I had fully expected it to be a lighthearted, fluffy romantic comedy. But last night, this show made me cry at the end of episode 10.
WEIGHTLIFTING FAIRY may seem like just another feel-good rom-com, but it actually tackles a lot of hard-hitting emotional and psychological issues – such as trauma, pressure, eating disorder, and depression – that not just athletes but regular people go through. And that’s what makes this show so relatable.
Beneath all that cutesy puppy love, adorable banter and squeal-worthy scenes between the impossibly photogenic leads also lie big dreams, passion and depression, friendship and kinship, and a raw humanity to each character as they go through life making decisions big and small, making mistakes, and realising what matters most to them in the end.
WEIGHTLIFTING FAIRY KIM BOK JOO is a campus romance about the titular character (played by Lee Sung Kyung) who has been training to be a national weightlifter her whole life … until she encounters her first love at 21. In college, she is reunited with Joon Hyung (played by the handsome, cute AF Nam Joo Hyuk), a national swimmer whose dreams are hampered by an unresolved childhood trauma. His cousin, an kind, gentlemanly obesity clinic doctor (played by the gorrrrgeous Lee Jae Yoon), is the heroine’s first crush, and Song Si Ho (played by Kyung Su Jin) is an overachieving gymnast gradually pushed to breaking point.
REASONS TO WATCH IT:
- It’s YA Contemporary at its best
It is a deceivingly simple story about athletes trying to achieve their dreams, with an essential host of characters like hilarious sidekicks and tough but well-meaning coaches. It’s everything you would expect of a young adult contemporary story. It includes hilarious drunken shenanigans, first crushes, jealous ex-girlfriends, competitive seniors, sneaking out after hours, and more.
2. The relatable characters
Kim Bok Joo is a likeable, relatable character who is positive, down-to-earth, unassuming but not a pushover. She’s loyal and honest, raw and flawed – it’s easy to see parts of yourself in her, and you find yourself identifying with her, wanting her to be your best friend, and rooting for her throughout the story.
Plus, she and her friends are total #friendshipgoals.
3. The burst-out-laughing-and-clap-like-a-flailing-seal moments
4. The chemistry between the two leads
I enjoy every single scene between Bok Joo and Joon Hyung – from the hysterically hilarious moments to the cute banter to the surprisingly poignant and sweet moments. It just makes you yearn to fall in love!
5. The realistic portrayal of depression
Despite her fast track to winning nationals, not everything is peachy in Bok Joo’s life. After a painful experience with unrequited love (to which I’m sure we can all relate), she begins to question why she’s weightlifting, whether she really loves it, what she’s doing it all FOR.
This scene at the end of episode 10 *spoilers ahead* where Bok Joo describes the symptoms of depression to Joon Hyung broke my heart:
It’s like she stole the words right from my lips. This scene made me realise that I was going through the exact same thing, that maybe I’m feeling just as lost and stuck as her at this juncture. (But more on that another day, perhaps.)
This is a major turning point in the story as she realises she no longer has any motivation or passion for weightlifting, the only thing she has known all her life. Now she’s lost, stuck in limbo, and has no idea how to recalibrate her life.
This depiction of depression feels on point. Bok Joo knows that something is wrong with her but she can’t pinpoint what it is – that’s what the first stage of depression is like. Sometimes, the person herself has no idea that she’s depressed but she knows something’s wrong with her. Joon Hyung immediately realises that Bok Joo is suffering from depression – sometimes, it’s the outsider who notices the symptoms first.
I like how the writers didn’t romanticise depression and presented it in the most raw and heartbreakingly honest way. The actors – both Lee Sung Kyung and Nam Joo Hyuk – did a great job too, as the sufferer and the bystander.
6. The swoon-worthy romance
Bok Joo and Joon Hyung collide (literally) into each other’s lives through a series of misunderstandings, then realise they were ex-elementary school classmates, and become good friends (best bros, in fact) before falling for each other. It’s a slow burn romance that viewers already root for right from the start.
I love this OTP because they understand each other very well as fellow athletes. Their affection and appreciation for each other goes as deep as kindred spirits’, and that is established even before the romance kicks in.
As fellow athletes, they can truly understand each other’s struggles, and encourage each other in significant ways: Bok Joo comforting Joon Hyung when he lost a race, and Joon Hyung regularly giving Bok Joo the best pep talks whenever she’s feeling anxious or nervous about a competition. They are each other’s biggest supporters.
Plus, I love that Bok Joo doesn’t need to be anything or anyone other than herself to inspire this kind of loyalty, affection and head-over-heels lurve from him. They started out as really good friends – bros, even – and maybe that’s why she can be entirely herself around him with no inhibitions.
7. The pretty soundtrack
NELLLLLLL!!! I can’t put into words how much I ADORE this soft rock band (if Muse and Radiohead had a love child, it would be Nell). The fact that their song fits so perfectly into this drama makes me so happy.
I’ve heard lots of good things about this acoustic indie band Standing Egg, but this is the first song of theirs I’m hearing and I’m in looooove.
How pretty and sad this song is! Perfectly encapsulates the phase where Bok Joo contemplates and reassesses her life.
This drama deals with the good, the bad, and the ugly things that college students, athletes, and really anyone go through. Don’t dismiss it as just a fluffy romantic comedy – it’s worth a lot more than that. Like all contemporary YA worth their salt, they stay with you long after you’ve closed the book.
And if not, there’s always Nam Joo Hyuk and Lee Jae Yoon’s pretty faces (and abs) to ogle at 😉