.
How would you have ended Twenty-Five Twenty-One?
what’s on my mind every day just about korean drama is Twenty Five Twenty One. #TwentyFiveTwentyOne #TwentyFiveTwentyOneEp15 #TwentyFiveTwentyOneep16 pic.twitter.com/ThcqwOxXUo
— Nonton Drakor (@Nonton_Kdrama) March 31, 2022