It’s been a hot minute since I’ve finished my last recap project and it’s been an even hotter minute since I’ve completed my last movie recap. I don’t usually tackle the challenge of recapping movies because of how time-consuming and exhausting it can be sometimes, but I was willing to put in the work, time, and energy to recap recently released ’20th Century Girl.’ In my brief review of the movie, I shared how wonderful and adorable it was and how much I enjoyed it. This recap gives me another reason to watch the movie again so I definitely am not complaining.
Set in 1999, ’20th Century Girl’ follows Kim Yoo-jung’s character, Na Bo-ra, who “keeps close tabs on a boy in school on behalf of her deeply smitten best friend, then she gets swept up in a love story of her own.” Byeon Woo-seok, Park Jung-woo, and and Roh Yoon-seo round out the rest of the cast and the movie was directed and written by Bang Woo-ri.
K-Movie Recap: 20th Century Girl
The movie starts off with an older man sweeping the ground outside of his building and is suddenly approached by the mailman. There’s a package for his busy daughter who’s busy recording the voice over for a hair commercial in a recording studio. The daughter is none other than our main character, Na Bo-ra, who’s all grown up (cameo by Han Hyo-joo). She converses on the phone with her dad over the package that was sent for her. An invitation to an exhibition? An erotic movie? What has Bo-ra been up to? Dad also nags at Bo-ra to come back home to help him and her mom move out. With that being said, Bo-ra is reminded of the past when she looks at the photo of the erotic movie that was sent back to her. It brings back memories and she travels down memory lane upon seeing the movie cover.
We’re brought back to 1999 in Cheongju. Bo-ra nags at her best friend, Kim Yeon-doo, to hurry up and pack. She has to travel to New York for her heart surgery and there’s no way she’s going to miss that. But Yeon-doo doesn’t want to leave; she’s love sick. She gushes over a boy she met at her family’s business shop the other day and she can’t stop thinking about him. She’s fallen head over heels for him and the worst part is.. he also goes to the same school as them. How can she miss out on this? So Bo-ra makes it up to her best friend by registering them accounts to Daum (a web portal) where they can communicate with each other and provide each other updates. The two best friends soon get the hang of things as seen through updates Yeon-doo provides Bo-ra of her stay in New York as well as tips on how to find the new boy she’s dearly in love with. His name is Baek Hyun-jin and Bo-ra catches up to the same bus that he’s on to get the first glimpse of him.
Bo-ra peeks around for this Baek Hyun-jin guy and she stumbles onto him.. literally. He catches her as she’s about to fall down on the bus and he gives up his seat for her. The boy is wearing a uniform with the name Baek Hyun-jin so Bo-ra is certain she’s found the boy that Yeon-doo has fallen for. And so Bo-ra resumes with her investigation on Hyun-jin. She gathers details and information about Hyun-jin such as his height, his favorite drink, his hobby (basketball), and even his shoe size. As for friends? A girlfriend? Bo-ra notes that she assumes Hyun-jin doesn’t have a girlfriend as he always seen hanging out with his best friend, Poong Woon-ho, who also goes to the same high school as them. Bo-ra keeps Yeon-doo up to date with the information, but Yeon-doo wants more. Is there any way where Bo-ra can get closer to Hyun-jin?
So Bo-ra proceeds with her next move: she’ll audition for the Broadcasting Club. She overheard Woon-ho and Hyun-jin talking about the club while in the nurse’s office after she faked a stomach ache just to listen in on them. Woon-ho, at one point, stops talking and checks to see if anyone is around snooping on them. Luckily, Bo-ra hides under the bed just in time to prevent herself from being seen, but she’s heard just enough to know what to do next. And so on the day of the auditions, Bo-ra showcases her superb and fascinating taekwondo skills. But the plan backfires on Bo-ra. Hyun-jin is so impressed that he gives up on his audition to give Bo-ra a chance. Hahaha. So Bo-ra ultimately makes it into the club and Hyun-jin doesn’t. Oh Bo-ra. Haha.
But Bo-ra still has a few more tricks up her sleeves. She introduces herself to Hyun-jin’s best friend, Woon-ho, who’s also in the Broadcasting Club with her. She also attempts to get Hyun-jin’s pager digits, but she ultimately fails at it. Both due to Woon-ho. On her second attempt, she made many phone calls from a phone book in the phone booth to those with the last name ‘Baek.’ Just when she’s about to give up, a young boy picks up her last phone call and she rejoices in excitement. It’s Baek Hyun-jin! Finally! Bo-ra pretends to be an automated voice system on a research assignment to gather more info about Hyun-jin: his favorite pop song and his pager number. But she never gets the pager digits as Hyun-jin assumes it’s Bo-ra on the other end. Bo-ra panics and hangs up the phone call quickly. Hahaha.
The next day at school, Bo-ra is confronted by Woon-ho about the phone call. He knows it was her. He even refers to her as ‘Yes or No’ which was a phrase she used in the phone call the night before at one point. Haha. Bo-ra plays it off as if it wasn’t her, but she’s frustrated. How about Woon-ho? He was the one who actually picked up her phone call. How could he pick up the call and act as if he was Hyun-jin? But Woon-ho admits that he never pretended to act like his best friend. With that, he proposes an idea to Bo-ra: he can help her get Hyun-jin’s pager digits if she finds him a movie in return. Her family does own a movie rental shop after all.
So Bo-ra sneaks the movie that Woon-ho wants from her family’s shop, but she’s not so lucky afterwards. She gets into trouble after her teacher (cameo by Lee Bum-soo) searches through all the students’s backpacks in class and discovers the erotic movie in her backpack. Hahaha. Along with a few other classmates, Bo-ra is punished by kneeling outside in the hallway and holding the movie up top of her head. Of course, Woon-ho comes around, grabs the movie from Bo-ra’s hand, glances at it, and then walks away with the movie. This only frustrates and upsets Bo-ra even more. He messed with the wrong girl!
But like Woon-ho said he would, he tricks Hyun-jin into giving Bo-ra his pager digit during a visit to her family’s movie rental shop. Bo-ra managed to get Woon-ho the movie he wanted and he’s returning the favor by giving her his best friend’s pager number. Things worked out in the end.
And so Bo-ra shares Hyun-jin’s pager digits with Yeon-doo and things are going well. Bo-ra and Woon-ho also become better acquainted as members of the Broadcasting Club. During a field trip to a cherry blossom festival, the two work together to record some footage of the trip for the club. While Woon-ho is busy with the camera, Bo-ra asks a bunch of questions to get to know Hyun-jin better. Of course, Woon-ho ends up answering the questions about himself and Bo-ra isn’t interested. But her interest does eventually perk up when Woon-ho teaches her how to record using the camera. Of course, she captures some footage of Hyun-jin, but she also briefly records Woon-ho for a few seconds. He stares back into the camera and it’s as if Bo-ra’s heart skipped a beat. Eeeeek.
After the fun trip, Bo-ra hangs out at an arcade, but she’s suddenly pulled into another direction upon learning that there’s a fight nearby. So with a bunch of classmates, she rushes over to where the fight is only to discover that it involves Hyun-jin and Woon-ho. She swoops in with her taekwondo skills to beat up the gang and the three run away together, hand in hand, to escape. Eventually, they manage to successfully do so thanks to some police officers who are busy arresting a drunk man nearby. The gang runs away to avoid trouble from the officers and our trio is safe for now. Upon sitting down on the bench, Bo-ra notices Woon-ho still holding her hand and she jumps up in shock. She’s so full of adrenaline that she doesn’t even feel the pain from her sprained ankle. Oh nooo.
So Bo-ra is transferred to the hospital with Dad and she walks on crutches to recover. The next day at school, Bo-ra receives a surprise visit from Hyun-jin. He picks her up after school in a motorcycle and drives her to a remote location to chat about the fight the night before. He assumes Bo-ra did it out of concern and care for him, but she really only did it for Yeon-doo who she knew would be upset if Hyun-jin got hurt. Hyun-jin seems to have fallen for Bo-ra after the incident and the two head out to grab some late dinner later on. They arrive at the restaurant where Woon-ho also works and it’s there that Hyun-jin confesses to Bo-ra. He likes her and he wants to date.
But wait! This wasn’t supposed to happen. Bo-ra was only doing all of this for Yeon-doo. She comes up with a bunch of excuses as to why Hyun-jin shouldn’t like her and she’s so taken aback she runs out of the restaurant without her crutches. Woon-ho notices her abrupt exit and he follows after her with her crutch. Not only that, he fixes the bandage on Bo-ra’s ankle while talking to her about Hyun-jin. Doesn’t Bo-ra like Hyun-jin? But Bo-ra strongly denies the assumption. She’s only interested in him; she doesn’t like him. There’s a difference. But Bo-ra can’t bring herself to explain the difference. All she can do is watch Woon-ho as he walks away from her. Words aren’t enough; she feels her heart pounding as she watches Woon-ho walk away. Eeeeeek! That night, Bo-ra struggles to update Yeon-doo on the situation with Hyun-jin and Woon-ho. But she’s confident she can figure it out and take care of things by herself.
Bo-ra and her school go on another field trip. While there, she takes some fun photos with her classmates and she’s also interested in purchasing some mulberry extract for Yeon-doo. She runs a bit short on money for the mulberry juice, but Hyun-jin swoops in to help with the purchase. He even teases her and pokes fun at her for her fart excuse that she mentioned the other night at dinner. With that, Bo-ra takes Hyun-jin away from everyone else and she confronts him on his expectations. She makes it clear that they’re not dating and that they will never date. They can only be classmates. Woon-ho catches a glimpse of the two arguing from far away.
A field trip wouldn’t be a field trip without some drinks and alcohol which Bo-ra and her classmates end up indulging in that night. They even mix Bo-ra’s mulberry juice with their alcohol to make it taste sweeter. Eventually, all of Bo-ra’s classmates and Bo-ra herself consume too much alcohol for their own good, but their alcohol is precious. When they catch sight of the male classmates upstairs stealing their alcohol, intoxicated Bo-ra pounds one of the room upstairs to confront them. Of course, our Woon-ho opens the door and encounters a sleepy Bo-ra at the door. But before the two can even engage in conversation, they sneak away to another room to escape from their teacher who roams the hallway after hearing some noise (it was Bo-ra haha).
Bo-ra’s intoxicated but Woon-ho is wide awake (and sober). The two stand closely across from each other as they try their best to keep quiet from getting caught. At one point, Bo-ra gathers the liquid courage to cuff Woon-ho’s face in her hands while tip-toeing to get closer to him. Woon-ho assumes Bo-ra’s drunk off some alcohol; she does seem a bit out of it after all.
The next morning, Bo-ra is the last one to wake up and it’s obvious to her teacher what happened the night before. As part of the field trip, everyone does some trash cleaning at the beach. Woon-ho hands Bo-ra some juice to help her with her hangover which she can’t help but notice for his kindness. She at one point watches him from afar as he snaps some photos with his camera. But this peaceful moment is interrupted by Hyun-jin who catches on to how Bo-ra is feeling. So he suggests that the three take a group photo together on the beach. With that, the trio gathers into the same frame and Bo-ra sends the photo to Yeon-doo.
With the school year coming to an end, that only means one thing: summer break! Bo-ra’s wish to see or talk to Woon-ho comes true when she receives a surprise visit from him at her family’s store. It’s raining and the streets are lonely, but he shows up to share with her that he’ll be working at the ice cream shop across from her store (omg I’m gonna cry). And so the two take sneak peeks and glances at each other while they work and it’s obvious that the two have taken a liking towards each other. Their feelings are mutual.
Now that Bo-ra’s aware of where Woon-ho works, she comes up with another tactic to get to spend more time with him: forcing her little brother, Ba-da, to play some badminton with her outside of their store while waiting for Woon-ho to get off of work. Hahaha. It’s quite obvious to Woon-ho what Bo-ra is trying to do as Mom points out that Bo-ra never exercises. Eventually, Bo-ra and Woon-ho sit down with Ba-da to eat some ice cream for a bit before Bo-ra hints at Ba-da to leave. Haha. It’s then that Woon-ho shares how he too has a younger brother who he hasn’t seen in a while.
With the night still young, Woon-ho takes Bo-ra on another adventure. This time, it’s a visit to his old house where he used to live with his dad once his parents divorced. While his mom and brother stayed in New Zealand, he lived with his dad in Korea. There’s also a plum tree that he and his dad planted together at the house and he shares the plums with Bo-ra. While Bo-ra munches on the delicious fruit, Woon-ho rejoices in the moment by recording footage of Bo-ra resting on the bench next to him. He also compliments her pretty voice as evident by the announcements she makes for the Broadcasting Club. The two come close to giving each other a kiss until a plum falls onto Bo-ra’s head. Haha. Eventually, that kiss does happen when the two love birds bid farewell for the night. Woon-ho sneaks a peck onto Bo-ra’s lips before accepting her movie date suggestion for that weekend. Aww, they’re so adorable!
In her usual messages to Yeon-doo on Daum, Bo-ra updates her best friend on her new crush. She feels as if it’s love and she can’t stop thinking about him and she’s in love with him. Bo-ra can barely contain her happiness whenever she peeks across the street at Woon-ho at his workplace. Life is good between the two, but it doesn’t last for long. Hyun-jin invites Bo-ra for an ice cream date at the store where Woon-ho works and the two friends engage in a friendly competition to get Bo-ra’s attention. But speaking of friends, Yeon-doo shows up to the ice cream store right at that moment and she and Bo-ra finally reunite! They hug each other in tears while Woon-ho and Hyun-jin watch nearby. Introductions are exchanged and the two best friends catch up with each other.
Yeon-doo has recovered well after her heart surgery and she’s excited to gush over her crush.. the boy in the uniform. She didn’t expect to see him so soon. But wait, the boy in the work uniform at the ice cream store? That’s when Yeon-doo pulls out the photo of Woon-ho, Bo-ra, and Hyun-jin that they took at the beach and shows Bo-ra the heart that she circled around Woon-ho’s face. It turns out that it was actually Woon-ho who she saw at her family’s shop prior to departing to New York. It was Woon-ho who Yeon-doo had a crush on all along. He was just wearing Hyun-jin’s school uniform that time he visited Yeon-doo’s store to inquire about getting a school uniform for himself.
Bo-ra reacts in complete shock and she’s aware that things aren’t looking so good now. She debates as to whether to reveal the truth to Yeon-doo or not, but she eventually holds herself back. She also deletes one of the messages that she had written for Yeon-doo in Daum where she detailed how she felt about her crush (AKA Woon-ho). Bo-ra also stops waving hi to Woon-ho during work and she invites Yeon-doo to go on the movie date with Woon-ho instead.
So while Yeon-doo meets with Woon-ho for the movie date, Bo-ra spends some time picking grapes with Hyun-jin. Similar to before, she doesn’t enjoy her grape-picking moment with Hyun-jin, but she does it anyways for her best friend. Later on that night, the two besties chat about Woon-ho. Yeon-doo assumes Bo-ra has a crush on Hyun-jin so they should all go on a double date. Also, Woon-ho is so sweet and kind to Yeon-doo and she wants to know more about him. She inquires with Bo-ra for more information on Woon-ho, but Bo-ra feigns ignorance. She pretends as if she doesn’t know much about him. Speaking of Woon-ho, he pages Bo-ra and asks for Bo-ra to give him a phone call.
The uncertainty and weight weighs heavy on Bo-ra’s mind and she sneaks out to the pay phone in front of her house to call Woon-ho. Fast forward a few seconds later and Woon-ho appears in front of Bo-ra. It didn’t take long for him to figure out which pay phone she was at and he’s happy to be reunited with her again. So the two sit down and Woon-ho assumes it’s business as usual. Except it’s not. Not for Bo-ra at least. She returns the cellphone that Woon-ho handed to her as a gift and clarifies that she doesn’t have feelings for him. She doesn’t like him. After the cold confession, she walks away and leaves. But there was also a reason as to why Woon-ho wanted to meet. While walking back to his place in the rain, he glances at the envelope with the letter that he had written for Bo-ra. He writes,
It’s me. Woon-ho. I’m writing to you because I don’t think I’ll be able to say this face-to-face. I met you for the first time this winter. I saw you as soon as I arrived in Cheongju. You probably don’t remember.. you ran away so fast. It made me curious about the movie.
Woon-ho’s first ever interaction with Bo-ra was actually at her family’s movie rental shop. He encountered Bo-ra sneaking the same erotic movie that he later on asked for, but she didn’t notice him as she was too busy running out of the store to not get caught by her dad. Lol.
When I first came to Korea, I rarely had any reason to smile. Then I met you again. All of a sudden, I started noticing the unpredictable things that you would do.
From wearing Hyun-jin’s uniform to noticing Bo-ra chase after the bus that he and Hyun-jin were on to catching sight of Bo-ra’s foot in the nurse’s office as she hid under the hospital bed to the Broadcasting Club meetings, Woon-ho began to take notice of Bo-ra. And soon enough, he reached a realization,
That’s when I realized. I was smiling whenever I looked at you.
However, things didn’t go as Woon-ho wanted. From talking with Bo-ra during the first phone call where she pretended to be an automated voice system to catching sight of Bo-ra leaving with Hyun-jin on the motorcycle, Woon-ho assumed she was only interested in his best friend. Sometimes, he was jealous. Sometimes, he got his feelings hurt. Woon-ho had no idea if Bo-ra knew how he felt about her.
Things only confused Woon-ho even more when Bo-ra confessed to him on the night that she had too much to drink. In that moment, she ended up confessing to him that she liked him and that he had pretty eyes, nose, and lips. Or Woon-ho was confused during the beach trip when he witnessed Hyun-jin and Bo-ra chatting with each other. Woon-ho recounts,
You told me something so personal, but you forgot all about it like it never happened. Was it really me that you were talking to? Or did you mistake me for Hyun-jin? I’ve wanted to ask you so many times, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I didn’t want to get hurt.
But fortunately, things started to shape up after Woon-ho and Bo-ra spent more time together and got to know each other better. They realized that their feelings were mutual.
Now I finally know how you feel. But I have to go back to New Zealand soon.
I promise that I’ll come back. I like you, Na Bo-ra.
With the sudden rejection from Bo-ra, Woon-ho has come to another realization: things are over between him and Bo-ra. He throws the letter onto the ground in the wet rain and walks away.. as if nothing ever happened (this is giving me war flashbacks to book/movie adaptation ‘Little Women’ and I am not okay!).
School starts again for our characters and Bo-ra and Woon-ho have to pretend and act as if everything is okay. It doesn’t help that they’ve been paired up to work on a project for the Broadcasting Club together titled ‘Letter to the 21st Century’ (a project where they are to record video messages of classmates and what their expectations and hopes are for the 21st century). It’s quite awkward for the two, but they remain professional and civil about it. Now that they’ve finished gathering content, all that’s left is to edit. So Yeon-doo and Bo-ra head on a field trip to Seoul with Woon-ho and Hyun-jin to visit broadcasting station, SBS. There, they learn how to edit their videos, but Woon-ho also can’t help but pay attention to Bo-ra.
While on a break, Yeon-doo shares with Bo-ra what her next move is: she plans on asking Woon-ho out. She got some tickets from her uncle for an amusement park nearby and that’s where she plans to confess. The only thing she asks of Bo-ra is to help set her up into a situation where she’s alone with Woon-ho. So with that, the four head out to have some fun at the amusement park together. But Bo-ra remains cautious, careful, and protective of Yeon-doo’s heart and she indirectly suggest that they take the less frightening rides. So they go on the carousel, but all Woon-ho can notice is Bo-ra and all Yeon-doo can notice is Woon-ho noticing Bo-ra. Uh-oh.
Yeon-doo is well aware of what Bo-ra has been trying to do so she decides to switch things up. While Bo-ra and Hyun-jin go on some roller coaster rides together, she’ll stay behind (with Woon-ho hopefully). Bo-ra catches onto the hint and she forces Hyun-jin to go on a roller coaster ride with her while Yeon-doo stays behind with Woon-ho. But Woon-ho has plans of his own and he admits that he also wants to go on the scary roller coaster ride. So he switches spots with Hyun-jin and seats himself in the front row of the ride while Hyun-jin reunites with Yeon-doo. Even though Woon-ho may be scared of heights, he’s willing to take the fall for Bo-ra.
And so Woon-ho does. Just as they’re about to drop after reaching the climax of the ride, Woon-ho grabs onto Bo-ra’s hand and yells at the top of his lungs that he likes her. Even after the scary ride ends, they have no words to say to each other. It remains silent. But the two spend some time by themselves after the amusement park and Woon-ho finally communicates with Bo-ra what he originally wrote in his letter. He’s moving back to New Zealand. Bo-ra is heartbroken inside, but she reacts indifferently. It must be a good thing that Woon-ho is reuniting with his brother again. Woon-ho thought Bo-ra would react more sadly, but it’s good that she isn’t. Woon-ho thanks Bo-ra for everything. It’s clear the two still have so much to say, so much on their minds and their hearts, and that things aren’t the same anymore, but they refrain from saying further.
That night, Yeon-doo and Bo-ra have an honest and heartfelt conversation with each other of their own. Yeon-doo is well aware of Bo-ra and Woon-ho’s complicated relationship and feelings towards each other and she’s frustrated at how Bo-ra kept it from her the entire time. Bo-ra argues that she did it all for Yeon-doo, but Yeon-doo doesn’t buy the reason. Yes, she likes Woon-ho, but she would be willing to throw it all away if that meant preserving her friendship with Bo-ra (omggg I’m gonna cry! I love this scene so much!). Bo-ra is the person who Yeon-doo cares about the most. Yeon-doo wraps up the conversation by adding that she appreciates how Bo-ra looks out for her, but she needs a friend and not a nurse.
Things begin to unfold for both Woon-ho and Bo-ra. Woon-ho’s Dad bids a somber farewell with his son over a brief phone call while Yeon-doo ignores Bo-ra’s phone calls. Yeon-doo grows even sadder after logging into Daum to read the message that Bo-ra had deleted. It’s the message where Bo-ra gushed over Woon-ho and sounded so excited over these new feelings that she had developed for Woon-ho. But in the same message, she also notes that Yeon-doo will always be number one in her heart.
And so Yeon-doo returns the favor for Bo-ra this time. In a one-on-one conversation with Woon-ho at school, Yeon-doo recounts and recalls some sweet actions that Bo-ra had done for her, including carrying Yeon-doo on her back after she had fainted. Yeon-doo adds that Bo-ra liked Woon-ho, but never said anything to Woon-ho because she’s a good friend. So Woon-ho gathers the courage to see Bo-ra one last time. He still does have the erotic movie from her family’s movie rental shop after all so that gives him another excuse to see her.
But Bo-ra returns home to chaos and tragic news. Her younger brother has been hospitalized so she and her parents also rush to the hospital. The timing just doesn’t align and Woon-ho waits all night in front of Bo-ra’s family store. He even sends a message to her pager, but Bo-ra doesn’t see it. She’s worried about her brother who will thankfully recover.
So the next day at school, Yeon-doo fakes an incident to get Bo-ra’s attention. It’s the only way to get Bo-ra to notice her and talk to her after their confrontation. Though the two had a rough break, not much has changed. Bo-ra still cares deeply for her friend and carries Yeon-doo on her back. But Yeon-doo is fine and all and she urges Bo-ra to meet with Woon-ho before he leaves for New Zealand. Hyun-jin picks Bo-ra up with his motorcycle and transports her to the train station where Woon-ho is located. Time is running out and Bo-ra grows more and more paranoid with every passing second (and so am I! I was practically screaming at my screen for Bo-ra to hurry up! Lol).
Thankfully, Bo-ra arrives just in time and she spots Woon-ho at the train station. So she runs and she scurries to talk to him one last time before his departure. Upon reuniting, Bo-ra can’t help but just cry. She lets all her emotions out and removes the weight on her chest. She apologizes for all that she’s done to Woon-ho even if they were things that she shouldn’t have apologized for. Woon-ho tears up upon seeing and listening to Bo-ra, but he also feels relieved that she showed up. Instead of crying and apologizing, Bo-ra could just simply tell Woon-ho how much she likes him. Sometimes, it’s that simple.
So Woon-ho starts first and he acknowledges how happy he is when he’s with Bo-ra. He likes her. Bo-ra feels the same way and she also voices the same words. Of course, they’re at a train station and it’s quite noisy and she’s a bit shy. But with the help of Woon-ho, Bo-ra raises her voice to confess back to him and the two soak in this bittersweet moment. A moment that they had been waiting and longing for cut short by a farewell that neither of them ever wanted.
With tears in his eyes, Woon-ho approaches Bo-ra and holds her in his arms. He asks for her to wait for him; he’ll make sure to come back for her. So just like that, Woon-ho wipes Bo-ra’s tears from her face and the two bid farewell. The moment is too much for the both of them and Bo-ra and Woon-ho cry their hearts out.
But just because they’re apart doesn’t mean they have to stop talking. Distance proves to not be an issue for the two love birds as they continue to communicate on Daum just like Bo-ra and Yeon-doo did. They update each other on their lives and celebrate the New Year together virtually. The two even make plans to attend college together. But one day, Bo-ra stops hearing from Woon-ho and she grows concerned. She waited and waited but was forced to eventually stop thinking about him.
Now that she’s in college, Bo-ra takes some time to go on blind dates. On one specific blind date, her date happens to be named Woon-ho (cameo by Gong Myung). This triggers Bo-ra to break down as she’s reminded of Woon-ho who she had been trying to forget about all this time and she exits the blind date for a pay phone instead. In anger and frustration, she dials Woon-ho’s number and shouts at him to never call her again. She’s going to forget about him and she’s not going to wait for him. How much longer can Bo-ra wait for Woon-ho? What happened to him?
Fast forward to the present and adult Bo-ra stops by her parent’s family store. It’s empty inside so she’s reminded of the package that was sent to her and decides to take a visit to the exhibition. Once there, she watches in amazement and fascination at how beautiful and breathtaking the art is. There’s a particular piece of a plum tree alongside a white bench that stands out to her and Bo-ra scans for the artist’s name on the bottom corner of the screen. The art was created by none other than Woon-ho whose birth date is listed along with his name: 1983-2001. Right at that moment, Bo-ra is approached by a stranger: Woon-ho’s younger brother, Joseph (cameo by Ong Seong-woo).
The two chat and converse over Woon-ho as well as the exhibition. Joseph was the one who put on the exhibition after finding a bunch of videos and footage that Woon-ho had gathered. After visiting the materials for the exhibition, there was something that Joseph realized: Bo-ra was the person who Woon-ho truly wanted. She was the center of his attention. The center of his world. He was truly happy when he was with her. So Joseph thanks Bo-ra for visiting the exhibition and for remembering his brother. As for Bo-ra, she’s grateful for the exhibition. It’s given her some closure to her connection with Woon-ho that she had been longing for for a very long time.
Bo-ra returns back home and hangs out with Dad for a little bit. But there’s something else on her mind and she inquires with Dad about a VCR to play a video that she wants to watch. It’s a video cassette tape that Woon-ho created which he stored inside of the erotic movie case that he had received from young Bo-ra back in high school, haha. So Bo-ra sits back and relaxes as she watches the video in the VCR. Footages of Hyun-jin, the neighborhood, and high school Bo-ra are captured on film. From moments on their school trips to the little plum interaction on the bench to the ‘Letter to the 21st Century’ project that Bo-ra and Woon-ho were paired up to do together, the video had everything.
The video finishes off by showing a clip of Woon-ho with little Joseph wishing Bo-ra a happy new years in New Zealand. They’re located in a beautiful floral field and the sunrise in the back is stunning. Eventually, Joseph exits from the frame so it’s just Woon-ho alone. He leaves with a voice message asking for Bo-ra to wait for him just a little bit longer as he’ll come see her soon. He’s confident that the 21st century will be amazing with Bo-ra just like how the 20th century was. As the video concludes, Bo-ra sheds tears. A part of her laughs at how silly and goofy Woon-ho was in the video, but the other part of her cries at over how it all concluded. Though Woon-ho might be gone, he certainly was not forgotten by Bo-ra. She will always be his 20th century girl.
Why did the ending hit me so much harder this time than the three previous times I’ve watched this movie? I’ll touch upon the ending in a bit, but there was just something about this fourth (yes, fourth) re-watch that hit me differently. Rewatching this movie four times was so fascinating because I realized that I still was in love with so many things. This movie was still so good on my fourth re-watch and it was just so wholesome. I understand that the ending transformed the movie into a bittersweet one (instead of just sweet), but overall, this movie made me feel so giddy, fuzzy, and happy. ’20th Century Girl’ is truly so magical in so many ways.
I really just do love all the nostalgia that comes with the 90’s and retro vibes with this movie. It works so well with the whole ‘first love’ theme and concept and I feel as if this movie beautifully captured that. This movie was about innocent love and first love’s and puppy love and it was also about enjoying the small little things. I mean, I can’t even count how many scenes in this movie made my heart flutter. Whether it was all the times Bo-ra and Woon-ho peaked at each other from across the street or when Woon-ho showed up at Bo-ra’s family store to tell her how he was working at the ice cream store across the street or when he and Bo-ra had their mini-plum date or when the two were on their field trip and Woon-ho taught Bo-ra how to record using the camera or when Woon-ho was changing Bo-ra’s bandage on her ankle and asked her about Hyun-jin or when they were so close to each other on the night that Bo-ra had a little too much to drink.
Like there were so many moments between the two that had me crying on the inside in happiness and joy and I think that’s where the magic lies in this movie. It’s the small little things between Bo-ra and Woon-ho that swept me off my foot and captivated me. There wasn’t anything grand or big between the two; there weren’t any grand confessions or huge events or flashy moments. All I saw were just two strangers-to-friends-to-lovers whose paths crossed and their relationship strengthened the more they spent time together doing the little things while living out their lives.
This movie was so minimal and simplistic, but so powerful in its storytelling and execution. The movie didn’t have a whole lot to begin with: Bo-ra is basically working as a secret investigator for her best friend to find out more information about this boy who her best friend is in love with. Things get mixed up and complications arise and the honest truth gets revealed within time. So even with the simple (and not so simple) premise, what ’20th Century Girl’ did well was the execution of it all. It was in the way that Bo-ra gathered more information about Hyun-jin. It was how she grew closer to Woon-ho while also doing her due diligence as a best friend. I loved watching her tactics to get more information about Hyun-jin, but I also really enjoyed how it all unfolded and added up over time. From getting onto the bus to the nurse’s office to the broadcasting club auditions to the field trips, I loved the variety of strategies that Bo-ra implemented. It was funny, it was refreshing, it was silly, and it was something that a high school student would totally do. There was something different every time. Sometimes, the most enjoyable movies are the ones that don’t do a whole lot. You don’t need a whole lot to do much. This movie is an example of a movie where it did more with less.
To add onto the storytelling aspect, I also appreciate that we got to know how Woon-ho felt during all of this and what his side of the story was. We saw things primarily from Bo-ra’s eyes, but the movie also opened up by giving us insight into Woon-ho’s mind and heart. As seen in that letter that he wrote for Bo-ra, he noticed her from the very beginning and he fell for her first. But Bo-ra was too focused on her assignment on Hyun-jin while also trying to understand her feelings for Woon-ho that she wasn’t aware of how Woon-ho felt towards her. It was nice to get to hear from both of their perspectives because then it all added up and came together on the day at the train station when they were finally on the same page. After everything they had gone through together, it all came down to that moment. That’s what made that farewell confession at the train station so much more impactful and meaningful but heartbreaking.
I think if there were two big themes that was transparent throughout this movie, it’d be communication and timing. I feel like half of the issues in this movie would have been sorted out if there was proper and honest communication between our characters. Communication with Yeon-doo on the struggle that Bo-ra was facing between Woon-ho and Hyun-jin. Communication between Yeon-doo and Bo-ra right about Woon-ho when Yeon-doo returned and how he and Bo-ra sort of actually have this thing going on. Communication between Bo-ra and Woon-ho about their relationship and how it only complicates things because of Yeon-doo’s feelings for Woon-ho. Communication is key in relationships and friendships and there were so many examples of that in this movie. It’s not the characters’ faults that they didn’t communicate and when you’re a high school student, you’re still so so young and you don’t know any better and sometimes you think you can handle it all or that you can figure it out on your own or your mind hasn’t fully wrapped around the situation. Eventually, as we saw in the movie, things did work out for the better in the end once our characters communicated with each other. It was late, but better than never.
Moving onto timing, just how different of a movie would this have been had things worked out for Bo-ra and Woon-ho in the end? It would completely defeat the purpose of the movie as it is titled ’20th Century Girl’ after all, but how much sweeter of an ending would it had been had Bo-ra and Woon-ho got to spend more time together? Or if Bo-ra and Woon-ho didn’t have to bid farewell on the day that he was leaving back to New Zealand? What would things look like for them if they had confessed to each other and gotten on the same page much earlier? What would things have turned out like if Yeon-doo arrived earlier back to Korea before Bo-ra and Woon-ho started liking each other or if she arrived much later when Bo-ra and Woon-ho were much deeper into their relationship?
There’s a part of me that aches at the thought of timing and how Bo-ra and Woon-ho’s relationship was basically the representation and epitome of right person wrong timing. It killed me how they had to bid farewell minutes before they were finally able to overcome their struggles and get on the same page as to how they felt about each other. I wished they didn’t have to say goodbye to each other on the same day that they finally knew how the other truly felt. I wished they got to spend some more time together as a couple before parting ways. I wished their relationship wasn’t centered around ‘what-could-have-been.’ Timing was another aspect that played such a huge role in our characters’s lives and it affected the way that the relationships developed. Sometimes, life is also about timing and when you meet a certain person in a certain phase in your life or when you cross paths with someone during a time that you were not expecting. Life can work in funny ways like that sometimes.
Moving onto the ending, I can’t say for sure that I liked how things wrapped up. I’m not referring to the fact that Woon-ho unfortunately passed away and that explains why he stopped replying back to Bo-ra. I guess it was more of the execution aspect that made me feel a bit conflicted. In a way, the revelation about Woon-ho at the end felt anti-climatic. You were curious as to what happened to him and why he disappeared and stopped responding to Bo-ra. And you’re shown an upset and frustrated and impatient Bo-ra being reminded of Woon-ho at every little thing whether it’s in college or whether she’s on a blind date. So there’s this little mystery as to why Woon-ho suddenly stopped replying back to Bo-ra. But in the end, it turns out that he had died and you get this moment between Joseph and Bo-ra. The ending wasn’t bad by any means, but it was also a bit cliche. I don’t know if there could have been another way or reasoning to explain Woon-ho’s disappearance other than a death. Don’t get me wrong, I was gutted when Woon-ho’s death was revealed during the exhibition and I’m glad that Bo-ra received some sense of closure and I’m glad that the two had the time of their lives together in high school and also that the ending was done so as part of the overall story, but I don’t know – I wished there was more.
But at the same time, I understand why the movie went in the direction that it did and why the ending may have felt underwhelming for me. Maybe the ending wasn’t supposed to be the primary focus of the movie. The high school section with young Bo-ra and Woon-ho and Yeon-doo and Hyun-jin took up 90% of the movie and was the movie’s primary focus. So I get why the movie ended the way it did and chose the route of eliminating Woon-ho’s character to fit with the title of the movie. However, I did feel a bit underwhelmed especially with just how strong and intentional and meaningful the entire high school section was. The movie did such a wonderful job of building this momentum with the high school storyline only for things to feel a bit depleted once we returned to the present. The movie would have been even stronger and better if the present time scenes kept up with that pace and momentum that it beautifully developed with the high school section.
Earlier, I mentioned a few (too many) scenes and moments between Bo-ra and Woon-ho that I really liked and thought were so adorable, but my favorite scene in the movie was actually a scene between our two female besties, Yeon-doo and Bo-ra. This movie portrayed their friendship in such a raw way by showing us the good, the bad, and the ugly aspects to it. We saw the good sides to their friendship when they communicated on Daum and Bo-ra did her best friend favors by gathering more information about Hyun-jin or when they reunited upon Yeon-doo’s return to Korea. We saw the ugly side when they fought each other. We also saw the bad side when Yeon-doo ignored Bo-ra’s phone calls or when Bo-ra ignored Yeon-doo at school. I enjoyed how this movie showcased just how complex and complicated friendships are and also how meaningful and impactful they can be. Just like how you have break-ups with your significant other, you can also have break-ups with your best friend and we saw that happen with Bo-ra and Yeon-doo.
So with that being said, my favorite scene in this movie was the confrontation between Yeon-doo and Bo-ra on the night when they returned from their amusement park adventure. You knew that eventually Yeon-doo would catch on and that she would address the issue with Bo-ra and that the truth would eventually come out so the confrontation and fight didn’t necessarily come as a surprise. Bo-ra was not going to be able to hide it for much longer from Yeon-doo; Yeon-doo caught on as to what was going on between Bo-ra and Woon-ho and she was going to talk about it.
What did strike me though was the way that Yeon-doo and Bo-ra spoke about each other and about their friendship in that moment. They were angry, they were upset, they were crying, they were frustrated, they were caught up in various emotions, but even through all of it, they still had love for each other. Even through such difficulties, they cared about how the other person felt. Yeon-doo cherished Bo-ra more than anyone else and Bo-ra loved Yeon-doo more than anyone else. Bo-ra and Yeon-doo were willing to push this issue of liking the same guy (Woon-ho) aside to save and preserve their friendship. And that’s because to them, no one else matters. To them, what is more significant and important is always being honest and loyal in this friendship.
That explains why in the ‘Letter to the 21st Century’ video project that Bo-ra and Woon-ho worked on for the Broadcasting Club, Bo-ra expressed that she hoped to become a much more honest person. No more holding back, no more hiding stuff, no more keeping secrets. And sometimes the truth will hurt. Yeon-doo and Bo-ra were hurt as a result of everything that transpired from the beginning. But honesty is an important virtue and Yeon-doo and Bo-ra were honest with each other in that confrontation scene. They were honest about how they felt about the whole Woon-ho thing, but they were also honest in how they felt about each other and their friendship. They wouldn’t trade it for anything else in the world.
It could be easy for some people to blame either Yeon-doo or Bo-ra in this situation about who was right and who was wrong, but I don’t view it that way and their confrontation with each other also confirms that. I get where both were coming from: Yeon-doo mistakened Woon-ho for Hyun-jin because he was wearing Hyun-jin’s school uniform when he visited her family’s store. As for Bo-ra, she thought she could figure things out on her own and then panicked and didn’t know how to handle things once it all began to spiral out of control. She was afraid of losing her friendship with Yeon-doo so she thought staying quiet would be the better solution to all of this. She sacrificed her wants (her strong connection with Woon-ho) for Yeon-doo’s wants and she placed Yeon-doo first through it all. There were just so many misunderstandings between the two and easier routes they could have taken to address the issue much quicker, but they didn’t. Bo-ra had her own ways of looking out for Yeon-doo and for taking care of her; Yeon-doo’s reaction to Bo-ra’s actions wasn’t all that positive and she just wanted Bo-ra to be a friend. Nothing more, nothing less.
I also loved that Bo-ra and Yeon-doo remained friends even if things initially got a little bumpy between them after their fight. I loved that our two female characters weren’t fighting over a boy; I loved that Bo-ra and Yeon-doo’s priorities were about their friendship and not about Woon-ho. We’ve seen so many love triangles in K-dramaland and dramas or movies where the two female leads try to gain the affection and attention of the male lead. So I’m glad this movie didn’t go that route and instead focused on the sincerity and purity of Yeon-doo and Bo-ra’s friendship. It’s not perfect by any means and no relationship or friendship is ever perfect. But the two were willing to stick with each other through thick and thin, through the good and the bad and the ugly. That is what friendships is about.
I touched a bit on this in my review for the movie, but I really have to give it to Kim Yoo-jung and Byun Woo-seok for being so electric and adorable together as Bo-ra and Woon-ho. It was a pairing that I wasn’t so sure would work out so it was so surprising and charming to see the two have such great chemistry with each other. Kim Yoo-jung and Byun Woo-seok in this movie in a way reminds me of Choi Woo-shik and Kim Da-mi in ‘Our Beloved Summer.’ In the drama, Choi Woo-shik and Kim Da-mi also had great chemistry with each other that it probably wouldn’t have been as good as it was if it was just any other actors playing their roles. That’s the same way I feel about ’20th Century Girl.’ I think Kim Yoo-jung and Byun Woo-seok worked so well as the couple pairing that I can’t tell if the same impact would have been there had it been any two actors playing Bo-ra and Woon-ho. And maybe that partially explains for the magic that was ’20th Century Girl.’ Kim Yoo-jung and Byun Woo-seok were the perfect Bo-ra and Woon-ho. They worked so well as the couple and had such strong chemistry that it was easy to be invested in their relationship which was absolutely needed for ’20th Century Girl’ to succeed. It’s safe to say that the movie did succeed and Kim Yoo-jung and Byun Woo-seok did what they had to do to make things work.
Overall, ’20th Century Girl’ was such a charming and magical watch and there were so many great things about this movie. It made you feel as if you were back in high school all over again or it made you recall memories of your first love or your friendships or all the silly stuff that happened in high school. I really wish that there’ll be more movies that captures the nostalgia of the 90’s while showcasing the innocence and refreshing aspects of relationships and friendships and family and honesty and sacrifices. While ’20th Century Girl’ was focused on the bittersweet and ‘what-could-have-been’ love story between Bo-ra and Woon-ho, it was also a movie about family and friendships. ’20th Century Girl’ was about a lot of things. Though not a perfect movie by any means, it serves as a lovely reminder of the important values in life. It teaches you to appreciate those around you and to not take anything for granted. The movie also reminds you that in between the lines and through the lens that are your eyes, there is meaning in the little things in life.