K-drama review: Hello, My Twenties!

This was another random Netflix recommendation, and it was a really good one. Hello, My Twenties! (also known in English as Age of Youth) cuts through a lot of the tropes of Korean TV. The lead characters are all women and they’re not lame! Some of them have sex before marriage and it’s not a big deal! There’s not even one overarching storyline, but instead several intersecting ones!

This show is also unusual among K-dramas in that it’s had two seasons and is in discussions for a third, and that doesn’t spoil it at all. Both seasons one and two wrapped up some storylines while leaving others open-ended and each time this felt right as both an ending and a possible opener for more to come.

The basis is a shared house in Seoul called Belle Epoque and the five women who share it (one of whom changes for the second season). Over the short seasons (12–14 episodes) we get to know the women – their friends, their love lives, their taste in food and clothes – and we watch them becoming friends with each other. As this is a typical flatshare, the women didn’t know each other before moving in and are very different. They probably wouldn’t have met, let alone become friends, without this house. In season one, each episode largely concentrates on one of the women, so their secrets are revealed gradually – and they all have secrets.

It’s a pretty lighthearted series, with a lot of comedy alongside the drama (and a few hints at the supernatural). Even when dealing with some very serious issues it never feels heavy, but does still manage to treat the issues with respect. I really appreciate, for instance, that a traumatic event in the first season continues to have a big effect on the life of that character throughout the second season, which is set a year later, because sometimes people don’t just get over stuff.

Series one opens with Eun-jae (Park Hye-soo) moving in. She’s 20 and about to start university, studying psychology. She’s shy, from the countryside,and initially finds her housemates terrifying. We watch her experience first love and deal with dark family secrets. In series two she is played by a different actress (Ji Woo), which thoroughly confused me.

The housemate who appears scariest to this Bambi-eyed newcomer is 28-year-old Jin-myung (Han Ye-ri). She’s very serious, and strict about house rules for saving energy. She’s working three part-time jobs to pay her way through business school, so she’s rarely home and always tired. The sous chef at the restaurant where she waits tables clearly likes her, but does she have time for a relationship?

The most fun is Ji-won (Park Eun-bin), a 22-year-old journalism student who dresses extravagantly and has trouble sometimes telling the truth. She is keen to lose her virginity before she graduates and talks openly about sex at every opportunity. She took a while to grow on me but definitely became my favourite (which is handy because season two focuses on her more than the others).

Ye-eun (Han Seung-yeon) is a 22-year-old girly girl who wears a lot of pink and a lot of make-up. She has a lot of friends, a steady boyfriend and a habit of eating when she’s nervous. She can be really annoying, but also very sweet.

And finally, there’s Yi-na (Ryu Hwa-young), a 24-year-old who spends her time keeping fit and dating rich men who buy her expensive clothes. She’s so comfortable in her skin that she tends to walk around naked (though never on camera). She’s impatient with shyness or hesitation and can be quick to anger, but is also a loyal friend.

The series definitely has some oddities. After the opening scene there is always a montage of stock footage that is laughably bad (and also weird, because the people in the stock footage are clearly not Korean). At the end of most episodes, after the teaser for the next installment, there’s an epilogue, usually in the form of a pseudo interview with one or more characters. (I discovered this accidentally as I usually skip to the next episode when teasers start, but the epilogues are worth a watch.) Also, the first episode of season 2 is a weird in-between story, basically a one-off special, and has a different feel from the rest of the show. I was briefly worried, but it picks back up again.

Because there isn’t one overarching story, I didn’t find this show as addictive as I have most K-dramas, but I did really enjoy it, and I hope series three does go ahead.