“20th Century Girl” Director Shares Inspiration Behind The Film, Her Take On The Bittersweet Ending, And More
The director of “20th Century Girl” has shared her affection for the film in a new interview!
“20th Century Girl” is a Netflix film about the painful yet heart-fluttering first love of the 17-year-old Na Bo Ra (Kim Yoo Jung) of 1999. On one random winter day, Na Bo Ra comes across a video tape filled with her memories from 1999, when she became cupid to help her best friend Yeon Doo (Noh Yoon Seo) find success with her first love Baek Hyun Jin (Park Jung Woo). Throughout this journey, Na Bo Ra embarks on her own love story with Poong Woon Ho (Byun Woo Seok).
This project is director Bang Woo Ri’s first full-length commercial film after she was recognized at the Blue Dragon Film Awards for the short film “Mrs. Young.”
Bang Woo Ri revealed that the story of “20th Century Girl” originally started off as an autobiography. She explained, “I’m not married so as my friends get married and raise children, I’m unable to fit in to those conversations. But one day, my friend said that she had met her first love, so we began talking about the past and I pulled out my exchange diary that I’ve kept for a long time. In there was the story of how I observed the guy my friend had a crush on. Thinking about it now, it’s an embarrassing story, but I made the story with this out of the thought that it was only possible in that life period.”
Another motivation point behind this movie was director Bang Woo Ri’s personal interest in youth films. “When I was younger, it was ‘Cinema Paradiso’ that made me feel how beautiful films are,” she explained. “It’s a famous movie but after watching it at my young age, I thought it was so beautiful and that I wanted to make a movie like that.”
She described “20th Century Girl” as a film she made because she wanted to watch it and added, “I enjoy youth films but if I was to watch them, I typically had to watch Japanese or Taiwanese films. The idea of a first love is similar, but the culture and emotions aren’t the same so I wanted to watch our story [as Koreans].”
The director then expressed her gratitude for the film’s cast, saying that the actor lineup was the perfect finishing touch. Regarding Kim Yoo Jung and Han Hyo Joo playing the past and present versions of Na Bo Ra, Bang Woo Ri commented, “It felt like gaining thousands of soldiers and tens of thousands of horses,” which is a phrase often used when receiving lots of help and support.
She added, “In my opinion, there was no alternative. They both said they would do it at the same time, so I think my luck was really great. I thought that I’d be able to pick the remaining actors a bit more comfortably.”
After watching Byun Woo Seok in “Record of Youth” and Park Jung Woo in “Love Playlist,” Bang Woo Ri made them offers as she thought they were well-suited for their roles. She continued, “Noh Yoon Seo auditioned. She joined near the end but as soon as she came, there was a freshness that made all the staff members think, ‘this is her.'”
Bang Woo Ri shared that despite Kim Yoo Jung’s young age, the actress is her senior and plays the leadership role well on set. The director revealed that Kim Yoo Jung could’ve felt pressured by her own seniority, but she quickly became close with her co-stars and created a comfortable atmosphere for everyone. Bang Woo Ri added, “Since Kim Yoo Jung is such a veteran, rather than me asking for something, we shared a lot of discussions.”
The ending of “20th Century Girl” led to a lot of mixed reviews, with many viewers expressing their disappointment at the revelation that Woon Ho had passed away. After Poong Woon Ho moves to New Zealand, Na Bo Ra abruptly loses contact with him and has no choice but to move on. As an adult, Na Bo Ra is invited to an art exhibition by Poong Woon Ho’s younger brother where she learns that he passed away years ago.
Bang Woo Ri addressed this heartbreaking ending, sharing, “I couldn’t give up on this ending.” With a laugh she added, “To be honest, I received a lot of resentment.”
She continued, “First loves are sentimental because they [typically] don’t work out, but I also think it’s because the youth you spent with them will never return. For both Bo Ra and Woon Ho, they are each other’s first loves and first breakups. As they were unfamiliar with love, they must have been unfamiliar with breakups. Regular people just move on in that unfamiliar state but since this is a movie, I thought that the leads had to reunite no matter what for a final farewell. I wanted to complete the parting of these two youths. The [film] title was created after the final line ‘I want to see 21st century you’ was written.”
Commenting on viewers’ perspectives, the director shared, “When viewers click this film, I believe there’s a story they expect. I planned to go head-to-head and not stray from the emotions that viewers wished for. Honestly, since it’s hard to stray from clichés in romance films, I was determined to do my best and make it fun, in the right way. You might think it’s obvious, but I did my best to try and find new things within it. I don’t think there’s a film that can satisfy every person. I saw a comment that said after watching foreign first love films, they [finally] found a first love film suited to their tastes, and that’s all I need.”
For her next project, Bang Woo Ri shared, “I’m not saying that I will make the same movie next time, but I want to create a similar film. I want to make a warm story with ordinary people as the main characters where there are movie-like moments within their ordinary lives.”
Check out Kim Yoo Jung in “Lovers of the Red Sky” here!