Title: Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo
Written by: Yang Hee-Seung (Oh My Ghostess)
Directed by: Oh Hyun-Jong
Country of Origin: South Korea
Starring: Lee Sung-Kyoung, Nam Joo-Hyuk
My Rating: A
All gifs are not mine; most come from weightliftingfairykimbokjoo.tumblr.com
It was honestly a travesty to me when I was watching this beauty of a show that it had very poor ratings and didn’t do very well domestically most likely because it was up against Legend of the Blue Sea. And honestly I have to ask, why?? It has its flaws but honestly, this show has so, so much to offer. Based on South Korean Olympic gold medalist weightlifter Jang Mi Ran’s personal life, it is essentially a coming-of-age (is anyone surprised, I love CoA) as Bok Joo navigates university and love and friendship. This drama just made my heart feel so full, there is no other way to describe it. It also sounds cheesy but I felt so happy as I was watching as if I was stuck in my own little world with these adorably genuine characters that I grew to love.
As light as it is, it is sad that this drama couldn’t have casted a heavier girl to play Bok Joo as this is a show about weightlifters for heaven’s sake. It especially hurts because throughout this drama, Bok Joo is insecure about her being overweight, not because she thinks needs to change but because she feels she won’t get a guy because of her weight and people around her constantly tell her that she’s perfect the way she is but the fact that they casted a really skinny actress sort of undermines those statements, sincere as they are. It’s sort of like falsely complimenting someone on what they’re wearing and but then telling them you would never wear it yourself. However. However. I think this drama’s heart is still in the right place. These are the top five reasons you should be watching this lighthearted but hard-hitting drama.
Ladies and Gentlemen, this OTP. This OTfuckingP. Forget W. Forget Legend of the Blue Sea. This couple should have won that Best Couple Award on the MBC awards. On all the network awards tbh except kbs because ya know. But this couple is everything. And the reason they work so well together for me is because this is one of the few dramas that truly knows how to execute the hate to friends to lovers trope. Because long before they even realize an inkling of their feelings for each other, they already do so many of the things that lovers do for each other. They genuinely like talking to each other and can go out and have fun with each other but they’re also each other’s biggest cheerleader.
It always warmed my heart when Bok Joo would feel insecure about other boys not liking her because of her weight but Joon Hyung would always tell her, without hesitation, that she was pretty without any sort of romantic connotation. And when Bok Joo would pray for Joon Hyung to win his swimming competitions. Ugh, the feels <3. Usually when the hate to friends to lovers trope is used, drama writers will skim the friends part or skip it altogether to get to the love part. But allowing Bok Joo and Joon Hyung’s feelings and relationship to progress organically, it just feels so much more believable and more importantly, gives me a sense as to why they are together. Not to mention, that Bok Joo and Joon Hyung have some of the best chemistry ever.
Their hugs and the way they lovingly and playfully touch each other, as friends and as lovers, are some of the most natural and realistic I’ve ever seen which only sells their love even more. Remember, writers, hugs can be just as swoonworthy as kisses if done right.
Their relationship is so interesting to watch and they’re always butting heads and there’s always conflict but their love and support for one another is so admirable and something that honestly, every on-screen and off-screen relationship should strive for.
2. The OTP’s family and friends
In a lot of Asian families, the concept of “tough love” is almost always practiced where harsh discipline equates to love. When it comes to a lot of parents in Korean dramas, it mostly consists of yelling and then when something tragic happens to the parent (usually dementia), the child will inevitably apologize for being a bad daughter or son. Even in Reply 1997, family dynamics usually consisted of the dad yelling at Shi Won nonstop only pausing for the more sentimental moments. Although I understand this is a cultural thing, I still found it really refreshing that WFKBJ detracts from that formula. Bok Joo’s dad and Joon Hyung’s aunt and uncle verbally show their love. Bok Joo’s dad would always defend Bok Joo calling her cute and even though she was a troublemaker, if anyone else said so, her dad would immediately shut them up. Joon Hyung’s aunt always showers him with smiles and harmless jabs. Maybe it’s the Western culture in me talking because usually Asian families don’t express their love so openly but nevertheless I still appreciated it because it felt like a combination of Western and Asian parenting. But the parents never felt like overly eccentric and cutesy parents that sometimes Western sitcoms have. You can always see that they will support their kid 100%, but they had their flaws and their “I know what’s best for you moments”. I think it’s always nice to see nice parental role models who aren’t constantly yelling at their kids even if it’s for their own good. We get to seem them struggle with parenthood and realize that they are people that make mistakes as well and so they are just as beholden to their kids as their kids are to them. And speaking of supportive network, there’s also two friends that Bok Joo spends most of her time with and they are such friendship goals. Nan He is fun and flirtatious while Seon Ok is no nonsense and practical and they both provide a humorous foil to Bok Joo.
I also found the dynamic between Jooh Hyung and his roommate so amusing and hilarious. Although I did feel bad for him because Joon Hyung kept ditching him and relying on him to make up cover stories. Even though this drama had a realistic quality, it still retained a certain magical/fairytale quality because even though this drama showed the deep-seated conflict behind every family you know that not everyone has such a supportive group of friends and family that love you so much. Sometimes it is just so nice to see TV friends and family unconditionally support Bok Joo especially when she is this age and she’s undergoing a lot of changes and discoveries about who she is. Not everyone has that and it’s nice to see that maybe this is possible. Joon Hyung’s brother is the sweetest and most caring cinnamon roll to grace any TV show and he gets his own little storyline and it was so cute. I also loved the interactions between the coaches and the weightlifting team.
3. The “bitchy” second love interest
I was watching Witches’ Castle last month (not by choice) and of course, there’s the heroine and then there’s Hee-Jae, the lady with the bright red lipstick, who has to fulfill the role of hysterical second love interest who will do anything to get the man she’s supposedly in love with. I’m sure long-time kdrama lovers know this trope well. There’s another love interest–usually pretty–who will do everything, legal and illegal, to get back with the main love interest. Usually this sexist trope just inspires a lot of girl-on-girl hate and is suppose to amplify how great the main leads are but instead just seems contrived and melodramatic. And in the end, she goes to jail or something so viewers can feel vindicated. I was afraid for a time that the writers were going to trap Si Ho into this despicable trope but I should have trusted them because the trajectory of Si Ho’s character was just beautiful.
And even the fact that she stubbornly tries to make Joon Hyung like her even though he clearly has no residual feelings for her is an extension of the way she wants to fit everything under her control not the fact that she just has to be that way because it’s needed for extra drama. She struggles with controlling the things that are uncontrollable in her life like her parent’s impending divorce so she turns to controlling what she can (like her eating habits). Yet she continues to compete in professional gymnastics even though she doesn’t even know if this is something she even wants to do. I truly felt for her. Throughout the drama, she struggles to find where she belongs, to be comfortable with who she is. Her last competition scene in the drama brought tears to my eyes. I was just so happy that her character was given the dignity and respect that she deserved.
4. ITS SO FUNNY AND THERE’S SO LITTLE ANGST
Surprisingly the thing that kept this drama from sailing off into a bubble of permanent happiness was how little angst there was. Everything happened so organically and plot twists happened at just the right time for it to feel hard-hitting. These characters felt so real because they weren’t dealing with earth-shattering drama but just your normal everyday school drama. And yet the everyday drama felt important from Bok Joo buying a hairclip to impress the boy she liked to the rivalry between the weightlifting team and the gymnastics team, everything really capturing that time in youth where these little things felt important. That’s not to trivialize them but to revel in them. Sometimes the best part of your youth was just spending time eating with your friends while your dad cooks really awesome chicken for you.
It’s also really funny and the humor mostly consists of the characters finding themselves in awkward situations but it just worked instead of coming off as forced. Yet as non-angsty and light hearted as it was, that doesn’t mean it shied away from devastating parts of a coming-of-age story from mental illness to filial duty etc. From familial relationships, where Joon Hyung reconciles with his mom who abandoned him to the struggle of finding what you want to do with your life but falling out of love with it and trying to find what you were meant to do instead.
5. The visuals!!! The cinematography and editing!!
Despite the contemporary university setting, I found myself loving this world that Bok Joo was in. This was helped by the bright, saturated color palette and the solid, minimalist color blocking. It just gave the visuals a sort of airy feel.
I also never thought I’d say I liked watching eavesdropping scenes in a K-drama but here I am loving those scenes mostly because the camera was showing the scene as less of a plot device than a way to reveal character emotion. And the editing was so great. It effortlessly cuts from a happy, top-of-the-world scene to a more emotional, grounded scene that simultaneously makes you feel both happy and sad. I loved it. It never self-indulges on a particular storyline for too long and even the smallest side characters get a storyline that never feels intrusive. This is even more impressive because sometimes the side characters would get a small storyline in the middle of the drama that would still feel satisfying. Not to mention that the drama comes with such a sweet soundtrack ranging from rock to the usual piano. Listening to the soundtrack while writing this makes me so emotional already.
It probably seems to redundant to mention that all of the acting was so natural and impressive. Nam-Joo Hyuk is effortless in conveying multiple emotions in one look. And just to add a cherry on top of all this, mah bae Lee Jong Suk made a cameo as a character from W in one of the episodes ❤ and it was brilliant. It made me a lot happier than it probably should have.
This drama is quite literally the perfect pick-me-up for those days when everything is going wrong, but it doesn’t have fluffiness to recommend, it has a touching story about a weightlifting girl who tries to find her place in this world. As always, you can watch this drama for free and legally on viki.com or dramafever.com