This was quite a confusing and also odd episode for the start of Twenty Again. Whimsical and amusing, but forcefully so. It doesn’t have the same charm as Oh My Ghostess that’s for sure, but it’s certainly an intriguing concept and I would like to see it play out.
We start off in the early 90’s with a young couple waltzing by the seaside, away from their peers and the concert that’s happening on the beach. Cute couple, no? It’s Kim Woo Chul and Ha Nora, falling in love for the first time. Little did they realize that in 2013 they’d be signing a divorce agreement. However, for the sake of appearances for their high school senior son Min Soo (Kim Min Jae), they’re still living together and pretending they’re married. After all, it’s a very important year for Min Soo – he’s got to prepare for the college exams.
Similarly Nora (Choi Ji Woo) is preparing for the exams. With the help of her best friend Ra Yoon Young (Jung Soo Young), she’s signed up for some English classes and additional online courses through her friend’s credit card, and pays her back with cash. Yoon Young thinks she’s crazy for doing this, and will get caught in no time. After all, Nora’s motivation for going to college is to become a more cultured and worldly woman – one whom her professor husband would like to have enlightening discussions with and possibly stay together with.
We flashback to the summer of ’93 where we find Nora working in a farm. She’s kind of klutzy and kind of weak, but you can’t fault her for being an earnest hard-worker. Her dream is to become a dancer though, and her grandmother realizes that she needs to relocate them to Seoul for her granddaughter’s dreams to come true. We don’t know where her parents are, but it’s just grandma and grandchild facing the world together!
Grandma opens up a small snack stand where she sells ddukbokki, and we meet young Yoon Young for the first time as a dance student in high school. She’s a ballerina major and has a slim figure to maintain, so she only wants five pieces of ddukbokki for a snack. Of course Grandma doesn’t behold to that nonsense and gives her a full bowl. Before you can say, “Why not just eat 5 pieces and leave the rest?” Yoon Young’s already halfway through the bowl. She’s got no self-control that one.
So Yoon Young takes it out on young Nora and beats her up and throws her around, yelling at her to yell at her grandma to not serve Yoon Young more than five pieces of ddukbokki. Of course, Nora won’t be bullied but doesn’t fight back. She just lets Yoon Young beat her until she’s tired, and stubbornly tells Yoon Young to just eat five pieces next time.
And that’s how the two become best friends.
So anyways – back to 2013 and Nora and Woo Chul (Choi Won Young) are leading separate lives, despite still living together and not telling Min Soo. When her son and husband are off at school, Nora goes to English classes. When they’re asleep, she catches up on homework in the bathroom. Fast forward to November 2014 and Min Soo has to go for his college entrance exam. After Nora sends her son off, Yoon Young picks her up and drives her to the testing site. They take the exam and plan out which colleges they’ll enter.
Both Min Soo and Nora apply to Woocheon University, though it’s not really the best. Min Soo aims for Yeonshin University, and Nora applies to Youngjoo University because Woo Chul works there. The results come out: Nora is rejected to both universities, and Min Soo was accepted only to Woocheon. Not his first choice, but okay. Nora is quite depressed about it, but next thing she knows she discovers that she just made it to Woocheon through late admission!
Nora heads over to the school to make her deposit and runs into Cha Hyun Suk (Lee Sang Yoon), a disheveled theater professor who directs and produces plays in his free time. She asks him for directions to the student center but then recognizes him. He clearly recognizes her too but he doesn’t want to admit it. Looks like he’s got some bad memories involving her back in high school. Nora is flustered that he doesn’t remember her, but she thinks of it innocently, along the lines of: “Did I really change that much since high school?”
She makes the announcement to her family that evening, showing them her acceptance letter. Min Soo is shocked; he didn’t know his mother was preparing to go to college, and he thinks that she’s just doing it to embarrass him. What a self-centered kid, but I find it so funny since at his age of course he thinks the world revolves around him. Woo Chul himself is shocked and they have a private chat in his office. He clarifies to her that he’s not just divorcing her because she’s uneducated (so a college degree won’t change their marital status), but rather because she’s so simpleminded it suffocates him. It’s not just because he couldn’t talk to her, it’s also because he feels like he has no freedom. So he just wants her to divorce and leave, just as planned.
The following day, Nora goes for a doctor’s checkup at the hospital because she was a little constipated. She wonders if getting a fatal disease would keep her husband by her side. What a morbid thought. The doctor then tells her she does have a fatal disease – pancreatic cancer to be exact! And with 6 months to live at that! Nora rushes out of the hospital, sobbing like crazy.
A closer look at the medical records though would show that that diagnosis is for Han Oh Ra, not Ha Nora. HAH!
So while Nora is depressed about dying just as she’s about to restart her life, some lowlife goes ahead and steals her cellphone right under her nose. She returns home quite late to find her son having gone shopping for new clothes to impress his new classmates during their first get-together, and her husband working in his office. (Woo Chul’s got a screen up for Woocheon University. Could he possibly be…?!)
She asks his advice on what he’d say if she said she were dying. He has quite the practical attitude about it, noting that everyone dies. Nora knows she isn’t going to get any sympathy from him so she doesn’t bother telling him about her diagnosis.
The next day it’s the last day for registration and so the school calls her up to remind her. She gets offended that they think because she’s 38, they need to constantly remind her about her tuition payments. (The reminder was helpful though.) Thinking that she’s dying, she demands that she wants a refund and will withdraw from the school. On the way, she passes by some theater students putting on a performance for graduating seniors. It brings Nora back to the days when she was in high school, and she and her dance major friends all put on a show as they were leaving high school too. The theater students end their performance with a message written in their T-shirts about how they’re not going to college just to find jobs, that college is a once-in-a-lifetime thing, and that you only live once. It’s all nice and inspiring – and helps Nora make a decision about her life. But the performance isn’t so well-received by their peers as the other students are far more practical about their future.
Funnily enough, Hyun Suk’s colleague Sang Ye is played by Choi Yoon So, who was in Liar Game with Lee Sang Yoon.
Nora goes back on her word and says that she wants to sign up for classes. The admin tells her she needs to pay the rest of the tuition by 4pm then. Good thing she remembered that her grandmother stashed away money in her old pillow, and that Nora has that pillow at home. She pulls out all the money, and luckily enough it’s the right amount for tuition!
Meanwhile Min Soo goes for the get-together with his fellow politics and economics classmates, and he’s a terrible drinker. Not only does he suck at the drinking games, but he can’t hold his liquor! As his classmates pile on the drinks as penalty, Min Soo finds a ‘black rose’ savior in the form of Oh Hye Mi (Son Na Eun), a humanities student who charms the boys and saves Min Soo from drinking eight glasses of so-maek (soju + beer) by himself. She “discovers” she’s at the wrong get-together and excuses herself.
Of course, this is all a ploy because she’s got a crush on Min Soo. How they met previously, I have no idea, but she asks for his phone quite boldly and says that they’re dating as soon as she enters her number. Min Soo’s got no problem with that! And bam, a couple already before school starts!
Yoon Young thinks Nora is crazy for still going to school and not telling Min Soo or Woo Chul about her (nonexistent) cancer, but she can understand that Nora really wants to live her life. She will hold back the news for three months to let her son really live his youth as a troublesome college student he should be, instead of burdening him with such depressing news. And then she’ll break it to him that she and Woo Chul are also divorcing.
It’s class registration time and Nora doesn’t quite understand why there’s such a rush to sign up for classes. Oh the good ol’ days!!!! She finds an Intro to Psychology class that’s taught by a professor with the same name as her husband and manages to successfully sign up for it. She gets into some other random classes aside from the mandatory English class: Marriage and Family, and Theater and Self Transformation Theory. Little does she realize the theater class is taught by none other than Hyun Suk!
When he gets his class list, boy is he surprised to see her name on the list!
First day of classes begin, and she goes to English class first. Because she’s dressed quite maturely, the class hushes when she enters the room. But when she sits among them instead of situating herself in front of the class, people break out in whispers and suppressed laughter: an older woman, a student?!
Already she’s off to a bad start, as she didn’t realize that she was supposed to be part of a group before the start of class. She gets placed with a few other random students, who would do anything they can to not have to work with her. Poor her, alienated because of her age.
She has no one to sit with for lunch, and can only observe from a distance what college youths these days do. It’s a little awkward, but she makes it through until it’s time for her theater class.
She wears a hat to hide her face from everyone else as Hyun Suk enters the room. He does a roll call, and Nora is nervous that he may recognize her from the day before when she asked for directions. But he makes no sign of recognition when he calls out her name. It’s only after that’s done that he singles her out for wearing a hat. He tells her to take it off, and feeling the pressure she does. “Oh my, I apologize,” Hyun Suk says in mock surprise. “I thought you were a student. Are you a student’s parent?”
Nora denies it quickly, and then she realizes that Hyun Suk is purposely being a jerk. He does recognize her from that day, and he ought to know her from their mutual past! So why is he acting like such a jerk to her, and telling her to leave his class?!
The show is really whimsical, and I don’t think it had a very solid start. I don’t think the random sound effects helped the show very much, but it did underline that this show is meant to be a comedy, in case you weren’t sure. It relied a bit too much on gags, too. I also did not like how the episode doesn’t exactly clarify many things for you. You start in the middle of the divorce and you just know she’s planning to go to college to impress her soon-to-be-ex-husband. But you don’t get to spend a lot of time with her husband to understand why he really wants a divorce (I still think an affair may have to do with it), or with the son to understand his perspective. It’s all from Nora’s perspective, and even her whole story is kind of unclear. But we are in episode 1, and the unanswered questions do leave me wanting to know more. And I do appreciate that twist where she thinks she has cancer, but really doesn’t. Hah – that cracked me up, mainly because Choi Ji Woo’s crying was so woeful and exaggerated.
Despite my many questions, which I did end up saying out loud and going, “Wait, what?!” the show is written by So Hyun Kyung, so I’m willing to give her the chance. I enjoyed quite a few of her previous projects, so I believe I’m in safe hands.
Speaking of the acting, I do find it interesting to see Choi Ji Woo play such an innocent housewife. From a stoic housemaid to a temptress to a housewife, she’s really showing off her range. But I can’t help but get a sense that she’s acting. She hasn’t quite yet disappeared into this role, and it’s a little weird to hear her talk with a lilt in her voice. I am really gunning for her to become a stronger person overall, because I don’t like this meek character too much. As for Choi Won Young, he’s kind of over-dramatic, and I think that’s what makes him awesome. You need that person in a comedy – one who thinks it’s the end of the world if life doesn’t go his way. And then Lee Sang Yoon doesn’t really seem to have done much in this episode; the only memorable scene he did was when he was driving away and berated himself for clumsily excusing himself from a conversation with Nora. There, I thought I saw an older Lee Seung Gi in him. His character doesn’t seem to have much going on yet, so I wonder what depth he’ll be given going forward.
I think because this is a So Hyun Kyung drama, and because I want to see Min Soo stuck in a group project with his mom (or his girlfriend with his mom), I really want to watch it and give it a chance. I hope that Twenty Again overcomes this rough start and finds its groove by next week at least.