“Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok-Joo” (역도요정 김복주)

By Jae-Ha Kim
March 10, 2017

Kim Bok-Joo (played by Lee Sung-Kyung)
Jung Joon-Hyung (played by Nam Joo-Hyuk)
Jung Jae-Yi (played by Lee Jae-Yoon)

If I were to rate this series, I would give it a 👎 for the first half. But the second half … wow. It was worth sitting through eight hours of meh to get to the satisfying ending.

Bok-Joo is the top female wrestler at her school. In order to give the other women on her team a chance of medaling, her coach asks her to go up a weight class. The 5-foot-9 athlete weighs roughly 127 pounds and must go up by about 10 pounds. Bear in mind that by U.S. standards, she would be considered thin. But much is made of the fact that she’s a big, overweight girl.

When she reunites with elementary school classmate, Joon-Hyung — who, as one of the country’s top swimmers, is the Big Man on Campus — they forge a friendship.

Their friendship is complicated by his jealous ex-girlfriend, Shi-Ho (played by Kyung Soo-Jin). Once an Olympic contender for rhythmic gymnastics, she is crumbling under her family’s expectation that she becomes famous and rich. As she grows out of her teen years, she has gained a few unwanted pounds that she can’t shake and that is affecting her confidence and performance. Though she dumped Joon-Hyung when he needed her the most, she now wants him back.

Also involved is Joon-Hyung’s older brother, Jae-Yi, who is a handsome and kind doctor (who seems clueless about the effect he has on women). Bok-Joo develops a crush on him and concocts a lie about being a cellist, because she is embarrassed about admitting that she is a weightlighter who could probably bench press him.

Willowy Lee Sung-Kyung — a former model who gained a bit of weight to play this starring role — is unconvincing physically as a powerhouse athlete. Judging by her physique, she would be better suited portraying a pole vaulter, long distance runner or volleyball player. That’s actually less of a problem than some of her acting. I’m not sure why the director wanted her to mug so much on camera. Early on, her facial expressions were so over-the-top that they took away from the dialogue.

This kind of mugging also hindered her performance in “Cheese in the Trap.” She is a solid actress when given the chance. (Watch Lee’s performance in “Doctor Crush” to see what she’s capable of doing.)


Sixteen episodes aired on MBC from November 16, 2016 to January 11, 2017.

Spoiler alert /Adoption element:

There was an important plot element that was never addressed that really bothered me. When Joon-Hyung was 9, his widowed mother left him in Korea with his aunt and uncle. So that she could get remarried. And move to Canada. Without him.

What? The? Frack?

They didn’t seem to be poor, so the marriage likely wasn’t driven by poverty. Why couldn’t she take Joon-Hyung with her? Was it related to immigration issues? Or did she not want to “burden” her new husband with a child who wasn’t biologically his? Which leads to the question: Who would want to marry a man who thinks it’s fine and dandy to leave his wife’s child behind?

This mother sends him three postcards. After that, she stops. So his aunt continues to send them to him — along with birthday and Christmas gifts — pretending that they were sent by his mother. He figures this out eventually, but never says anything, because he doesn’t want to hurt his aunt and uncle’s feelings. But wouldn’t anyone over the age of 12 look at the postmark and think, “Wait? Is my mom in Korea? Why aren’t the postmarks from overseas? Ahhh, my aunt and uncle must be sending me these instead…”

In episode 10, Jung-Hyung’s therapist asks if he ever wanted to contact his bio mom. He says no. His aunt and uncle raised him as their own and he feels like it would be a betrayal to them. 🙁

The mother does show up eventually … and it is heartbreaking. She didn’t come to see him, per se, but to ask her brother-in-law for $20,000 to pay for her daughter’s surgery. Which made me wonder — why would she need that? Wouldn’t most of that be covered by Canada’s socialized health insurance plans?

She tells Jung-Hyung that she thinks of him all the time and wondered what he was like as he was growing up. Then…Why hadn’t she returned to visit her son? Why didn’t she have him visit her in Canada, even if only for a short trip? Surely if she and her husband couldn’t afford it, her in laws would’ve sprung for a plane ticket.

And not for nothing but … Bitch — this is the 21st century. There is Skype and Kakao and this thing called The Internets. She could’ve easily kept in touch with him, but chose not to.

@2017 Jae-Ha Kim | All Rights Reserved

Comments (9)

  1. I think it is pretty horrible too. But I’ve seen this storyline in other Korean dramas, so I think it must have happened more often (mainly in the past) than any of us would like. But I really wish the writers wouldn’t keep this “option” alive through modern dramas. It seems to justify that in some circumstances, this is an acceptable option.

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Yes. I know of real-life women who (decades ago) were told by their new American husbands to leave their children from their first marriages in Korea and to start a new life with them in the U.S. The women I know refused, and the children were brought to America with them. Some of them were raised with love. Some of them were resented by their stepfathers and led not-so-great lives.

      In those situations where the women were widowed from the Korean War, poor and had little options if there wasn’t a man to help support the family — I can almost understand IF they chose to leave their children behind with grandparents or other relatives.

      But in today’s society, I cannot understand anyone who would choose getting remarried and dump their children off in orphanages…NO. Just no!

      I realize that this is a fictional series and that they have leeway to do things like pass off a model as a “fat” athlete. But it would add to the storyline if they added even a few lines so that we as the viewers could try to understand WHY the mom did what she did.

      One of the things I liked about “Doctor Crush” is that in the end, the abusive father tries to come back into his daughter’s life. He literally threw her away when she was in high school and was horrible to her and didn’t stop his new wife from beating her, because he thought she wasn’t his biological child (and she was). The now grown-up daughter tells him that she hopes that he and his family live a good life, but that she chooses not to have them in hers. YES! You can forgive someone on your terms.

  2. Julie Jackson says:

    My husband’s mother put him in foster care when her new husband said “It’s him or me.” Husband was in the system from 13-18.

    How does one watch this show?

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Oh, no. How horrible. 🙁 I had a friend who got married right out of high school and when she got pregnant, he told her it was either abort the baby or get a divorce. She chose the latter. Her son is a wonderful young man!

      I watched this on Viki.com. I have a membership so that I can watch it without commercials. You can watch it for free (with commercials) or do a one-week free trial. The first 8 episodes dragged on, in my opinion. But the last 8 episodes were enjoyable. Let me know if you watch it!

  3. Cohlrox Primus says:

    maybe, the mother is a bad mother?

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      That could very well be. And I would agree. My beef (or one of them) was that they treated her in a sympathetic manner…and if they expect the audience to buy that, the writers need to tell us why she did what she did.

  4. Kathy Hewett Tsudama says:

    I had ALL of the very same thoughts. The thought “what a SELFISH woman. She didn’t deserve the title “mom”. She ditches her son for a new man and “better” life in Canada. I won’t spoil the ending either for those who haven’t watched / finished WLFKBJ but wow was he the bigger person. <3 Never forgo your child-they never went into depth whether it was the new mans decision or the mothers. =(

    • Jae-Ha Kim says:

      Exactly. I kept waiting for some kind of explanation or backstory. And if she hadn’t come back for the reason that she did — trying to be oblique so as not to spoil it! — would she ever have come back?

      • Kathy Hewett Tsudama says:

        I don’t think so-he was a little guy then a college aged young man. Who doesn’t even check on their child’s well being? Biological mom only. Loved his Auntie though!

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