Jae-i (played by Lee Jae-yoon) is Joon-hyeong's handsomer and more accomplished elder brother, who works as a physical therapist. Bok-joo engages Jae-i in conversation by bringing up...an Argentenian soccer player. OK, OK, Bok-joo's an idiot, we already knew that. But Jae-i's reaction is what's most telling. While Lee Jae-yoon's main screen presence here is as a figment of Bok-joo's imagination, interestingly enough, the real Jae-i too is touched simply by the fact that someone asked him a personal question for once.
That's the essential college optimism that makes up the emotional core of "Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo". This is a drama that is at times unflinching in noting how its characters embarrass themselves, while also being somewhat admiring of how they can be outspoken enough to get into these stupid fights in the first place. Observe Bok-joo's idiot friends Seon-ok (played by Lee Joo-young) and Nan-hee (played by Cho Hye-jung), who enable much of Bok-joo's bad behavior. And vice-versa.
But more importantly, Joon-hyeong finally starts to realize that Bok-joo is agitated at his referencing her childhood nickname for good reason. Weightlifting is, like, probably the single most unattractive sport a woman can get into. So no kidding, Bok-joo has a bit of a complex about her physical appearance and for good reason. People are jerks, and even granting that Bok-joo deserves some flak, as a young woman she gets personal attacks that are not at all cool.
"Weightlifting Fairy Bok-joo" doesn't delve too deep into this heady material, though, instead dedicating most of its screentime to more mundane conflicts like Bok-joo's perpetual poverty. It's fun to contrast her sudden realization of dire financial straits with her genuinely proud attitude from last episode, where she was willing to pay for a customer's big chicken order. There's no contradiction. Bok-joo just thinks in a very scattershot way, like she can only deal with one problem at a time.
There's a lot of great material to mine from "Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo" just in terms of detailing the (often self-inflicted) problems that all too many college students are likely to face. It is, on the superficial level, funny how attempts to solve problems somehow manage to make those problems worse. Yet it all works to make an intriguing portrait of the teen girl's mind trying to balance serious thought about her long-term future while also wanting to gratify short-term desires. Apropos bells ringing out of nowhere, well, that much is just destiny.
Review by William Schwartz
"Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo" is directed by Oh Hyeon-jong, written by Kim Soo-jin-III and Yang Hee-seong, and features Lee Sung-kyung, Nam Joo-hyuk, Kyung Soo-jin, Lee Jae-yoon, Lee Joo-young and Cho Hye-jung.
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Staff writer. Has been writing articles for HanCinema since 2012, having lived in South Korea since 2011. Started out in Gyeongju, then to Daegu, then to Ansan, then to Yeongju, then to Seoul, lived on the road for HanCinema's travel diaries series in the summer of 2016, and is currently settled in Anyang. Has good tips for utilizing South Korea's public bus system. William Schwartz can be contacted via firstname.lastname@example.org.
"[HanCinema's Drama Review] "Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-joo" Episode 3"
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