Fencing With An Umbrella
Episode 1 of Twenty Five, Twenty One begins in the present day with Min-Chae arriving for a ballet competition in front of a bunch of judges. Unfortunately, she loses her nerve after watching a talented individual perform before her. She decides to outright quit.
Running away from this, Min-Chae ends up at her grandmother’s place, staying in her Mum’s old room where numerous fencing medals are hanging up. While rooting around in her room, Min-Chae finds her mum’s diary. As she opens it up, she finds juicy details surrounding her life. Min-Chae begins reading the entries, which immediately sees us cut back to the heavily saturated world of 1998.
Visually, it’s a nice way of differentiating the two time periods and Hee-Do is our main protagonist in this time period. She shows up at class on a Saturday and she’s in a joyous mood.
This is the one day of the week she enjoys because she can see “that kid.” However, we’re also in the midst of IMF situation too. For those unaware, this is the financial crisis experienced by Koreans in the late 90s, causing a severe foreign exchange shortage, leaving South Korea on the brink of defaulting.
Anyway, there are protests in the street about protecting the film industry but for Hee-Do, she’s too young and naive to even think about this and continues on her way to Tae-Yang High. There, she finds Go Yoo-Rim.
Yoo-Rim is a hugely talented fencer, and Hee-Do has big dreams to one day become her rival. Unfortunately, the IMF crisis sees the fencing team disbanded and that means Hee-Do’s dreams now rest solely with trying to make it into Tae-Yang High. She wants a transfer but her mum is having none of it, instead telling her to quit the sport.
As the pair argue, the new paperboy, Baek Yi-Jin, arrives at the house with the newspaper. It’s his first day and he overhears everything, eventually throwing the newspaper but breaking the peeing boy statue outside. As fate would have it, there’s even a note specifically saying not to deliver newspapers. Unfortunately, this fake statue has had its penis knocked off and it’s the crux of Hee-Do’s anger as she heads out and confronts the paperboy.
Yi-Jin has only just moved into the neighbourhood and he’s got a part-time job in the comic book store too. Funnily enough, Hee-Do is actually a regular here and she shows up looking for the next volume of Full House, the comic she’s been reading. However, the one she’s handed in happens to have a large bogie right across the page and he calls her out for defacing it.
That night, Hee-Do sneaks into Tae Yang High and drops to her knees, pleading with Coach Yang to teach her. She declines but does encourage her to try and transfer there if she can.
When a big fight breaks out in the streets between a bunch of girls, Hee-Do seizes the opportunity to show her skills, grabbing an umbrella and using that as a fencing weapon to thwart a guy who arrives to mess up her plans. You see, Hee-Do is so desperate to transfer that she’s willing to get herself arrested to see this happen.
The other girls all stop and watch her fight but everything goes horribly wrong when she fails to get arrested. However, this scene does help to show the girl has some serious skills. That same umbrella though, is eventually thrown down to Yu-Rim later that afternoon by Hee-Do, who hides up on the roof and calls out that she’s a fan.
Things go from bad to worse later that day when Hee-Do shows up at a club as a minor. She’s adamant on doing something illegal but when she’s called into a private room, who should be there but Yi-jin. He’s not exactly comfortable with her arrival but one of the other guys berates Yi-jin, claiming he’s gotten cheap since his family went bankrupt.
Yi-Jin ignores the warnings of the men and takes Hee-Do outside. He warns her that things could have gone really badly. It’s here she opens up about losing her dreams of fencing. Yi-Jin though, knows all about losing things (given his family history) and encourages her to come up with a better plan if she wants to succeed.
Yi-Jin also tells her she needs to hold onto her dream and not let that go. After finding out each other’s names, Hee-Do decides he can continue to deliver newspapers after all.
In the morning, Hee-Do ends up in a big argument with her mum. As things escalate, she rips up Hee-Do’s comic book which is a step too far. You see, Hee-Do’s mum is pretty cold toward her daughter and over the years, Hee-Do has always found solace in the words and pictures of the comic.
This have been bad since her father has passed away, which could explain Hee-Do’s mother’s depression and cold demeanor. As the tears well up in her face, she eventually composes herself and walks away, not even looking at her daughter as she leaves the house for work.
Unfortunately, Hee-Do is left in a sticky situation given the comic she’s returning has ripped pages that are certainly not fit for the shelf. She does her best to replace the pages though, drawing them in herself.
When Hee-Do returns the book, she’s an absolute wreck and struggles to get her words out around her cries. For Yi-Jin though, he takes the comic back home and begins reading what she’s done, struggling to hold in his laughs. Her spelling is pretty atrocious!
In the morning, Hee-Do shows up to see Coach Yang. She manages to pass the first test, swiping an apple in her sword in mid-air. The second test? A compete and utter failure. She has to guess odds or evens…and she fails every time. She even lose her shoes. However, her tenacity and Coach Yang’s skills are enough for her to allow Hee-Do to study at Yang High.
Interestingly, it turns out that she was already granted a place there before. Hee-Do’s mum actually showed up earlier in the day and asked her for a chance to teach Hee-Do. She may be prickly and standoffish, but this woman also has a heart too and can see how important it is to her daughter.
So Hee-Do manages to go to her new high school after all, and calls out to Yi-jin for his help in achieving this. Only, he’s already passed the house and dropped off the paper. Still, he happens to overhear all of this from behind the hedges, and smiles warmly, issuing a congratulations her way.
The Episode Review
Twenty Five Twenty One gets off to a really solid start, channelling those vibes from the Reply series and adding that into a storyline that has sprinklings of Racket Boys and other sport dramas like Fight for my Way. This wonderful little blend works surprisingly well and although the episode is a little slow to begin with, the drama and stakes are pretty high and certainly lead to some big moments late on.
It’s clear that Hee-Do is going to become an amazing fencer but the ride to get there is paved in doubt and uncertainty. Hopefully these flashbacks will show what’s happened, as well as inspiring our little ballerina to don her shoes again and jump back into the lion’s den.
There’s a great message in this about never giving up too and that resonates right the way through the 70 minute episode. So far Hee-Do’s ties with Yi-Jin have been nicely developed, although it’ll be interesting to see who her online buddy is that she’s been communicating with.
There’s definitely a lot to like with this one and it seems tvN may have struck gold with this. However, it’s way too early to be jumping on the hyperbole train so we’ll have to wait and see what tomorrow’s follow-up has in store for us!