The film “Twenty” is very much like twenty year old boys: it’s kicking fun and a little dirty, with plenty of laughter along the way.
Writer-director Lee Byeong Hun‘s sophomore feature boasts a star-studded trio of male PYTs from both the K-drama and K-pop world: actors Kim Woo Bin (“The Technicians,” “Heirs“) and Kang Ha Neul (“Misaeng,” “Missing Noir M“), and crooner Junho from 2PM (“Cold Eyes”). Lee’s previous film was “Cheer Up, Mr. Lee,” and he also has a string of co-writing credits (“Love Forecast,” “Tazza: The Hidden Card“) to his name.
The bromantic pack plays well into the story of friends on the cusp of adulthood – however, these are three very distinct young men, each of whom is facing the world in a very different way – and that was the surprise gem of the film.
It’s the voice-over of Kyung Jae (Kang Ha Neul) that lets us in on their paths post-high school. He takes the traditional route upon graduation: attending college, on track to a degree and then some respectable job. Although no huge departure from his past roles, Kang Ha Neul plods likably along as the eager academic, getting drunk with his classmates and drooling pathetically over pretty upperclassman Jin Ju (Min Hyo Rin), who swiftly steers him into the Friend Zone. Kyung Jae is the careful type: he holds his unrequited love safely, and comfortably, from afar. Living life in your twenties is not without humiliation, of course; an unfortunate video of his inebriation surfaces online, his sister (Lee Yoo Bi) catches him masturbating, and his nervousness as a new driver does him no favors in making him appear remotely cool in front of anyone. But just when we’ve determined he’ll always play it safe, he makes the move that puts a friendship at risk.
Chi Ho (Kim Woo Bin) is the kid who hasn’t the slightest idea of what he wants to do with his life (an agonizing place to which many adults have traversed). He funnels his efforts into the one passion he does recognize: he just wants to get laid. He has an enviable confidence and receives many a deserving slap (and punch) from his testosterone-fueled antics. But it is their shameless Lothario bestie that Kyung Jae and Dong Woo (Junho) adorably cheer on (they hide in a closet as they observe Chi Ho flex his smooth operator techniques), as he enthusiastically leads the way in sexual experiences.
With little else to focus his energy upon, Chi Ho glibly resolves to find a sugar mama, he declares to his girlfriend (Jung So Min). He spends his days chasing women and his nights clubbing – to chase more women. He plays manager to a rookie actress (Jung Joo Yeon) by happenstance, but it is this latest pursuit which leads him to a piece of reality and a step closer to self-discovery.
His parents, having seen enough of him warming the couch and waltzing in from partying all night, threaten to cut him off financially, lest he join the family business and become a chef. He appeases them by professing that he’ll finally figure out what he wants to do.
And that is the one problem that Dong Woo (Junho) does not have: he actively pursues his dream of becoming a manhwa artist. Ah, the dilemma of knowing your ambition, but being well aware of the obstacles that come attached. With three younger brothers and a single mother via an incarcerated father, Dong Woo works part-time jobs to support his family while taking art classes he can’t afford and fending off unwanted advances by Kyung Jae’s younger sister So Hee (Lee Yoo Bi). He is torn between his selfish dream (I suppose they are always so), and seeing his family struggle to get by.
It is Dong Woo who faces the harshest realities of adulthood. But it’s the fact that he’s the only twenty year old not spending his time romancing that makes it stand out: he’s too consumed with making ends meet and keeping his dream alive to hit on girls. And it is Dong Woo, perhaps, who hears the cruelest words uttered in the film: that he should relegate his passion to a hobby and get a regular job. It’s a verbally icy, hard shove from dream to reality, from youthful independence to adult responsibilities.
Stylistically, the story offsets the colorful ups and downs of post-adolescence against the fresh-faced, a shade-too-bright haze of boyhood. Scenes move quickly from comedic moments and embarrassing attempts gone wrong accompanied by the playful, energetic banter between the young men. It is in the few moments of solitude where we prominently feel the characters begin to grow up a little, while facing their individual battles. The film begins, rather sweetly, in the dreamy nostalgia of the boys’ high school classroom – they first befriend each other upon the discovery that they’re all in love with the same girl.
Female characters are somewhat two-dimensional; we don’t see them as much more than love interests for our protagonists. It’s the relationship between Dong Woo (Junho) and his mother (Oh Hyun Kyung) that is far more interesting and complex, but we’re given frames too brief to satisfy our curiosity.
As our three musketeers muster their emergence from the weight of the world’s crushing disappointments, their transformation from boys to men culminate in a somewhat anomalous, but ridiculous fight scene which plays on generously (it clocks in at nearly five and a half minutes). I couldn’t help but appreciate its allegorical nature: adulthood, as all things in life, comes at you head-on, whether you’re ready for it or not. It’s inevitable, impossible to come out of unscathed, and still, you can’t help but put up a fight against the realities that force you to see the world in a different way.
That bridge between adolescence to adulthood is no joke, hopefully you’ve got a trusty set of buddies to help you collectively make it across.
“Twenty” will be released in U.S. theaters on April 17. In the meantime, check out the trailer below: