THIS is how you do a youth drama, peeps! Lighthearted, heartwarming, uplifting. The kind that highlights the best parts of youth, of being young. The kind that takes you back to your adolescent years, to those carefree days… instead of the one that makes you glad you’ve outgrown that period.
Because, honestly, i don’t start youth dramas for the school drama and fights, though unfortunately that’s what we usually get. Granted, Fairy isn’t all smiles and rainbow; there are pains and tears as well, but they never felt manufactured or overly dramatic. They provided the right amount of angst to drive the story forward or bring the characters together, and eventually delivered the best kind of payoff.
Not all conflicts are welcomed, though. I had no patient to sit through Shi-ho’s jealous ex-girlfriend acts and was ready to flip out at the advent of love-obstructing parents. For a moment i forgot that this is the drama that has been butchering cliché tropes left and right. Dad opposing daughter dating turns out to be a red herring, and i couldn’t feel stupider for worrying (like i did for the possible childhood loves reveal), though frankly, Bok-joo/Joon-hyung’s public display of affection can get a bit extra it’s a wonder they aren’t busted already.
Seriously, these two are so bad at hiding their glee their buddies must be so dense for not noticing, until the girl outs herself…out of jealousy, what else? Not gonna lie, Tae-kwon dragging Joon-hyung into another blind date feels haphazard, the more since the former has started having eyes on Seon-ok (Bok-joo’s tomboy friend); nevertheless, doesn’t it feel so good that the one who’s so adamant to keep it under wraps is the one who lets it slip? Cue: epic reactions from everybody, especially Seon-ok’s. What ensues is a round of ‘judgment’, followed by a meal on the boyfriend’s tab and endless rounds of interrogation (how and when did it happen, how far they’ve gone, etc.). Hee. I guess this sequence is the same anywhere in the world, huh?
I may not appreciate the conflicts equally, but i do appreciate Fairy for not milking any of them too much or too long. The longest pending case easily is regarding Joon-hyung’s ringing ears, start trauma, and mother issues. While i never worried it would be forgotten, i was getting antsy when it continued to be sidelined for weeks on end. It is a complex issue concerning his entire family i worried the resolution would be rushed. I was thus couldn’t be happier when it is finally addressed, before the final episode at that.
All series long, i thought Joon-hyung would need to fly to Canada to settle things off with mom, and Show made the reunion easier by bringing mom back to Seoul. He naturally looks conflicted, teary, awkward, and formal before the woman who abandoned him, cuts off contact for 10 years, and states “busy” as the excuse. Above all else, i was wary as to why she’s there for — she isn’t going to take him away after all this time, is she? Nah, she’s too good for that. She’s there to borrow money for her ailing daughter, and visit the estranged son while she’s at it. Rubbing salt into the wound aside, where’s the logic in that? She cannot afford her little daughter’s medical bills yet able to fly the distance and stay in luxurious hotel? She’s one of the worst moms in dramaland sans any redeeming point that i was pretty upset at Bok-joo for sympathizing with her and at Joon-hyung for forgiving her that easily.
Seen from another perspective*, however, Bok-joo might simply try to find the silver lining, and Joon-hyung might not necessarily forgive but simply let her go (symbolized by returning the handkerchief) and get the closure he needs, the crucial step in overcoming his trauma. Aunt (whom he calls “omma”) doesn’t deserve his harangue, but by doing so he’s finally able to let all of the suppressed feelings out, including confronting them about their gifts. They fight and make up like real family would, and more importantly, he gets to convey how much they mean to him and how much he treasures the family. *tears*
Although generally pleased with the resolution, i still feel that Joon-hyung got the short end of the stick in this regard. It didn’t feel rushed, and Bok-joo as expected stepped up to the plate to be his rock, but the dilemma could be explored further, or we could spend more time with Joon-hyung throughout the process of him sorting his feelings out and eventually coming to terms with it. The titular weightlifting fairy may be the main focus, but they could still be a bit more generous with the swimmer, especially since it is a big deal for him since the start. Just sayin’.
For better or worse, the love-opposing-dad bit isn’t a complete red herring. Joon-hyung still needs to gain Bok-joo Appa approval. Thankfully, he gets to ingratiate himself with Dad over time — taking care of Dad in hospital is his most obvious move — that when he can no longer evade about his just-friends relationship with Bok-joo, Dad has already warmed up to him. Which, phew.
With this, everything seems to be over and done with. Well, there’s this last subplot about Bok-joo transfer to Taereung, which could be a problem given Joon-hyung’s bad history with his girlfriend over at the National Training Center, but i barely deem it the last obstacle but rather the last spurt toward realizing their dream as young athletes. Joon-hyung promises to follow her there, and without the hampering trauma, he is sure to make it in no time. After all, these two are probably the healthiest couple in dramaland. There’s hardly any drama between them. Even when they had a tiff, it’s almost always caused by misunderstanding because either is not being sufficiently honest^, and the tension is easily dissolved once they talk it out. Their rapport, chemistry, and progression from friends to lovers are also among the best, there’s really no minus points about them.
I have nothing against too neat of an ending either, which we got there, though i certainly didn’t expect to hear a proposal (!!). If i were to be nitpicky, though, i’d say i wasn’t completely satisfied with Seon-ok’s arc (her mother was still against her doing weightlifting and she rejoined the team by fleeing the house? Not to mention her late-blooming loveline with Tae-kwon — me want more!), Shi-ho’s resignation (or is it retirement? It still confused me, nonetheless), or Jae-yi/Dr. Go’s coupleship. I didn’t even have much problem with the coaches pairing although all series long i thought the guy coach was still married, but i just couldn’t see or feel Jae-yi’s attraction toward Dr. Go. If anything, i was glad Joon-hyung and Bok-joo never went through push-pull period like their older counterparts.
To its credit, Fairy delivers (nearly) everything i wanted from a youth drama: feel-good show with a healthy dose of family moments, friendship beats, giddying romance, a satisfying amount of skinship, and a lot of heart. Youthful but not immature. Fluffy but not empty. Striking a great balance between cute and heartfelt, funny and poignant, it swept me up with its brisk pace, hooked me with its simple yet engaging coming-of-age story, and fully immersed me in the characters’ journeys. The predicaments weren’t exactly true-to-life, but i laughed, cried, swooned, and cringed alongside them all the same.
I still think the script could be brushed up still, but it did its job. The directing and acting definitely helped elevate the writing. Looking at my captured stills is enough to tell how pretty the cinematography is. Nevertheless, it’s the acting that delighted me the most. Lee Sung-kyung was a caricature in Cheese in the Trap but managed to transform Kim Bok-joo into a likable and rootable character. Nam Joo-hyuk’s improvements were such a pleasant surprise; otherwise, Jung Joon-hyung wouldn’t be half as adorably winsome. He did fine in puppy roles like this one or his part in Cheese, but here he was able to pull off the emotional scenes that i sincerely hope it isn’t a one-time thing — cuz the role fits him perfectly and whatnots.
I liked Ji Il-joo a lot here after despising him in Age of Youth. The same goes for Bok-joo’s girlfriends: Jo Hye-jung’s Nan-hee is nearly identical to her part in Cinderella and Four Knights but her mood-maker role is much appreciated; Lee Joo-young’s Seon-ok may be the quietest of the bunch, but she made the most of it. Her performance is arguably one of the best — i’m looking forward to her next project already.
Creating a thoroughly enjoyable show with only the nicest, warmest, and sincerest people — with a few exception — isn’t an impossible task, right? As it turns out, producing a show that’s only getting better is also entirely possible (even after we’ve passed the heart-pounding courtship phase of the romance). Weightlifting Fairy not only excelled at lifting weights but also our mood. I could see myself reaching for it whenever i need a sure-fire pick-me-up in the future. It really is a lovely little series that totally makes me wish my campus life were this rewarding. Cuz what i wouldn’t give to get cuddles and kisses (not to mention proposal!) from the sweetest and hottest guy in school? I mean, a guy who loves the girl for who she is, beyond the surface — fuller figure, calloused palms, pimples, big appetite and all — is definitely a keeper! 😉
Kim Bok-joo, SWAG!
Director: Oh Hyun-jong
Production: MBC, 2016~17
Cast: Lee Sung-kyung, Nam Joo-hyuk, Lee Jae-yoon, Kyung Soo-jin, Ji Il-joo, Lee Joo-young, Jo Hye-jung
Genre: Youth, Sports, Romantic comedy, K-drama (16 Episodes)
Anybody else misses the catty gymnast (played by Jo Soo-hyang) or the swimmer sunbae?
*) I love reading comments at Dramabeans for this reason. At times people give a different point of views, interesting theories, elaborate explanations, and enlightening opinions you may not otherwise think about, which in turn enriches the watching experience. Comments around Joon-hyung lashing out on his aunt, for example, are so insightful they made me teary!
^) Seriously, everyone in this drama is guilty of this that we’ll have no friction if everybody trusts that the others are mature enough to handle to truth.