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Raucous, charming and terribly entertaining, Twenty is a breezy glimpse at the lives of three school friends who literally stand at the crossroads of maturity.  The onset of adulthood and all the intricacies of grown-up love is greeted by each of the guys in very different ways.  There is Kyeong-jae, who enters college as expected and is fine to wander about academically, until his desire to get closer to a sharp young coed lures him into the business world by osmosis.  There is the talented artist, Dong-woo, who single-mindedly pursues his dream of becoming a cartoonist, despite pressure to leave his studies to support his poor family.  The third of the trio, Chi-ho is a born waster who’s let his libido do all the thinking for him since high school.  He’s not remotely bothered about his complete lack of direction, as long as his parents don’t cut off his allowance; a threat even his full-on, pounding-the-floor tantrums can’t derail.

Much of the fuel in Twenty’s engine comes from the earnest likability of its three leads.  Korea’s It-boy, Kim Woo-bin, makes a ridiculously charming jerk.  His Chi-ho wishes he was as cool as his vigorously cultivated image as a player would have it.  His rakishness and good looks seem to have their effect, as at least one young lady puts up with his nonsense, only to be cast aside as an afterthought.  It is only when he literally runs into a girl who can’t seem to care less, that he more than meets his match.  Kim runs the gamut from sleazily languid to perkily, disturbingly cute in a heartbeat.  This is the second thing I’ve seen him in after the crime drama, Friend: The Great Legacy, and I’m again impressed.  He makes good use of his tall, lanky, chopstick-like physique, and his face, with its impish, permanently-raised eyebrows (not as much in evidence here), expresses more than what appears on its handsome surface.

Kang Ha-neul, another dashingly pretty thing, plays it smaller as the angsty, nervous Kyeong-jae, who doesn’t have much of an identity until the arrival his advanced new crush.  Kyeong-jae’s such an introvert that he nearly perishes in mortification at being caught in the throes of “self-discovery” by his wiseacre younger sister.  It isn’t much of a shock that he pulls a complete Jekyll and Hyde after a few glasses of soju.

From the huge KPop group, 2PM, idol Lee Jun-ho plays the determined Dong-woo with both grave focus and easygoing resignation.  Having lost their family fortune, his father has booked it out of town, leaving Dong-woo to become the head of the household, which poses a constant threat to his dream of becoming a successfully trained cartoonist.  His frail mother was once a great beauty who never had to lift a finger in her life and cannot adapt to being the family’s main provider.  The pressure mounts on Dong-woo to leave school and go to work, and he does all he can to shut out the inevitable.  This doesn’t leave him much of a life of his own as he struggles through college courses and a part-time job.  Both Dong-woo and Kyeong-jae live vicariously through Chi-ho, who has no responsibilities and all the sexual adventures the pair dream of thrown in his lap (though he tries unsuccessfully to share the wealth… after a fashion).  There is a clear adoration and brotherhood between the trio and I could have gone on watching their laddish philosophies and misguided theories about women for hours.

To my shock and surprise, it felt like I’d just seen a Korean version of the old 1980s teen sex comedies, like Porky’s, Private Resort, or Losin’ It; or as close to it as the filmmakers would get.  This realisation felt strange as I watched the three leads cavort onscreen led about by their hormones.  Then I realised this was a South Korean film poised towards a far more conservative audience of teenagers, who could not bear to see their idols be truly naughty … at least sexually.  Their men’s careers could be seriously imperiled.  Twenty gets as risqué as it dares with its three idol leads.  Chi-ho’s love ‘em and leave ‘em attitude is handled with a light touch that brings only the slightest tap on the wrist for his bad behaviour.  We’re never shown what exactly it is on Kyeong-jae’s computer that has him so excited, but the ribbing and blunt commentary from his bratty sis (Played by the excellent Lee Yoo-bi, who completely stole the hit K-Drama, Pinocchio) give us a clue.  Even the matter of Chi-ho’s ladylove’s escort duties is handled with the softest of kid gloves.

Still, the frankness of Chi-ho’s ambitious amour and her willingness to sleep her way to the top, regardless of his unexpectedly true feelings for her, is pretty surprising.  Same for Kyeong-jae‘s progressive and forthright coed crush.  It is a bit concerning that these sexually direct ladies are cast in negative lights, but sadly not surprising.  Chi-ho‘s much spoken of, but unseen tomcat behaviour and complete lack of contribution to society other than being decorative is comedy, but for those young women to control their sexuality while setting themselves up for success in the working world makes them pariahs, who, in one case, must leave the country.  Not the focus of the film, but it’s hard not to see it.

Nope, let’s put that to the side.  We come to laugh and laugh we do, with moments like the three guys’ existential discourses and their interactions with the older, more jaded citizens of life.  Chi-ho’s sudden employment as manager to his new actress girlfriend sparks the one and only thought to the future he’s ever had, when he decides he wants to make movies.  His request for guidance and advice from the director on the girl’s set starts a hilarious dissertation of the older man’s regrets and lost hopes and all the reasons why Chi-ho should never become a director (mostly, it seems, because he’d actually be expected to direct a film).  Hyeong-jae on alcohol is every sort of party monster; whether protesting loudly against social injustice, projectile vomiting (captured on video for the world to see), or delivering the darkest, most rage-filled, scream-metal version of 4Minute’s fluffy pop hit, What’s Your Name? in the history of noraebang.

However, of all these excellent moments of mirth, the one that is worth the price of admission is the fight in the trio’s favourite Chinese food restaurant.  The boys decide to stand up for the little guy against a gang of thugs shaking the owners down and discover that good intentions can’t replace a good left hook.  With helpful narration to let us understand what should be happening - but doesn’t - we witness what is probably the most realistic fight ever filmed.  Flailing arms, epically mislanded blows, poorly conceived strategies and abortive escape attempts after blatant shows of cowardice fill the screen in slow motion, so we don’t miss a glorious moment.  If the whole movie had been that scene for an hour and a half, I’d queue up to see it over and over again. It’s pure slapstick comedy gold.

Unsurprisingly, Twenty is a box office hit in its native South Korea, but thanks to its sweet, slightly naughty silliness and the powerful allure of its cast, there is much fans everywhere can take from this charming and hilarious coming-of-age tale.

 

~ The Lady Miz Diva

Apr 17th, 2015

 

 

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Photos

Stills Courtesy of CJ Entertainment

 

 

 

 

 

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