*Warning: Spoilers ahead*

In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I decided to venture into the realm of romantic K-Dramas (which I rarely do, but I was in the holiday spirit). While aimlessly browsing the Korean drama section on Netflix, one particular K-drama caught my eye: Twenty Five Twenty One.

Not only does the cast have some familiar faces (like famous South Korean actor/model Nam Joo-hyuk) but the plot seems to focus on fairly universal themes, namely the memory of one’s youth. So, I dove into the premiere installment headfirst. Keep scrolling for my episode one recap and review.

One aspect of the drama that’s really enjoyable to watch involves all of the '90s nostalgia. Being a '90s kid myself, the nod to the decade was an added bonus (besides the romance, of course). For instance, the first episode starts with a blue VCR screen and an upbeat, sort of '90s sitcom theme song (that kinda reminds me of Full House’s theme song).

The creators are clearly drawing inspiration from old shows from that time period because the opening feels like a true '90s series-opening, from the grainy footage to the melody that plays over it—all of which I found to be a nice touch.

In the first episode, we are introduced to our main character, Na Hee-do. Set during the COVID pandemic, we see an older version of her dropping her daughter off at a ballet competition. But when she's unable to compete in the tournament, her daughter runs away to her grandmother's house and stays in her mother's old room. In a funny montage, we see the daughter going through Hee-do’s old things (cue the nostalgia). She tries using a cassette player (and fails miserably), holds a flip phone and more.

Not only does this showcase the candid humor that’s present throughout the episode, but it is also one of the many super relatable moments (hello, Gen-Zers not understanding Gen-Xers or Millennials).

Twenty Five Twenty One IMDB CAT1
NETFLIX/IMDB

Her daughter stumbles upon Hee-do’s “Fencing Diary.” While reading the journal, Hee-do’s words transport us back to July 1998. Now we are introduced to a younger Na Hee-do, who is played by the talented actress Kim Tae-ri (who also played a role in Netflix’s Space Sweepers). She beautifully encapsulates the youth of Hee-do, who is a young high school student in love with fencing. From her comical mannerisms to her (sometimes) sudden outbursts, the actress fully captures what it’s like to be a teenage girl growing up in the '90s in South Korea.

Another strength of the show is its ability to make the viewer emotionally invested in the characters. Throughout the episode, the narrative centers around loss and sacrifice. And what writer Kwon Do-eun does well is capture and convey that emotion in the life-altering situations the main characters encounter. It’s shown with Hee-do’s desperation to gain entry to fencing club at a different high school (and her willingness to do anything to get in). Or Back Yi-jin (AKA Hee-do's love interest, played by Nam Joo-hyuk) struggling to make ends meet after losing all of his finances.

Despite the engaging storyline, there are some moments where the episode (which is an hour and fourteen minutes) does drag. The reason for the long-running time? There are too many plotlines jam-packed into one episode.

One plotline that could’ve been explored in future episodes is Yi-jin’s financial debt. Since his backstory adds suspense to the plot, it would be better for this narrative to be spread out over multiple episodes. Instead, it’s revealed that Yi-jin’s entire family has gone bankrupt, forcing him to live on his own. Now that his entire past has been revealed in the first episode, it kind of eliminates that suspense factor that could’ve propelled the plot over time.

Still, the first episode of the K-drama is a solid watch, especially if you're a sucker for romance. Even though I’m not the romantic type, I still found myself smiling throughout.

PUREWOW RATING: 4 OUT OF 5 STARS

Twenty Five Twenty One has some truly heartfelt moments and successfully plays off the viewer's sense of nostalgia. It may not be everyone’s cup of tea at first, but the overall story does draw you in quite quickly. The open-ended plotlines definitely left me wanting more. And hey, if you’re looking for a little romance, this series will certainly be worth the watch.

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