How episode 1 of “Twenty twenty” shows Korean culture

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“Twenty twenty”‘s out!

I was an avid fan of the “A-teen” series, especially of Kim Hana (played by Lee Naeun).

So when I read the news that Lee Naeun was starring in episode 1 of “Twenty twenty”, I cautiously went on Naver TV to watch just episode 1.

Before I knew it, I’d finished watching 5 episodes in one sitting. (lol my gut instinct warning me not to start another series was right)

The drama stars actress/model Han Sung Min (born in 2001). When this photo was out, she became popular for resembling stars like Jennie (Blackpink).

I personally don’t think she looks that much like Jennie- but with the eye make-up, hairstyle and the way this picture was taken, she does look particularly like Jennie in this pic.

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Han Sung Min’s portrayal of her character (SLIGHT SPOILER ALERT!!) trying to wrestle out of her frighteningly obsessive mother’s control to become a true independent adult, is quite good, especially considering she’s quite a newbie actor.

Actor/idol Kim Woo Seok (born in 1996). I’m not very well familiar with many Korean idols so I didn’t know him before watching the series, but his acting seems quite okay!

His overall vibe in the series seems to suit his character very well- somewhat mature, laid back, calm and a cat-person (?) (actually owns a cat in the series)- and he portrays his character’s emotions subtly & skilfully.

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and actor Park Sang Nam (born in 1994). He has beautifully colored eyes and seems to portray his character in the series- the kind of guy who’s all nice and gentleman-like but slightly creepy and obsessive- excellently. The character he portrays in the series reminded me of Park Hae Jin’s character Yoo Jung in “Cheese in the Trap”.

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I’m attending university in Singapore, and although I don’t get to engage in that active of a uni life now (covid…), it’s great so far.

But I’ve always still been curious about university life in my own country Korea too.

Going for MTs (“Membership Trainings” which are kinda hanging out with friends time), taking pictures in pretty new clothes with friends in the backdrop of cherry blossom trees, having my first glass of soju, sharing slices of watermelon with friends at Haeundae beach…

Maybe because I was & am so curious about uni life in Korea, it’s fun watching the characters in the web drama go through their first and tumultuous year in uni which I would’ve experienced if I’d grown up there.

“Twenty twenty” definitely doesn’t have the in-depth, sophisticated plots of mainstream dramas. It’s a web drama after all. Plus, the average age and acting experience of the actors might be low compared to that of cable TV series.

But it’s still worth a watch because it’s a realistic portrayal of the growing pains of once-teenagers learning to become adults.

Watching the series will be more fun if you understand the cultural nuances/context of universities in South Korea! Here are some interesting cultural tidbits of episode 1 of “Twenty twenty”. (SPOILERS ALERT!!)

#Scene 1

The episode begins with the three characters from the “A-teen” series having a chat over soju. (a “pass-over” scene linking the Twenty Twenty to the A-teen)

Yeo Boram (played by Kim Soo Hyun) is a full-fledged YouTuber live-streaming her hang-out with friends. Kim Hana (played by Lee Na-Eun) and Ryu Ju Ha (played by Choi Bomin) are university students at Seoyeon University. (FYI for those who haven’t watched A-Teen- they’re a couple!)

Yeo Boram urges Kim Hana to down her glass of soju- but Ryu Ju Ha takes her glass and finishes it instead. (Ohhhhh)

Kim Hana & Ryu Juha, the official couple of A-teen
Screenshot of “Episode 1; twenty twenty”
Screenshot of “Episode 1; twenty twenty”

One of the viewers of Yeo Boram’s YouTube live-streaming comments that Ryu Ju Ha is a “heuk-gisa” or “흑기사“.

The terms “heuk-gisa” and “heuk-jangmi” are commonly used words when Koreans have a drink. “Heuk-gisa” literally means “black/dark knight”, and “heuk-jangmi” means “black/dark rose”.

“Heuk-gisa” is used to refer to a man who chooses to drink a glass a woman has to drink in a drinking game, while “heuk-jangmi” refers to a woman who chooses to drink a glass a man has to drink in a drinking game.

Being someone’s heuk-gisa or heuk-jangmi tends to reflect brewing or existing romantic interests!

Cha Eun Woo acting as Lim Soo Hyang’s “heuk gisa”

#Scene 2

The main character in the “Twenty” series, Chae Da Hee (played by Han Sung Min) lives with her (slightly scary) mum who has Dae Hee’s life plan set out for her.

No drinking, no parties with friends, no joining of fun CCAs. Her mum drives her from school to uni, and wants her to call after school’s over.

A second year student who’s taking a class with Da Hee sarcastically remarks that anyone who is always picked up by car is either an “elementary kid” or a “geum soo juh”, or, “금수저“. (rude much)

“Anyone who always gets picked up by car is either an elementary kid or a geum soo juh”
Can you see the “What the” look on Da Hee’s face

The term “geum soo juh” literally means “gold spoon”. It’s a Korean term for referring to someone who’s from a wealthy family. Of course, we have terms like “heuk soo juh” (“dirt/soil spoon”), “eun soo juh” (“silver spoon”) and “dia soo juh” (“diamond spoon”)- you can imagine which socioeconomic status each term is referring to.

# Scene 3

After the offended Da Hee leaves the lecture hall, a fellow classmate Baek Ye-Eun (played by Chae Won Bin) snidely asks the rude year 2, “Are you bored because you’re the only year 2 here taking a freshman class?” and leaves. (Ye-Eun being the character who says what we want to say)

Annoyed Ye Eun arms crossed
Ye-Eun looking at him pathetically

The year 2 student is left dumbfounded and wonders aloud, “What the heck, is she a bok-hak-saeng?”

A “bok-haek-saeng” is a term used to refer to a student who returned to university after taking some time off. Bok-haek-saengs are not uncommon in universities in Korea- many students take some time off for internships, overseas exchange programs, or simply to go on a vacation.

What’s interesting here, though, is why the year 2 student wonders if Ye-Eun is a “bok-hak-saeng”. That’s possibly because of the strong idea of “seniority” in Korea.

“How old are you?” may not be a very important question in Westernized cultures, but it is still very much so in Korea.

Talking back to or voicing out an opinion so strongly and boldly as Ye-Eun did to someone who’s a senior, is something so unconventional that the year 2 wonders if she’s actually his age or older than him.

# Scene 4

Bo-Hyun (played by Kang Yu Chan), another character in the series, is having a drink with his friends when someone bumps into him. It’s Cha Gi Hyun (played by Ryu Eui-Hyun from the A-teen series).

Bo-Hyun’s already annoyed the passing Gi Hyun had made him spill his drink on his clothes- but he hears Gi Hyun on the phone scolding a friend, saying, “How can a jae-soo-saeng drink? Do you want to sam-soo?”

This comment misses Bo Hyun off because Bo Hyun himself is a jae-soo-saeng drinking with his friends who’re the same age as him but are uni year 1 students. (ouch)

Jae-soo” refers to the act of studying for the Korean university entrance exam, “soo-neung”, for another year. “Jae-soo-saeng” refers to the student who’s repeating a year.

Sam-soo” similarly refers to the act of studying for the Korean university entrance exam again- but now, for the third time. “Sam” literally means “three” in Korean.

Re-taking university entrance exam 1-2 more times could be quite a big deal in other countries, but it isn’t the case in Korea.

Even if students do actually get accepted into a university, they often choose to re-take the exam so that they can get into an even better university- some even aiming for a spot in SKY (stands for Seoul University, Koryeo University and Yeonsei University, the top three in Korea).

There are even “jae-soo hakwons”- “tuition schools” for those re-taking their entrance exams. Students re-taking the exam spend their days in these schools studying, exercising, resting and attending lectures by tutors.

The “tuition schools” are basically schools specially made for the students to study in conducive environments.

# Scene 5

Da Hee is at a casual drink session with people from her university. The problem is, her mother (who’s a tad obsessive about controlling her daughter’s life) has explicitly told her not to drink with her uni friends. Her mother’s calling, and anxious Da Hee wants to go out and pick up the call.

The same year 2 who’d made fun of her for being picked up by her mum, comments, “Where are you going when your sunbae is talking?” and adds, “You should sit down and pour me a drink.” (do it yourself.)

A friend’s “Are you serious” look

First, the concept of “sunbae” and “upper class student“. This concept is also closely linked to the idea of “bok-hak-saeng” mentioned in Scene 3.

The word “sunbae” doesn’t only just refer to someone who’s an older person or a senior at work/school.

In Korea, we speak in honorific to our sunbaes. Not only that- we are less likely to go against their opinions and more likely to cater to their needs (e.g. give them seats, ask for their preference first when going out for dinner, agree with what they’re saying).

These unspoken rules pertaining to the relationship between a sunbae and a hoobae (someone who’s younger at work/uni) are a tad looser nowadays but definitely still exist.

This culture of seniority in Korea is a double-edged sword- one through which we can show respect, but one which can be a source of uncomfortable power imbalance that can be abused by some sunbaes.

Next, on the year 2’s remark that Da Hee should “sit down and pour [him] a drink”. This can be an insult, one that some Koreans believe borders on being a remark of sexual harassment. (Hard for someone to be ill-mannered so consistently…)

In Korea, the idea of a woman pouring a drink can be deemed by some as an act of impropriety.

Women and girls are taught to not pour drinks for men unless for their husbands or fathers.

Even some husbands and fathers themselves don’t want their daughters and wives to pour drinks for them because they deem the act to be inappropriate and insulting to women.

That’s because the act of women pouring drinks has been long associated with women working in brothels/women who are sexually promiscuous.

While this association may have weakened over time, there are still men and women who view requesting of women to pour drinks as rude or inappropriate.

~ * ~

That’s it for today’s post on Episode 1 of “Twenty twenty”!

Hope you’ve found this post a good read. If you did, please give it a like/comment! It’ll be even better if you follow my blog “Han Style” 🙂

If you haven’t already started watching the series, check out the Playlist Global YouTube Channel, Naver TV and V-live to keep up with the latest episodes!

Cheers, Han Seol 🙂

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