Cute, cute, and more cute! MBC’s coming-of-age story about a young athlete discovering love for the first time is bright and cheery, with an engaging cast and one of the most endearing heroines I’ve seen in a long time. The sports setting provides a serious backdrop against the story of young students growing up, and so far it promises to deliver a lot of funny and heartwarming moments.
EPISODE 1: “If you hate your food, give it to a dog. If you hate a person…”
While athletes warm up all around her, a young girl sits calmly, engrossed in her thoughts. She thinks that people always ask her why she became a weightlifter, and says that her father took her to a weightlifting stadium when she was ten years old. She liked the metallic scent of the barbells, and decided to become a weightlifter.
This is KIM BOK-JU (Lee Sung-kyung), a twenty-one year old student at Haneul Sport University, and she’s about to attempt to lift 115 kilos (just over 250 pounds, yikes) in the clean-and-jerk. She tells us in voice-over that she’s a history-making athlete, whose life revolves around weightlifting.
Back home, her uncle KIM DAE-HO (Kang Ki-young) watches the competition on the television at Bok-ju’s father’s fried chicken restaurant. Bok-ju steps onstage and the crowd goes silent, and she lifts the immense weight to chest level. She cleanly “jerks” the barbells over her head, then trembles as she struggles to hold it still for the required time.
The buzzer sounds, and Bok-ju drops the barbell, screaming with victory. She celebrates with her coaches, while back at the restaurant, her uncle and father (Ahn Gil-kang) holler to anyone who’ll listen that that’s their girl. Bok-ju accepts her gold medal with a wide smile, and poses for pictures.
We switch to the Olympic Swimming Stadium in Seoul, for the 35th Presidential Cup National Swimming Competition. It’s the preliminaries of the men’s 200m sprint, and we’re introduced to JUNG JOON-HYUNG (Nam Joo-hyuk), a swimming prodigy who also attends Haneul Sport University. Joon-hyung easily pulls ahead of the competition and wins his heat with no trouble.
Back at school, Bok-ju jogs with her fellow weightlifters, enjoying the view of the shirtless male students in training. Later Bok-ju gets some pointers from COACH CHOI, who assigns her extra workouts to build muscle.
At the end of training time, COACH YOON attempts a pep talk, but he blathers on randomly until Coach Choi grows impatient and snaps for them to turn off the damn lights after practice. Ha.
Bok-ju sits with her closest friends, NAN-HEE (Jo Hye-jung) and SEON-OK (Lee Joo-young), and they discuss what’s for lunch. But they learn that there’s an assembly today, and being the strongest on campus, it’s the weightlifting students’ job to carry the chairs to the assembly room.
Joon-hyung sits contemplatively in the locker room between races, seeming to be focusing intently. Then we see that he’s just playing a video game on his phone, HAHA. No deep thinker, this guy. But an announcer on the television mentioning his upcoming match with rival JO TAE-KWON causes Joon-hyung’s eyes to grow hard.
When it’s time for the final race, Joon-hyung is placed in the lane right next to Tae-kwon. The swimmers step onto their podiums, and suddenly Joon-hyung’s ears begin to ring. He clutches his head, gasping for air, then accidentally dives in a false start and is disqualified. This seems to be a recurring issue, and Tae-kwon betrays a tiny smirk.
After the race, Tae-kwon and his coach approach Joon-hyung to ask him to be Tae-kwon’s private training partner. Tae-kwon seems friendly enough, but there’s something about his smile that looks untrustworthy, and Joon-hyung isn’t at all into the idea of training together.
He slaps on a smile and agrees to be partners, but says that he doesn’t train in the mornings. Also he takes weekends off, and only trains at his school. He knows his demands will keep Tae-kwon from agreeing, and walks away with a relieved expression.
The weightlifting team gets the chairs to the auditorium, complaining loudly the whole way, and find the rhythmic gymnasts already there practicing. Bok-ju asks them to move and only gets sneers in reply, and their coach yells at them not to distract his athletes.
Seon-ok and Nan-he grumble at the gymnasts’ taunting, but Bok-ju says they’re too tiny to be worth the effort. A ball smacks into the back of her head, and she turns to see gymnast SOO-BIN (Jo Soo-hyang) making a not-at-all-sorry sorry face.
Soo-bin sweetly asks for her ball back, and Bok-ju feints as if to slam it at the gymnasts, making them all squeal. She tosses the ball back gently (they squeal again, hee) and apologizes profusely for not knowing her own strength. Soo-bin retaliates later by tripping Bok-ju into a tall tower of chairs… and with that, their rivalry begins.
The girls head back to school after setting up, and her friends try to cheer up Bok-ju after her terrible afternoon. Nan-hee assures her the gymnasts will quit talking about her after a few days, and she and Seon-ok do a cute little Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-ju! dance to make her smile.
Nan-hee even parts with one of her precious sausages, but before Bok-ju can take a single bite, Joon-young comes around the corner on his bike and nearly collides with her. They both tumble to the ground, and for one hilarious second Joon-hyung thinks the broken sausage is Bok-ju’s severed finger.
Bok-ju is more upset about the sausage than the fall, but Joon-hyung asks if they know each other — she looks familiar. He gets reeeally close, peering at her face and saying that he’s sure they’ve met before. Nan-hee finally steps between them and says that Bok-ju’s been in the papers several times.
Joon-hyung apologizes and starts to go, but Nan-hee stops him to ask a totally random sports question. He gives the three girls a suspicious glare then leaves, and Nan-hee exclaims over his good looks while Bok-ju denies that he’s at all handsome.
Bok-ju finds a lacy handkerchief that Joon-hyung dropped in the grass, and holds it gingerly. She wonders if he’s some sort of weirdo, but she takes it with her.
Joon-hyung visits his physical therapist (cameo by Yoo Da-in), having injured his knee in the fall. He tells her he was startled by a sausage, pfft, and playfully accuses her of enjoying massaging his thigh. She quips that she wishes, and sends him on his way. But before he leaves, he realizes that he’s missing his lace handkerchief, and grows upset.
Soo-bin turns out to be the reigning queen of the rhythmic gymnasts, and she takes a couple of her lackeys to task for losing some of her laundry. They swear they returned everything after washing it, and accuse the weightlifters of taking things.
Soo-bin calls a couple of freshman weightlifters over to ask if her tights got into their laundry, and Bok-ju comes over to see what’s happening. The freshman tell her that Soo-bin is accusing them, and Soo-bin looks nervous under Bok-ju’s disdainful gaze.
Bok-ju asks if Soo-bin has any proof, and Soo-bin says she doesn’t need any because there’s history of them using the gymnasts’ laundry room without permission. Bok-ju argues that that doesn’t prove they stole anything, and warns Soo-bin not to bother her girls anymore.
Bok-ju and her friends have a late-night snack at her dad’s restaurant, where they attack the fried chicken like ravenous wolves. Bok-ju tells the other two about being accused of stealing the gymnasts’ laundry, and we see a montage of events proving that the rivalry between the gymnasts and the weightlifters goes way back.
After winning gold at the Asian Games, the gymnasts were given the weightlifters’ practice room. At track meets, the cute, thin gymnasts get all the attention from the male runners, while the weightlifters are only teased. And last year, a weightlifter’s boyfriend broke up with her to date a gymnast, and sparked an all-out war between the girls.
The trio suddenly realize they have ten minutes until curfew, and rush out of the restaurant. They run into Bok-ju’s dad coming back from a delivery, and Bok-ju sees that Dad’s picked up yet another broken rice cooker from someone’s trash. Okay, ew.
They fuss at each other as only two people who adore each other can do, and Bok-ju says she’ll see Dad at the hospital tomorrow. She runs off with her friends, as Dad beams after her proudly.
Soo-bin’s two lackeys are doing laundry again, and one thinks she hears a noise from the supply closet. They finish and leave, and the closet door creaks open. Someone opens the washing machine they just loaded, and steals a pair of bright red panties.
Joon-hyung asks his roommate if he’s seen his handkerchief, as they half-assedly clean their dorm room in preparation for roll call. Their sunbae KI-SEOK seems to dislike Joon-hyung, and takes him to task for leaving the swim meet early. He accuses Joon-hyung of having no sense of teamwork, and grows even angrier when Joon-hyung humbly admits fault.
At least Joon-hyung’s roommate seems to like and even admire him, and does his best to cheer him up. He suggests they sneak out, and they head to a club, though Joon-hyung obviously doesn’t want to be there. He fends off all advances from girls, and heads to his family home for the night.
In the morning, even after ransacking his room, he still can’t find his handkerchief. He declines a lift back to school from his cousin JUNG JAE-YI (Lee Jae-yoon) in favor of jogging back to school. Jae-yi mentions his disqualification yesterday, and Joon-hyung guesses that his parents sent Jae-yi to gather information.
The weightlifting team suffer through weigh-ins, and another rambling lecture by Coach Yoon is interrupted by Coach Choi’s sharp, “Eat less meat!” Ha, I hope this is a running gag, because it’s hilarious.
Bok-ju’s dad shows up with bags and bags of fried chicken, earning glares from both coaches. But they allow the kids the food, and Dad stage-whispers to Bok-ju that they have to kiss up every now and then, for everything the coaches have done for her. Aww, I love him.
Dad is on his way to the hospital, and Coach Yoon releases Bok-ju to go with him. Bok-ju waits while Dad undergoes treatment that looks like dialysis (a treatment for patients that have gone into kidney failure).
When Dad gets back home, he finds Uncle Dae-ho ready to leave, claiming a friend’s father died. Dad pulls back his coat to reveal a gold glitter jacket — HAHA, Uncle is apparently an aspiring actor who always takes terrible roles.
Joon-hyung earns praise at practice, while his sunbae Ki-seok is told to work harder. No wonder Ki-seok doesn’t like him.
Seon-ok and Nan-hee hang out in Bok-ju’s dorm room, Nan-hee doing her nails and Seon-ok shaving her calluses (yowch). Bok-ju tells Nan-hee not to bother since the nail art will come off when she works out, but she’s got her eye on a guy and just simpers back.
Bok-ju says they don’t need such things, because they’re nicer and more charming than the gymnasts, and have more “glamorous” figures, heh. Seon-ok compliments Bok-ju on her self-esteem, and Nan-hee gets herself kicked out of the friendship by saying it’s just vanity.
Bok-ju looks through her laundry and realizes her lucky t-shirt is missing, but the hoobae who does her laundry says she hasn’t seen it. Bok-ju wails, needing it for her competitions, and Nan-hee wonders if the gymnasts stole it in retaliation. Bok-ju turns out to be a little hot-headed, and she rushes over to confront the gymnasts.
Soo-bin snarks that they wouldn’t steal a shirt that was way too big for them, and laughs at the idea that they’d be so immature. She demands proof, and Bok-ju tries to push her way into their room to look around. In the scuffle, Soo-bin falls to the ground, clutching her wrist and shrieking dramatically.
The weightlifting girls are punished, and Bok-ju is lectured for using her strength against others. Her coaches tell her that Soo-bin won’t be able to practice for a few weeks, and order Bok-ju to apologize.
Soo-bin is milking her minor injury for all it’s worth, wincing and pouting through Bok-ju’s reluctant apology. She makes Bok-ju apologize twice, then says she’ll decide later whether to apologize. She and her lackeys flounce off, leaving Bok-ju and her friends fuming.
The trio sneak up to the roof where they’ve stashed some beers, and they sit to cool off. Bok-ju whines over the loss of her lucky shirt, but says that her dad is right — you can’t do much about the people you hate. She yells into the night that the gymnasts are pretty and popular, but being a decent person is more important.
Her friends holler their agreement (“You have bad breath in the morning too!” “We have bigger breasts!”), causing the neighbors to complain about the noise. They quiet down, and talk turns to which celebrities they would date as they enjoy the beautiful evening.
They’re nearly caught sneaking back to their room, and they hide between the machines in the laundry room to escape capture. After the teacher leaves, Bok-ju looks up to see a fourth person crouching between the machines, holding a pair of red panties. Eek! The panty-snatcher bolts and the girls give chase, screaming bloody murder and waking the entire dorm.
Joon-hyung’s roommate loudly aegyos at him to sneak out, making so much noise that Joon-hyung agrees just to get him to shut up. They climb out a window using an emergency hose, and Joon-hyung goes first. Just as he reaches the ground, the dorm lights up and screams echo throughout the courtyard.
The panty-snatcher runs right past Joon-hyung, with Bok-ju hot on his tail. She sees Joon-hyung in his hoodie and tackles him, assuming he’s the pervert. Joon-hyung’s roommate hilariously hangs in midair while this is happening, then quietly climbs back up the hose.
They end up in the office making faces at each other, Bok-ju insisting that she’s caught the pervert and Joon-hyung just as vehemently denying that it was him. Lucky for Joon-hyung, the teachers know he’s a good boy and let him off the hook, though he does get some demerits for sneaking out.
Bok-ju is like a dog with a bone though, and she tells the teachers that he’s definitely a pervert — he even carries a girl’s lace handkerchief. Joon-hyung demands his handkerchief back, but Bok-ju says she’ll give it back when he gives back her t-shirt, and Joon-hyung declares war.
The next day Ki-seok makes Joon-hyung do frog-leaps up a staircase as punishment, while he looks on and gloats. He tells Joon-hyung that he hates him because he overestimates himself, and that he can’t back up his good practice performance at real competitions. He tells Joon-hyung to hop the stairs a hundred times before he goes.
Stubborn to a fault, Joon-hyung leaps up the stairs, over and over until he’s exhausted. His roommate finds him and dramatically apologizes (he seems to do everything dramatically), but when Joon-hyung gasps for water, he whacks his ankle on the very first step. This dude is useless, and Joon-hyung throws his shoe at him.
Joon-hyung has to get his own water, but he has no money, so he takes a few coins from a nearby wishing fountain. He thanks the fountain, then turns to see Bok-ju standing behind him, and she calls him a thief as well as a pervert.
Joon-hyung says the coins go to waste anyway, and he was going to put them to good use. Bok-ju sarcastically congratulates him on being so thoughtful, and refuses to give back his handkerchief when he asks for it again. Joon-hyung follows Bok-ju all over campus asking her to return his handkerchief, but she still thinks he’s the pervert and demands her t-shirt back first.
We’re taken to a rhythmic gymnastics competition, where athletes are competing to be on the 2017 national team. Rhythmic gymnast SONG SHI-HO (Kyung Su-jin) looks at a photo on her phone as she waits her turn, which shows her and Joon-hyung looking happy and very close.
Her hands shake when it’s her turn to compete, but she plasters on her competition smile and takes the floor confidently. She fumbles her ribbon early in her routine, but she manages to get herself together and performs well overall.
The weightlifters carry the chairs back to storage, complaining just as loudly the second time. Nan-hee asks if Bok-ju is sure that Joon-hyung is the pervert, thinking he’s too good-looking to be a deviant. Bok-ju calls her shallow, but Seon-ok also thinks he’s innocent.
They’re the last to put their chairs in the storage room, and the teacher in charge fusses at them for not stacking the chairs properly. He leans over to do it right, and his shirt rides up to reveal that he’s wearing a pair of bright red women’s panties. It’s the panty-snatcher!
He turns and sees the girls’ horrified expressions, and a lecherous grin creeps over his face. Oh icky. He advances on them and they start screaming, which brings the boys running. They catch the pervert, while the girls shout for blood.
The rhythmic gymnasts hear about it, and feel bad that they accused the weightlifters. Soo-bin tells them to ignore it — after all, they were accused as well, so it’s only fair. Shi-ho arrives to the practice room, luggage in tow, and creates a bit of a stir.
Bok-ju realizes that this means she owes Joon-hyung a huge apology, but she flees when she sees him on campus. She heads back to the dorm, running into Shi-ho briefly at the door, then grows nervous when it seems like Shi-ho is following her.
It turns out that Shi-ho is Bok-ju’s new roommate, since she expected to be leaving school but didn’t make the national team. Bok-ju isn’t thrilled to have a rhythmic gymnast as a roommate, and though Shi-ho seems sweet, she also comes across as a bit of a delicate flower.
Joon-hyung learns that the pervert was caught, which is good news. But he looks wary when he also hears that Shi-ho is back at the school.
Bok-ju washes Joon-hyung’s handkerchief and heads to the pool to return it (she describes him to the other swimmers as “the tall guy with the pointy chin,” hee). He comes up behind her and she nervously holds out his handkerchief, mumbling a clumsy apology. Joon-hyung snatches the handkerchief and holds it to his nose, then glares at Bok-ju.
He yells at her, “Who told you to wash this?!” She barks back that she was just trying to be nice, and attempts to grab it back, saying she’ll dirty it up again if he wants. He refuses to let go and jerks it back, unbalancing Bok-ju right into the pool.
She screams and splashes, her heavy clothing pulling her under the water. Joon-hyung sighs and dives in, holding Bok-ju’s head above water and moving them to the shallow end. He cradles her in his arms, which brings their faces close, and they both freeze.
A memory washes over them both — a young, sturdy Bok-ju catches a small Joon-hyung as he falls from what looks like a school rooftop. They tumble to the ground, then sit up and look at each other. Bok-ju spits her mouthful of food all over Joon-hyung’s face, but he smiles, and little Bok-ju smiles back.
Now Bok-ju looks at Joon-hyung with wide, shocked eyes. He stares back at her, and a slow smile spreads over his face.
This was a solid first episode, in the sense that it introduced its characters well, set up the backdrop of the school and its internal politics thoroughly, and gave us plenty of cute and serious moments to get us invested in the characters and their personal struggles. It’s a lot of information to get across in one hour, yet I don’t feel like the episode was rushed in any way. And I love how invested I am already in the characters, with their big sports dreams yet utterly normal personal lives.
Personally, I’m not the biggest sports fan (well okay, I do love rhythmic gymnastics), so I wasn’t sure how much I’d enjoy a drama all about students pursuing their dreams in the sports arena. But the show puts the kids and their relationships at the forefront, while still letting the sports setting create an interesting backdrop that I actually find pretty interesting. I had to do some research for this one, especially in weightlifting, and I surprised myself by getting pretty engrossed in learning more about it. That just goes to show how a great cast and endearing characters can make a subject interesting, when done right. And I do think this show is doing it right, even at this early stage.
I’ve been a fan of Lee Sung-kyung’s ever since her debut in It’s Okay, That’s Love, and she continues to impress me with each successive character she plays. She’s an actress who seems to throw herself fully into whichever type of character she’s given (I adore her ability to make such hilarious faces), and it’s fun to see her branching out into something different for her first leading role. For such a beautiful young lady, it’s interesting to see her throwing image to the wind to play Bok-ju, and while it’s not easy to tamp down her natural prettiness, I respect that Lee Sung-kyung is going the extra mile to physically embody a frumpy, average girl whose physical strength is her greatest asset. Lee Sung-kyung still looks like she’d snap like a twig under the weight of real barbells, but the show smartly draws attention to her height in a lot of ways (her friends are much shorter than her, she takes stairs three at a time, etc), adding to the illusion of unusual strength. She’s got the shy, awkward mannerisms down perfectly, and I found myself fully believing in her as a girl who’s been good at nothing her whole life but sports.
On the other hand, I wasn’t sure if Nam Joo-hyuk was ready for another leading role quite yet — I thought he was adorable but just serviceable in Who Are You: School 2015, and I thought it was a smart move to pull back and let him develop some acting chops in smaller roles for a while. He does appear to have improved a lot, and I think the tone of quiet thoughtfulness he’s giving to Joon-hyung fits the role well. Clearly Joon-hyung has some issues and possibly some trauma in his past, but you can see the cheerful young man peeking through Joon-hyung’s serious demeanor at times, and Nam Joo-hyuk is playing that balance quite well. I look forward to seeing Bok-ju draw Joon-hyung out of his shell, and from what I’ve seen so far, I think Nam Joo-hyuk is up to the task.
I think the rest of the characters are cast very well, in particular Bok-ju’s two best friends, and her rival Soo-bin. I absolutely loved Jo Soo-hyang as the villain in School 2015 — she was chillingly evil, and truly frightening. She’s softer here, more “mean girl” than truly bad, and at times I even found her funny. I think her and Bok-ju’s rivalry just might end up being my favorite part of this show. Bok-ju’s buddies Nan-hee and Seon-ok are also a lot of fun, with Nan-hee the clown of the trio and Seon-ok the straight man. Their three-way friendship is supportive and solid, and it’s obvious there’s a lot of love and loyalty between the misfits. But I’m most curious about Shi-ho, who seems friendly and sweet on the outside, but there’s a sadness in her, and a history with Joon-hyung that I worry could create problems.
In conclusion, my first impressions are very good. I think we’re in for a sweet, heartwarming coming-of-age story with an adorable first love and some wonderful friendship and rivalry moments. I don’t expect Weightlifting Fairy to deliver much angst, and that’s a good thing. If it just continues as it started, I think it can hold its own as a lighthearted romance against the backdrop of heavy competition.