Cherishing Coming of Age Stories: Age of Youth and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

Aaah, being young is so, so precious. The springboard to a lifetime of experiences: love, hurt, rejection, elation, the highs, the lows. A young friend of mine recently lamented how she wished she was already in her 30s. Being 20s is hard, she said, finding love is hard, striking out on her own is hard.

I decided to share with her a quote I’d read recently. How I wish I had come across this when I was in my 20s and spent less time counting scores and wallowing in self-pity.

“Time is absolutely marvelous. We get to anticipate the experiences we want to have — which is often more enjoyable than the experiences themselves.” – Benjamin P. Hardy

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I just finished watching two coming of age kdramas. I didn’t purposely go out of my way to seek them out. After Romantic Doctor Teacher Kim wrapped up (which I thoroughly enjoyed), I needed a filler and kdrama news were filled with raving reviews for Age of Youth and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo. Nothing to lose, I decided to give these shows a try.

The beauty of such dramas is the absence of hateful antagonists or twisted plots (generally speaking). These kids brought me back to the whimsical days of my twenties, rejuvenating my fountain of youth for those 30+ hours – a reminder that being young is an asset. Live it, treasure it, own it so you don’t regret it.

[Minor Spoilers]

Age of Youth

I recently completed Ode to Joy, a show about friendships, life lessons and growing up. I absolutely loved it and resonated with its female characters. So, I had all kinds of expectations that I might enjoy Age of Youth. It did take me a few episodes to connect with the quirky characters. Surprisingly, the show has a dark and very grown up feel to it. It does not shy away from the uncomfortable subjects of premarital sex, sex for material comforts, date kidnapping and euthanasia.

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My favourite character is Senior Yoon. Her story connected with me the most. Her inner struggles to overcome poverty with dignity, not succumbing to the temptations of taking the easy way out, of not blaming her circumstances. Senior Yoon-Chef Park pairing is one I cheered for the most. He wants what she is not ready to give but grants her the space she seeks. At the same time, he is always there, quietly supporting Jin Yeong and picking her up when she falters. A true knight on wheels.

We see Eun Jae grow from an insecure country nerd into a girl that is not afraid to speak out and stand up for herself. Hers is a story of personal growth and maturity, of first love that is both sweet and awkward. I don’t care for the supernatural part of the show. Neither here nor there. I could easily do without this spooky element.

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Yi Na, the resident beauty queen with questionable life choices. I’m happy to see that her relationship with Ajusshi never crosses the line but instead leads her to a path of redemption. For a moment I was worried the story may want to take it up a notch into the thriller department with a death or a rape. Happy the show finds a credible road to a beautiful ending for both.

Ji Won, the eclectic drama queen of the lot. Weird, goofy but a true friend in need. I would have liked to see her arc expand in the show. As a romantic at heart, I was secretly cheering for best friend turn lover love line but with only 12 episodes, it would have had to be rushed and lends it a little less credible. Oh poor Ji Won. How she yearns for love.

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Ye Eun, the typical, pretty, girly girl, vain and blind when in love. We all know a Ye Eun in our lives. Sometimes it takes difficult lessons to wake us up from our folly. She may be scarred from her experience, but is all the wiser and thankful that the bond of the Belle Epoque girls came through in her time of need.

This is a show about the sum of its parts. No one character overshadows the other. Everyone has a unique story to tell and the show gives us colorful snippets into their lives in such unconventional but bold ways that is sometimes rare in kdramas. (9/10)

Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

I have a confession. It took me a few episodes before I actually fell in love with the show. Ten episodes to be exact. But from episode 10 to 16, my senses started to come alive, and I laughed, I smiled, I teared up and my heart fluttered.

It wasn’t that I did not like the first 9 episodes. There was never a moment that I considered dropping it. A female weightlifter winning the affection of the handsome, campus hearthrob. What’s not to like. Pretty much a twist to the cinderella, hate-at-first-sight story, which are my favourite tropes.

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Well, it took me a wee bit to get over the acting of our lead, Lee Sung Kyung as Kim Bok Joo. The pouts, the goofy walk, the vacant expression, the attempt at cuteness. Sung Kyung employs these facial expressions and tricks one too many times (imho). The dramatic effects lessen as time goes by. Either that or I simply got used to it. Even Joon Hyung character started out annoying but Nam Joo Hyuk is such a natural, he literally grew on me.

Another reason it took me a while to warm up to the show was the believable factor. Lee Sung Kyung is a beautiful woman. For her to portray a weightlifter takes a lot of imagination. She doesn’t look remotely bulky and muscular, the stereotypical image of a weightlifter, an image pre-programmed into many of us from watching one too many Olympics. Even when she was asked to move up to the next weight category, it did not look like she bulked up at all.

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At least Bok Joo, Nan Hee and Seok Ok actually look like they were chowing down all that food. It did look like they were eating for real. But all that eating makes me wonder if this is how it is done in real life. The show comes short in the technical department as the focus on the sport itself is very much secondary.

With many romance stories, I usually love the witty banter and sexual tension of the OTP before the big confession. But in a funny twist of reversal with this show, I actually connected more with Bok Joo and Joon Hyung’s love story after they became a pair.

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All the above aside, the show is like an onion. The more you peel, the more surprises and layers you get from its fabric of characters. And it is one that is blessed with a very strong cast of supporting characters.

The wins are its inspirational stories. Bok Joo overcoming her low self-esteem of her inner and outer beauty as a woman. That she is worth being loved and cherished as a woman.

Joon Hyung’s story is also a compelling one. His love for Bok Joo started out as a challenge, an enigma he wants to solve but slowly and surely, even unbeknownst to him, she’s always there in his thoughts and all he wants is for her to be happy even after he learns that she has a crush on his brother.

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Joon Hyung’s relationship with his adoptive parents and brother is endearing and heartfelt. Coddling him from the truth may have been well-intentioned but not always the best answer. The truth tends to find its way to the open and when it does, mother time makes it hurt even more.

I wish the part about Joon Hyung overcoming his mental block is handled with more care. The show sheds very little light on this sub-plot that had me wondering how he managed to keep his spot on the team if he is always getting disqualified.

Shi Ho’s story is another one of those layers that makes the show what it is. The struggles she battle with day in day out is one that is felt by so many elite athletes: the choices one has to make to pursue one’s dreams, or in many cases, the parents’ dreams; the sacrifices families make which may lead to discord in family unity or financial ruins: the foresight to know when to call it quits or the wisdom to persevere knowing your child is the prodigy in the making.

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I wish the show gives a better closure for Shi Ho’s story. What happened to her after that competition? Good for her to end that performance on her own terms and performing without regrets. But did she quit and become a coach or did she trudge on as an elite athlete but one marching to her own drums?

I also love Dr. Go and Jae Yi’s love story. So unselfish. “Ten years of efforts never made you love me.”  This line teared me up.

Overall, a sweet and cute show that improves upon acquaintance. Like fine wine, it gets better with each episode and never fails to surprise and stops short of falling into the cheesy category. It is age appropriate and simply, simply lovely to watch and ultimately made me a fan of Nam Joo Hyuk. (9/10)

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