K-dramaland has no shortage of impossibly good looking people. It’s all about that porcelain smooth complexion, super toned bodies and mellifluous voices.
So, when a small screen character comes along without conforming to that prescribed set of beauty standards, you can expect tables to flip.
Such is the case with the lead character of the charming K-drama, Weightlifting Fairy.
Supermodel-turned-actress Lee Sung-kyung undergoes a metamorphosis to play Kim Bok-joo, a weightlifting athlete at a sports academy. The gazelle-like beauty reportedly gained 5kg for the role.
As far as physicality goes, Lee totally nails the character. Bok-joo is sloppy in appearance and clunky in stride; all the traits of a leading female character are practically non-existent in the aegyo-centric world of picture perfect K-drama where cutesy acts take precedence.
Could this possibly explain the show’s lack of popularity in South Korea?
Well, if the series’ cult-like status among young viewers and strong social media presence are any indications, there is a demand for realistic and relatable female characters in Korean dramas.
Directed by Oh Hyun-jong (7th Grade Civil Servant) and written by Yang Hee-seung (Oh My Ghost), the story is inspired by the life of weightlifter Jang Mi-ran who won the gold medal at the 2008 Summer Olympics. In other words, you can bet on the drama to be rooted in plenty of realism instead of that usual K-drama superfluous storyline.
Weightlifting Fairy (also known as Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo) takes liberty with the whole inner beauty premise.
Unlike Ugly Betty – or more aptly, the beloved 2006 South Korean romantic comedy 200 Pounds Of Beauty – there is never really any pressure for the female lead to attain physical perfection.
What viewers get, instead, is Bok-joo chomping down three bowls of rice and fried chicken. It’s a refreshing sight on the small screen – even more so when you pair that demeanour with spirited characteristics.
But that’s probably a given when you’re a weightlifting phenom among your peers.
In fact, Bok-joo doesn’t know much of a life outside the realm of barbells and heavy weights. She grew up in a household with a former weightlifter as the patriarch.
The spunky teenager attends Hanwool College of Physical Education, a university full of young athletes hoping to get their big break and clinch national glory.
The school is also where Bok-joo meets the male lead – the model-turned-actor Nam Joo-hyuk as competitive swimmer Jung Joon-hyung.
Both Bok-joo and Joon-hyung went to the same elementary school, but got out of touch. When they finally reunite in college, plenty of comedy ensues.
This being a K-drama, you can expect that usual love triangle arc to take place. There’s the fiercely competitive rhythmic gymnast Song Shi-ho (Kyung Soo-jin), Joon-hyung’s gorgeous ex who wants to get back with him after failing to make the cut at another prestigious sports school.
And then there’s Joon Hyung’s older cousin, Jung Jae-yi (Lee Jae-yoon) who is an obesity doctor.
A large chunk of the drama’s plot has to do with Bok-joo’s infatuation with Jae-yi. One is a weightlifter who has to constantly bulk up, while the other is a physician who helps patients lose weight. Can you spot the cruel irony?
This one-sided romance makes for a very complex decision that shakes up Bok-joo’s view of life and soon she begins to question: Is there more that life can offer her aside from weightlifting?
At its core, Weightlifting Fairy is a heartwarming coming-of-age tale with plenty of heart.
Its successes primarily lies in a thoughtfully-crafted story and relatable characters that you can’t help but root for. The supporting cast that populate this sporty affair is also not your usual one-dimensional characters.
And we have got to address the infectious chemistry between Lee and Nam. Where Bok-joo is clumsy and brash, Joon-hyung is lithe and even-tempered. That contrasting personas do make for a very interesting dynamic between the characters.
Need more reason to tune in? Well, Lee and Nam are currently dating in real life. K-drama fantasies do come true.
Weightlifting Fairy is available on dimsum.