Why you shouldn’t miss Twenty-five, Twenty-one—& BTS JK loving it

Now topping the ratings, Nam Joo Hyuk and Kim Tae Ri take you on rollercoaster ride

Nam Joo Hyuk and Kim Tae Ri in 'Twenty-five, Twenty-one' official poster

Credit: The Swoon/YouTube

AFTER the spate of very heavy sageuks or historical dramas that had netizens and K-drama fans on the edge of their seats in the quarter just ended, this March, they are shuttling between three slice-of-life dramas that are entirely different from one another but equally enthralling.

For now, we first look into Twenty-five, Twenty-one which, according to Nielsen Korea, has breached the 10 percent mark and is just a hairline away from 11 percent (its 8th episode registering 10.9 percent as of March 6), making it the No. 1 drama to watch on Saturday and Sunday nights.

But what is it about this coming-of-age drama that has viewers staying home on weekend nights to catch its latest episodes?

(Going viral on Twitter is BTS’ JK’s IG post of an episode scene, with laughter overheard, obviously JK chuckling.—Editor) 


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Nam Joo Hyuk for Dior Beauty (From Nam Joo Hyuk IG)

Kim Tae Ri for Elle (From official Kim Tae Ri IG)

Its storyline is not really new. Going back and forth between 1998 (when the IMF financial meltdown cut across all economic sectors in South Korea) and 2021, Twenty-five, Twenty-one follows the lives of Baek Yi-jin (Nam Joo Hyuk) and Na Hee-do (Kim Tae Ri) and their peers in a suburb outside Seoul.

The IMF crisis sees Baek Yi-jin, the son of a chaebol family, being dogged by creditors of his father’s company that had just declared bankruptcy. Tall and handsome BYJ transforms from being the most popular boy in school—member of two important clubs, one being the broadcasting club where he speaks to a fanbase of swooning followers—tooling around in a red sports car, to being a renter of a small room in the poorer part of town.  His close-knit family is forced to go separate ways after his father divorces his mother, a common practice then so the family is spared from severe backlashes.

From an early age, fencing was Na Hee-do’s sport of choice. Her family was of comfortable means. Her main source of strength was her father who encouraged her not only to excel in the expensive sport but also to enjoy it. However, by the time the IMF crisis hits, NHD’s father has died and her emotionally distant mother, a broadcaster, has only disdain for her choice—“Why do you want to pursue fencing, so the world will see how untalented you are?”

Early on, viewers see the emotional rollercoaster ride that is the stuff of NHD’s life and her lonely pursuit of her dream—a gold in fencing. She moves to a less expensive school that has a fencing program, the turf of her idol Go Yoo-rim, Olympic gold medalist, star of the sport and loved by legions of followers. NHD’s unsympathetic mother nevertheless buys her new school uniform but that is all the support she gives her daughter.

The paths of our OTP (original team partners) inevitably cross in the small town. BYJ has taken on various jobs to support himself and to pay his father’s creditors little by little, and ultimately to rebuild his life and reunite his family. NHD’s house is on his newspaper route; he is also part-timer in a book and magazine lending store where NHD is regular customer keeping an eye out for the latest issue of Fullhouse. He is 22, she is 18 when they meet and say each other’s names for the first time.

At first glance our OTP are so different from each other. BYJ is kind, realistic about his current life and not emotionally scarred by his riches-to-rags (how people in the community describe him) status, but he does go through moments of near despair. NHD is feisty, faces life head-on, and has seemingly mastered the art of learning to change tragedy into comedy.

The two develop a friendship that is peppered with banter that softens shared moments of despair. BYJ ribbing NHD about her spelling (It is D-I-S-T-U-R-B not distrub! He tells her with a half-smile). This, after BYJ falls asleep on the gate of his landlord’s house after a long day of job interviews, which he all fails because he is overqualified. She wraps a blanket around him (the night can get chilly, she says) and hangs a sign on his neck that says: Do not DISTRUB failed job interviews. The next day, he disses her for letting the whole town know about his failure while  goodnaturedly ribbing her about her wrong spelling.

The duo graduates into a mutually supportive relationship that hints at what is to come, but does not cross the line into a romantic relationship as yet.   Netizens have commented that it must be the age gap that writer and director were being careful about. She is still in high school, he is a college student shuttling between part-time jobs.

Just as BYJ goes through one failed job interview after another, NHD faces the toughest test of her resolve. She applies with the school’s fencing team and does all she can to win the nod of the fierce fencing coach. She does get on the team but Go Yoo-rim, her erstwhile idol, looks down on her for being a nobody in the sport and tells her “I will show you what fencing is all about.”

Our heroine takes it all, going head-to-head with her idol-turned-nemesis. In the meantime, BYJ, faced with the crisis of his younger brother, is left with no choice but to leave town without saying goodbye to his friends and NHD.

There are precious scenes where viewers get a strong inkling about where the two are headed

There are precious scenes where viewers get a strong inkling about where BYJ and NHD are headed. A warning: spoilers for those who’ve not yet seen Twenty-five, Twenty-one. 

After a difficult day, the two meet and exchange notes about what has happened to them. A pensive BYJ says: “What I like about you, you don’t hide your tears but you put a smile on my face. I like being around you because you give me hope.”  HD replies: “I’ve failed so many times, I’ve learned to change tragedy into comedy so I can go on.” And on one particular outing where she turns a faucet up to make a fountain and he follows by turning the rest of the faucets up, our OTP enjoy that glorious moment frolicking without a care.

But, the most memorable scene happens when driving through the rain (BYJ couldn’t put up the roof of his car because it was broken), NHD says: “When we’re together, let’s secretly be happy for a little bit.”

But as in every K-drama worth its followers’ time, our OTP part ways and both face a series of challenges that not only test their resolve but also bring tears to viewers’ eyes. What happens until they meet again, we can only say, now that the series is at the halfway mark, it is time to savor it and go back to the beginning to assuage the tears.

The success of a K-drama rests on many factors BUT a director’s steady hand is a must.  Jung Ji Hyun has translated the script of Twenty-five, Twenty-one into a series that viewers won’t be able to leave to the very end. We dare say it is a work that will be a classic, that will not be forgotten after a season.


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Scene from ‘Twenty-five, Twenty-one’ (Official IG Nam Joo Hyuk)

Twenty-five, Twenty-one will remain in viewers’ hearts long after episode 16. Rarely do we see a drama where close-ups, background scenery, lighting and principal photography, the theme,  all create such a beautiful tapestry.

Its writer Kwon Do Hyun has deftly used all the tools at hand to tell an old story of friendship and love, but has kept it fresh even to jaded eyes. The tropes that K-dramas can’t seem to do without are there: the wrist grab in all its permutations, but refreshingly, this drama’s substitute for the piggyback ride will make viewers grin at the ingenuity of it all.

Lastly, a well-written and directed drama can only stand on firm gound if its OTP have that chemistry that is palpable on the small screen and can sustain even the quietest of scenes. In Twenty-five, Twenty-one the director uses frame after frame of heart achingly lovely close-ups of Nam Ji hyuk’s handsome and expressive eyes as well as Kim Tae Ri’s beautiful face to tell the story even sans dialogue.

While waiting for the next episodes of Twenty-five, Twenty-one, watch Nam Ji Hyuk in Start-Up and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo, two of his best dramas before this current hit.

Kim Tae RI was simply daebak in Mr. Sunshine, her debut in K-dramaland after a string of well-reviewed movies.

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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