Twenty Five Twenty One Season 1 Review – An incredible coming of age drama

Season 1

Episode Guide

Episode 1 -| Review Score –4/5
Episode 2 -| Review Score –3.5/5
Episode 3 -| Review Score –3.5/5
Episode 4 -| Review Score –4/5
Episode 5 -| Review Score –4/5
Episode 6 -| Review Score –4/5
Episode 7 -| Review Score –4.5/5
Episode 8 -| Review Score –4/5
Episode 9 -| Review Score –4.5/5
Episode 10 -| Review Score –3.5/5
Episode 11 -| Review Score –4/5
Episode 12 -| Review Score –4/5
Episode 13 -| Review Score – 5/5
Episode 14 -| Review Score –4.5/5
Episode 15 -| Review Score –5/5
Episode 16 -| Review Score –3/5


A show can live or die by its ending. As we’ve seen with disasters like Game Of Thrones, the quality that preceded a closure can fall to the wayside and amount to nothing if you don’t stick the landing.

While Game Of Thrones plummeted nose-first onto the runway, exploding into a million pieces, Twenty Five Twenty One wobbles, loses a wheel and just about manages to make it down intact, albeit with shaky passengers and a lot of worried looks.

Plane analogies aside (disclaimer: apologies for anyone who’s afraid of flying reading this!) Twenty Five Twenty One could have been the perfect coming of age k-drama, but its ending definitely puts a dent in that 10/10 score.

That aside, this series features a solid story, excellent characterisation and one of the best soundtracks seen in any Korean drama for quite some time. Ending aside, this is one of 2022’s brightest gems.

The story takes place in both the present and 1998. During the present, a certain virus is doing the rounds and Na Hee-Do watches as her daughter loses her nerve during a ballet competition and quits outright.

When she heads home, Kim Min-Chae finds her mother’s journals and through her eyes – and clever bits of narration – we learn about Hee-Do’s past. This is where the bulk of the drama takes place, as we experience the innocent, optimistic world of this up and coming fencer.

Unfortunately, due to the South Korean financial crisis, Hee-Do’s high school fencing team is disbanded. Hee-Do convinces her mother to let her switch schools and train with Coach Yang. Now, Yang has history with Hee-Do’s mum, which we learn more of across the season. She also happens to be coaching Ko Yu-Rim, the current Gold medallist in fencing, and Hee-Do’s role model.

Interwoven across this story is another involving Baek Yi Jin, a tragic young man who finds himself burdened with his father’s business (and debts). When the financial crisis causes him to suddenly shift from wealth to poverty, Yi-Jin studies, juggles part time jobs and tries to pay back those disgruntled workers that blame him for their woes.

As the show continues, Hee-Do and Yi Jin find comfort in one another, with Yi Jin’s life experience and grounded attitude contrasting Hee-Do’s optimistic and upbeat persona perfectly. There’s something about these two that really resonates across the season, and their dialogue and mismatched relationship works an absolute treat.

With strong themes around youth, forgiveness, innocence and the harsh realities of life, Twenty Five Twenty One has a fair amount of emotional weight to it. What’s particularly interesting though is how this changes across the run-time. As Hee-Do and her friends get older, the problems they face become much more important.

At the start of the show, we’re tackling school exams and training woes, and by the end it interweaves the real life tragedy of 9/11 into the story, as PTSD, mental health and depression take the story in a very different direction. This journey is a gradual one, and it’s so subtle that you’re unlikely to notice it until it slams onto the screens near the end, leaving you in a blubbering mess. The main difference here though is that those earlier moments of levity are all but gone.

While Twenty Five Twenty One is a solid coming of age story, it’s also a fun and light-hearted affair for most of the story too. For every tear jerking moment, there’s another laugh out loud segment or a silly quip involving Hee-Do and her friends… the same cannot be said for the ending.

I won’t go into spoiler territory here but while a lot of people have bemoaned this finale as destroying the series, I’d have to disagree.

Given the sheer quality of what’s come before, it was always going to be difficult to wrap everything up in a satisfying manner. The problem arises that Twenty Five Twenty One’s ending is just…an ending. It leaves big questions on the table while wrapping things up in a bit of a ham-fisted and forced way. For those who have invested a lot of time into this one, that’s likely to rub you up the wrong way.

It’s not a bad ending per-se, but given how incredible the writing is before this, it’s a little disappointing to see average writing in the finale.

However, the drama preceding that is so good that it eclipses the ending. There are some excellent lessons in this about friendship, sacrifice and the cruel reality of life that hit like an absolute sledgehammer. I dare anyone to get through episode 15 without absolutely bawling their eyes out.

In fact, episode 15 is something I’d like to talk about here, as it seems to be the turning point for many people. I won’t spoil plot points here but the entire chapter is pitch perfect and probably one of the best episodes of any K-drama released in a long while.

Within this, the show tackles two specific relationships with very different outcomes. The first comes from Yu-Rim and Hee-Do; enemies turned friends that cap off their incredible journey with an emotional fencing match.

The midway point of this 1 hour 20 minute episode (and it’s literally in the middle, just like a fencing match is split into two sides) turns the focus to Yi-Jin and Hee-Do, but the tone is very different. But then, isn’t life like that?

To quote Rocky, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows.  It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it.”

I won’t write out the full quote but I think this captures the essence of what Twenty Five Twenty One is trying to do. This is a beautifully written, almost-pitch perfect K-drama that navigates through the innocence and youth of being a teenager and how brutal that shift is when you become an adult.

This is one of the rare occasions where what’s come before is so good that it would be a crime not to watch it. Subjective ending aside, Twenty Five Twenty One is an excellent K-drama and one of the best released this year.

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  • Verdict - 9/10

4 thoughts on “Twenty Five Twenty One Season 1 Review – An incredible coming of age drama”

  1. im having a hard time to accept the ending . every thing was fine just let them marry each other its sucks

  2. I loved twenty five twenty one. I was sad that they didn’t end up together.
    But you have to remember Yi-Jin’s main concern was getting his family back together which he eventually did. He loved Hee-do but he never promised her anything. This is a person who had everything taken away from him and he had to start from scratch.
    Maybe something could have come from their relationship if Hee-do didn’t push for something when she did.

  3. Definitely requires a 2nd season to clear up all the questions. Look forward to seeing how it will end. 1st season ended too ambiguous for any satisfaction.

  4. Twenty Five Twenty One

    Analysis and Speculation about a possible sequel TFTO-2

    Spoiler Alert: Do not read this article if you havn’t watched TFTO, or if you are patiently awaiting TFTO Series 2.

    Like many viewers, I was initially disappointed with the ending of TFTO but eventually I realized there is more to the Hee-do, Yi-jin tale than has been presented. There were many anomalies and indicators that pointed to a continuation of their relationship. For example, Min-chae is 15 years old during the Covid19 crises indicating that she was born in 2006 or 2007 at the latest. Why did Yi-jin congratulate her on her marriage in the 2009 interview when she won the gold medal in LA? The question 5 that he deleted from the list, with obvious embarrassment, may have revealed a secret connection between them.

    TFTO provides many clues, and probably some misleading ones, about the future of Na Hee-do and Back Yi-jin after their break-up. They still had strong feelings for each other as displayed in the very emotional scene where they cried and embraced just before he left to take up the position in New York. Nevertheless, based on an analysis of the available information, and a little bit of imagination, their relationship could have a rather eventful future along the following lines.

    When news of their breakup travels through the Korean fencing team several male members hit on Hee-do, an attractive and talented female who is suddenly free. She may have been reluctant to get involved in romantic relations because of the bitter breakup with Yi-jin, but over time she probably puts her concerns aside and becomes attached to one of them but apparently not Jong Ho-jin, ‘sweetie pie’. A steamy relationship likely follows as the fencing teams travel together with regular contact between them. Assuming the partner is Kim Eun-su, who is mentioned later in connection with her diary, they likely share travel, meals and, perhaps secretly, rooms. Unlike the love affair with Yi-jin, where timing was difficult and he was often late or missed rendezvous, regular and frequent contacts come with their positions.

    Dates are critical to understanding this tale. Hee-do and Yi-jin broke up in 2002 when he left for the NY to take up the position. Therefore, Hee-do may have become involved in a serious relationship a year or two later, say 2003 or 2004. It could have proceeded to the point of marriage by 2005, at the time of her gold medal victory at Prague. However, as she commented later, “You never know till you actually walk down the aisle” so the marriage appears to have been a deep disappointment to her. Perhaps fond memories of her love affair with Yi-jin still haunted her.

    Renewed contact with Yi-jin may have resulted from her gold medal victory in 2005. Did he interview her on that occasion and congratulate her on her wedding? A celebration dinner with her mother and Yi-jin possibly follows providing an opportunity for them to catch up on their respective situations including her separation and pending divorce. Hee-do’s mother, Jae-kyung, has always had a soft spot for Yi-jin and encourages their renewed relationship by conveniently being out when he visits, which he does with increasing frequency. They must keep their new relationship secret because of the reporter-subject problem and her divorce proceedings. Nevertheless, the affair may have blossomed into a new romance. One can speculate that Ye-jin suggests that they go on trip, compensation for the one they missed in 2001, and to give them more time together. As mentioned earlier, Hee-do has never been to Jeju and wants to go there, so it is the perfect destination. A volcanic island about 30min from Seoul by air, it is popular for romantic getaways. Yi-jin takes care of the booking, with separate rooms as insisted by Hee-do. Famous and easily recognizable, she doesn’t want a scandal while she is seeking a divorce.

    They fly to Jeju city and drive to a secluded resort on the south coast of the island. ‘Far from the maddening crowd’, they have a delightful holiday, visiting many of the unique sites on the island by day and enjoying sunset dinners in the evenings. The volcanic origin of the island is clearly visible with walls of volcanic rock enclosing fields and paths paved with the same material. Hee-do’s superior level of fitness soon becomes evident. There are long stairs down into the huge Mahjang lava tube that had carried lava during the last volcanic eruption. Also, Mount Hallasan is a comfortable walk for her, but Yi-jin comes puffing and panting behind. Nonetheless, Hee-do is supremely happy. She can finally enjoy the deep heartfelt pleasure of spending day and night with the man she loves, the one who first penetrated her heart. Before leaving Jeju, they take out forms to register their marriage and return to Seoul with a stronger bond than ever. Hee-do is also joyful a few weeks later when it is confirmed that she has a baby on board. She informs the coach and takes a year off from competitive fencing.

    However, they are now in an exceptionally delicate situation; Hee-do is seeking an uncontested divorce and her connection with Yi-jin must be kept secret because of his work at UBS. Her estranged husband soon gets word of her condition and refuses to sign the divorce agreement. Eventually he relents but not before the baby is born and named Kim after him rather than the father. Thus, Min-chae appears in the series as Kim, not Back.

    After a year off for maternity, Hee-do finds it difficult to recover her competitive form. When she confides her concerns to Yu-rim during an online chat she volunteers to help and goes to the training centre regularly with her. Yu-rim is still in excellent shape because of her fencing school and easily defeats Hee-do. In a short practice bout, the score ends at eight to zero. Hee-do is devastated but Yu-rim is delighted, sweet revenge for an old sore. However, losing to Yu-rim frequently riles Hee-do and arouses her competitive spirit. She works furiously to get back into shape for competitions including the LA games. Regular bouts with Yu-rim enable her to monitor progress. Eventually they reach parity and Yu-rim declares that Hee-do is ready to take on the world, which she does winning gold in LA.

    Concurrent with these activities, Ji Seung-wan bonds with Yi-jin’s brother, Yi-hyun, leading to a passionate and adventuresome relationship. Yi-jin frowns on their activities but can’t say too much as they are both aware of his secret connection with Hee-do. A beautiful wedding for Moon Ji-ung and Yu-rim with some special effects courtesy of the groom. He designs custom made clothes for his close friends attending the wedding.
    Hee-do and Yi-jin continue to maintain absolute secrecy about their close relationship. They are both well-known public figures and register their marriage secretly in Jeju. She sometimes wears a wedding ring to indicate her marital status but refuses to reveal the identity of her partner. This situation continues through 2009 when she wins gold in LA. Question No. 5 that Yi-jin deleted from the list prepared for the interview was probably about her spouse. However, her unspoken comment during the interview reflected the reality of their relationship: ‘Wherever you are, I’ll make sure my support reaches you. I’ll take care of everything. See you then.’ That certainly sounds more like a statement from a life-partner than an old girlfriend from almost a decade earlier.

    Hee-do’s daughter, Kim Min-chae is an important factor and her birth date can be deduced from indirect pieces of information. She is 15 and mentions that her school trip was cancelled this year because of Covid-19 restrictions. Thus, she must have been born in 2006 or 2007 at the latest. That would have given Hee-do just time to get back to the level of fitness and competitiveness required for the LA games in 2009.

    We also learn that Min-chae is anxious to have her father back home. He is unable to come for short visits because of covid-19 quarantine rules in Korea and the country where he is posted. That gives a small clue to who and where her father is. Her online search also provides clues to his situation. She finds that there is an undefined connection between Yi-jin and Hee-do at the time of the LA games and there is a mention of ‘diplomatic tensions’ in his connection. This suggests that he may have become involved in diplomatic work. This could have led to an overseas posting at a time when Min-chae was too young to remember him and would explain why she doesn’t recognize him in a photo from 1998. Covid rules restricted travel to Korea from 2019 to early 2022. The quarantine rules have been relaxed so it is now possible for Yi-jin turn up as the father of Min-chae, reuniting the family and everyone, including many fans, will be happy.

    With congratulations to all the performers in Twenty Five Twenty One, Series 1.
    Beautifully executed.

    JWP, August 14, 2022

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