Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo is a South Korean television series starring Lee Sung-kyung in the title role. It is a coming-of-age sports drama, inspired by the life of Olympic gold-medalist Jang Mi-ran. It airs on MBC every Wednesday and Thursday at 22:00 (KST) starting November 16, 2016 to January 11, 2017.
I honestly had no idea what to expect from this show when I first heard about it, which could explain why it did badly domestically, having ranked last against public broadcasting dramas run in the same time slot.
I actually started watching this right after I finished Scarlet Heart, partly because I had nothing else to watch, and partly because I heard raving reviews about it from international fansites. You’d be surprised at the reactions you see from K- and I-netizens because they can sometimes be at two different extremes – case in point, Scarlet Heart.
Anyhow, I was already familiar with the leads, Lee Sung Kyung & Nam Joo Hyuk, having watched both of them act in Cheese In The Trap, but it was still refreshing to see them in different types of roles in another campus story.
Plot – This really kept me going even though I had a waning interest in campus dramas, having outgrown my teenage years. There is no overly melodramatic mother-in-law, no switching of gender, nobody obsessed with taking revenge and harming enemies. It is as simple as it can be, yet as tender and exciting as one would love. Things move at the right pace, people grow and learn and keep giving to one another. There is just so much warmth and sincerity felt in every episode that it is hard to hate anything about this show.
Friends who eat together, stay together
Characters – Every one of them is so well-developed and given ample air time, it makes you feel like they are people you actually know in real life. They remind you of your friends who will eat a lot with you, cheer on for you to achieve your dreams, get angry with you because you keep all your sadness to yourself, and be there for you in both good & bad times.
My personal favourite is of course our protagonist, Kim Bok-joo. She’s not your usual K-drama character whom the male lead falls in love with almost immediately. She’s been poked fun at for being bigger-sized because she’s a weightlifter, and she becomes very self-conscious when she develops a crush. She runs towards her dreams bravely, learning that someone who truly loves her will not mind even if she is not petite & feminine like other girls. She treasures her family & friends, shows her emotions freely, and cares deeply for everyone. Bok-joo is just so hard not to love that I was really rooting for her in every episode in whatever she did, and I haven’t felt so emotionally connected to a drama character in some time.
Our other lead, Jung Joon-hyung, is just as hard to resist. He falls in love with Bok-joo slowly, staying by her side through tough times as her best friend. He sees the best in her even though his friends can’t, and never tries to change her for who she is. He works hard to be the person that will love and be with Bok-joo full-heartedly, which is so heart-warming to watch. Even though he has his own demons to fight, he never lets it get in the way of his relationships with Bok-joo and his family. Best of all, he isn’t emotionally manipulative or a stalker (*coughs Lee Minho, coughs The Heirs*). He really is the best male lead I have seen in any K-drama for a long while.
They even graduated together! How adorable
I would leave this entire section blank if I could, but one teeny weeny part about this drama that I didn’t really like was the part about them being childhood friends. I felt like it was a bit far-fetched, saying that Joon-hyung could remember that Bok-joo was his childhood saviour when he rescued her from the pool. Also, it seemed to imply that the love story begun waaaay ago, which really kills off some of the love-line buildup that I found realistic.
I love this show, period. Everything was so good to watch that I really felt very empty after it ended. I even have no gripes about the ending, which is a rarity, given that K-dramas always have a problem with fantastic beginnings and half-hearted endings.
I wished Weightlifting Fairy had been a lot more well-received in Korea when it was airing. This was Lee Sung Kyung and Nam Joo Hyuk’s best performance to date, and it is a huge pity that they are not being recognized for this in Korea. I’m really hoping that they can work together again because their chemistry is undeniable, though I’m not so sure how they will do in roles that are very different from their real life personas.
Even if you have no interest in campus stories, you definitely cannot skip Weightlifting Fairy if you’re looking for a heartwarming drama that won’t leave you in tears or confusion by the time you finish all 16 episodes. If you happen to be an athlete, you will also find great strength and renewed motivation in this show.