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[Herald Review] ‘Twenty’: A sassy celebration of youth

To be 20 years old in Korea is a peculiar time. It marks the long-awaited freshman year at college for those who survived years of cramming for the entrance exam. Drinking also becomes legal.

But it’s also an awkward age to be ― no longer an adolescent, but not fully an adult yet.

Just when young people feel they are capable of making life decisions, they realize how little is under their control. 

From left: Lee Jun-ho, Kang Ha-neul and Kim Woo-bin in comedy flick “Twenty.” (NEW)
From left: Lee Jun-ho, Kang Ha-neul and Kim Woo-bin in comedy flick “Twenty.” (NEW)

The new comedy flick “Twenty,” directed by Lee Byung-hun, tracks the ups and downs of being 20 years old (in Korean age ― that’s 18 or 19 years old in the rest of the world).

“I think when you are 20 years old, you undergo some trial and error and make foolish mistakes,” Lee said at the film’s press conference earlier this month. “But some things are excusable just because you are young.”

Lee said he wanted to make a film that portrays this rich coming-of-age experience.

The film revolves around three high school friends who have just turned 20. Just like their personalities, their prospects all look very different.

Chi-ho (Kim Woo-bin) is jobless and seems to have no goals in life, other than sleeping with as many women as possible.

His friend Dong-woo (Lee Jun-ho) has a long-held dream ― to become a comic artist ― but due to his family’s financial problems, he might have to give it up.

And then there’s Kyung-jae (Kang Ha-neul), the epitome of an awkward yet bubbly college freshman. He is smart in the classroom, but not so much when it comes to relationships.

That’s pretty much all there is to the plot. Lee’s slice-of-life screenplay doesn’t feature the plot twists or major conflicts that are typical of most films.

For 115 minutes, the film follows the three in their daily routines ― an itinerary of eating, cursing, talking about girls, drinking and more drinking.

Yet even with such a banal plot, the film doesn’t bore viewers. It is, on the contrary, wickedly hilarious.

This is due to the skillful wordplay Lee is well known for. He has written screenplays for many box office hit comedies, including “Scandal Makers” (2008) and “Sunny” (2011).

But it is also the three fully-fleshed-out characters who give life and charm to the dialogue.

Model-turned-actor Kim Woo-bin (“The Heirs,” “Con Artist”), who found popularity through playing dashing heroes and tough-guy roles, is a unique presence in this film. Nonchalantly firing off sexual jokes, his effortless demeanor and blunt expressions are paired with down-to-earth actions, making even depressing circumstances seem lighter and funnier.

Up-and-coming actor Kang Ha-neul (“Misaeng,” “C’est si Bon”) also found a perfectly tailored role. He plays the only college student in the film, but he is the clumsiest of the three, making a series of irrevocable mistakes when he gets drunk and falls for the wrong girl. Yet it is his naive, awkward character that earns the audience’s sympathy and laughter.

The movie is also singer and actor Lee Jun-ho’s first-ever lead role in a major feature since playing a supporting role in “Cold Eyes” (2013). In playing Dong-woo, who takes on multiple part-time jobs to make a living, Lee laughs and acts silly with the other two, but the weight of life shows on his face. His circumstances don’t change much throughout the film, yet he exudes a certain positive energy, just like his humorous hairstyle.

The film is not a cliche trying to sympathize and console the youth. Instead, it shows life as it is with humor, positivity and sometimes the zany and sexually charged nature of it. After laughing so hard, viewers may be left with nostalgia for the time in their own life when they were younger, braver and more reckless.

“Twenty” opened in theaters on Wednesday.

By Ahn Sung-mi (