Twenty-five Twenty-one: The ending that broke our hearts

Now how to move on from the gaping holes of this top-rating story

Nam Joo Hyuk and Kim Tae Ri act out the characters in one of the most buzz-worthy love stories this year.

For seven weeks, the writer of Twenty-five Twenty-one took viewers on an exhilarating ride only to send them crashing down on the last week of the 16-episode drama.

The drama chronicled the lives of five young people coming of age during the IMF crisis that hit South Korea in 1998 and followed the trajectory of their lives until 2021.

Central to the drama are Na Hee Do, who beats all odds to become an international fencer reaping gold medals for Korea, and Baek Yi Jin, who builds a career as a reporter, international correspondent, and later news anchor.

In telling the story of Baek Yi Jin, Na Hee Do, Ko Yu Rim, Ji Seung Wan, and Moon Ji Woong, the writer devoted much of the narrative to the lives of the five before the stark realities of life caught up with them.

Twenty-five, Twenty-one is basically a story of how friendships develop—from that between two lonely young people finding solace in each other and falling in love (Hee Do and Yi Jin) to that between arch rivals Hee Do and Yu Rim. It also shows how first love does not always survive the test of time and circumstances.

But the letdown for viewers who followed the drama actually stemmed from the imbalance in the way the writer developed the heart of the drama. Viewers were held in thrall following 14 episodes of Twenty-five, Twenty-one showing frame after frame of beautiful scenes of Hee Do and Yi Jin developing strong bonds and being each other’s main support system and falling in love through the most difficult time in their young lives.
There were also enough details to show how Yi Jin made his mark as a reporter—his empathy with people and his sensitivity towards his friends as shown by how he felt after he broke the story of Yu Rim’s decision to change her nationality and play for Russia.

The character of Hee Do was persistent, bravely facing life head-on and seemingly having mastered the art of learning to change tragedy into comedy.

When they first met in 1998, Ko Yu Rim, Ji Seung Wan, and Moon Ji Woong were junior students at Tae Yang High School. Na Hee Do transferred to the school after the fencing program in her old school was cancelled after the budget cut for non-performing sports. It is also the turf of Ko Yu Rim, Olympic gold medalist, star of the sport and Hee Do’s idol.

Yi Jin, an alumnus of Tae Yang High School, is older by the time they all meet. In the wake of his family’s bankruptcy, he had dropped out of prestigious Yonsei University where he was a sophomore. His father filed for a sham divorce to spare his family from backlashes. He then rents a small room in the house of Seung Wan. To support himself and pay his father’s creditors little by little and ultimately rebuild his life and reunite his family, he takes on various jobs.

Hee Do’s house is on his newspaper route; he is also part-timer in a book and magazine lending store where she is a regular customer keeping an eye for the latest issue of Fullhouse. He is 22, she is 18.

From the Knetizens on Twitter

Hee Do’s father, who encouraged her love for fencing died early and by the time she is in her teens, she has no one in her corner. She has a very strained relationship with her very distant mother, a popular news anchor. As Hee Do doggedly pursues her dream to be in the fencing team, Yi Jin goes from one job interview to another, failing them all for being over qualified. He goes through moments of near despair.

Three years later, Yi Jin is now a young reporter covering sports, specifically fencing, as Hee Do comes head to head with her erstwhile idol now rival Yu Rim. Yi Jin, to avoid a conflict of interest, asks to be transferred. He is moved to national news. As Hee Do makes it to the national team, Yi Jin also gets busier and they are able to spend less time together. To celebrate their 600th day of being together, the two agree to take a trip to mark their anniversary. This doesn’t happen because on the eve of their departure, 9/11 happens and Yi Jin is sent to New York post haste to cover the event. Thus the relationship, which started as a refuge and a solid support for two young lonely souls, seems to be headed to its deadend.

Given how so involved they are in each other’s lives, this is so out of character

It is at this point that the narrative fails. The writer uses the pattern in the relationship between Hee Do and her emotionally distant mother, the news anchor, as template for Yi Jin’s behavior in shutting out Hee Do from the emotional turmoil he suffers as he covers the devastation of 9/11 in New York.

Emotional abandonment is an issue that Hee Do has not resolved, but then her mother the news anchor is different from Yi Jin. There are no details whatsoever to indicate the character development of Yi Jin the successful reporter. Why he makes the decision to shut out Hee Do and why he does not even tell her that he is applying for the correspondent’s job in New York is a gaping hole in the story. Given how so involved they are in each other’s lives and how they share their most difficult times, this is so out of character.

From hereon, everything in the story is rushed and netizens have commented that 9/11 was a “convenient arc” used to advance the premise that this young love is not meant to last.

Then, there is the identity of Hee Do’s husband. He is mentioned but never shown at all. We also get the impression that Hee Do could be divorced or that she has an absentee husband. That he could have been the one who sent Hee Do’s lost diary to Yi Jin remains a puzzle. How did he get hold of it? Why was he the one who sent it over? We also get no information about what happens to Yi Jin after that heart-tugging farewell. Did he remain single?

The writer gave enough clues early on in the drama that Hee Do and Yi Jin will not end up together, but what is the point of throwing all that red herring and teasing viewers into thinking there could be a twist in the narrative? Or, as netizens now speculate, could a season two for this hugely successful drama be in the works?

About author


After saying goodbye to daily deadlines in 2009, WINNIE DOROTHEO VELASQUEZ worked from home editing manuscripts and writing on subjects close to her heart. She discovered the world of K-Drama in the early 2000s. Today, she cooks, does some gardening, and is training Cookie, da mutt-with-the-mostest.

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