K-Drama Watch: Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo
<3 <3 <3 <3
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.