Coming-of-age films are a dime a dozen. So what makes “Twenty” any different from its comrades? For one, it boasts of a star-studded cast that shot it into the spotlight. Luckily, the cast was more than capable of pulling off the raunchy dialogue, coming-of-age antics, and moments of gravity that accompany the shell shock of stepping into the real world. The three headliners, Kim Woo-bin, Lee Junho, and Kang Ha-neul, were more than capable of taking on their roles.
“Twenty” is much like a twenty-year-old manchild: a little (or a lot) self-indulgent, possessed of confidence about the future that defies actual experience, obsessed with sex, and enough potty humor to carry the film through its one hundred and seventeen minute run time. These elements take the three young friends and hurl them into adulthood where reality throws them some hardballs. They literally meet a crossroads twice in the film, once when they graduate high school, once when their first big decisions as adults loom over their heads. I personally loved those moments because it felt much like many crossroads I encountered at that age. I also loved that, in the end, they come out of the first stage of their journey into adulthood as three friends who still have a lot to learn just like the rest of us humans.
This film is writer-director Lee Byeong-hun’s second venture into feature film after “Cheer Up, Mr. Lee” and it shares a similar vibe, especially in his focus on the less-savory aspects of living, like getting caught masterbating by a little sister. Lee’s main trio are well-developed specimens of young adulthood, but the other characters only serve to support their journey. That lack of development matched the overall tone of the film, which catered to developing the boys and the highlights of their age. Time that could’ve been spent developing their love interests and family was spent on humorous temper tantrums, discussions of how to get laid, and a few very-indulgent slow motion scenes. The scenes that included love interests were skewed to focus on the thoughts of the boy involved and greatly excluded the girls. This focus felt overindulgent, but was nevertheless effective.
The contrast between the three boys and their stories was the most effective part of the film.
We have Kim Woo-bin as Chi-ho, the leader of the pack of manchildren who wealth and self-confidence allow him to focus on chasing women. He has an extreme nonchalance towards life that fortunately doesn’t rub off on his friends. His journey is both the most stunted, but also the most extreme in that his character is the most shallow and seemed to have no hope of maturation. Although he learns a lot from his first love and first broken heart over the course of the film, the ending sees him still in the beginning stages of his path to adulthood, and rightly so.
Kim fits well into rolls such as these as we have seen in his drama career. While he’s often typecast into roles of bullies and players, it is for good reason. He doesn’t overdo the already intensely over-the-top player characterization. The quieter moments of realization are played with sensitivity that can, in this crazy script of sex talk and more sex talk, be overshadowed by the rest of the fast-paced happenings.
Chi-ho’s upright and career-oriented friend Kyung-jae is played by Kang Ha-neul, a young actor who is known for his ability to take on serious roles. In “Twenty” we see he also has a penchant for the humorous. But his experience and expertise balance out the trio. Kyung-jae’s story is, like Chi-ho’s, one of first love that plays out in a very different fashion than Chi-ho’s. While it also ends in heartbreak, he represents the young men at university who feel awkward around women, especially their first loves. He makes the stereotypical young man mistakes: getting too drunk and making a fool of himself, being friend-zoned, pretending to be much more slick than he actually is.
The third friend is Dong-woo who is played by 2PM’s Junho. This idol-actor fits in well with his straight-actor co-stars. He has the most serious roll of the three because Dong-woo is the friend whose be cast the most dire lot in life: poverty. He has the most solid dream of the three friends, but he has not the mean to actualize it because of his family’s situation. If he had had the means like Chi-ho perhaps he would’ve chased more women, but instead this character has to work in order to pay his way through school and achieve his dream of being a manhwa artist. Junho’s performance as Dong-woo was surprisingly grounded for an idol-actor that, in my opinion, makes him just a plain ol’ good actor.
“Twenty” is a character study with very little actual plot to follow besides the boys’ individual journeys during this transitionary part of their life. It’s chock-full of raunchy humor and antics that very-well depict the gutter-like minds and low filters of the twenty-year-old boy. It provides for some real hilarity such as when Chi-ho decides he wants to be a film director and direct a film about men protecting their penises from aliens. When that idea flops (as it rightfully should), manhwa-minded Dong-woo makes it into a webtoon. It’s a nice follow through storywise and humorwise. Most of the gutter humor is too heavy-handed for my taste, but it provides for great general entertainment. That said, I’m not sure if “Twenty” will stand the test of time, but it certainly is currently popular because of its Hallyu casting.
In the end, the boys end up where they started, together on a literal road to their second venture into adulthood. They are the same foolish boys with just a little bit more experience under their belts to guide them and with a lot more to learn ahead of them. A message true to life.