K-Drama Watch: Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo

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Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo is full of swoony romance cliches, with a protagonist who isn’t like the cliched protagonist at all. Kim Bok-Joo is a weighlifter at Haneol Sport University, and the sport’s rising star. Meanwhile, Jung Joon-hyung is a talented swimmer at the same university, who could take the sport by storm if not for the anxiety disorder that arises every time he competes. Bok-Joo and Joon-Hyung knew each other in elementary school, and now they are going to meet each other again… and, inevitably, annoy the hell out of each other at first.

When Bok-Joo is helped by a handsome doctor on the streets of Seoul, she concocts a plan to visit his weight-loss clinic to see him again. A handsome doctor would never like a weightlifter, she thinks, and a weightlifter would never go to a weight-loss clinic, so she concocts lies to impress him. But when she finds out that he’s Joon-Hyung’s elder brother, she has to convince Joon-Hyung to help maintain her cover, and their friendship begins to grow.

I didn’t realise, while watching the drama, that it is actually inspired by a real person. Jang Mi-Ran is a world record-setting Korean weightlifter who won the Olympic Gold in 2008. She now runs a foundation that helps and encourages young athletes competing in minor sports, like weightlifting. I assume the show is only very loosely based on her life, perhaps even to the point of just being about a female weightlifter, but that’s still a cool detail to note.

The show was criticised before it launched for casting Lee Sung Kyung, a model and actress, in the main role, and for its approach to weight and looks. And people should be aware that weight is a major theme in the series, although in a more complex way than the early weight-loss clinic plotline might suggest. Kim Bok-Joo struggles with the idea that she’s not feminine enough, including her strength and her weight, but it’s clear that dieting as a weightlifter is not a good thing. A great deal of conflict arises from the fact that her coaches what her to move up a weight class while she is going after her crush. Meanwhile, we see the gymnasts enduring constant weight checks and criticism, and the eating disorders that arise as a result.

I’m not going to claim that the show always deals with this sensitively, or never makes a joke about eating or weight, because that would be untrue. But it becomes more sensitive as the series goes on, and it ends up with a powerful message of being exactly who you are, and changing for no one.

Kim Bok-Joo is an awesome protagonist. She’s strong, physically and mentally, full of jokes and life and self-confidence, but also brimming with insecurity beneath. Much of the story is about her relationship with her best friends, who are two other female weightlifters, and her conflict/friendship with her roommate, a gymnast who is struggling with her performance after failing to make the national team. Although her love interest Joon-hyung is kind of an irritating jerk to her at the beginning, their relationship develops in an addictive, heart-warming way that makes you swoon for them by the end. It’s a series that shows us many characters who are outside the norm for any romance series, and it is really, really fun to watch.

Overall, I loved this series, and I will miss Kim Bok-Joo and her adventures now that I’ve come to the end. Season 2, please??

The series is currently available on Netflix in the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

What do you think?

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