Strong Women and the Men Who Love Them: Strong Woman Do Bong Soon and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo

Both Strong Woman Do Bong Soon and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo place unconventional women in the center of K-drama in ways that do not diminish them for being strong.

Interestingly, both dramas have origins in the childhoods of the main characters, where the female leads disrupt the conventional narrative by being the saviors of the young versions of the male characters. In Weightlifting Fairy, Joon Hyun (Nam Joo Hyuk) falls out of a window at school, only to be caught (or land on?) Bok Joo (Lee Sung Kyung). Instead of being appalled by her chubbiness, he ends up laughing with Bok Joo. The incident stays with him, right up to the moment when he re-encounters Bok Joo, now a weightlifter, in college. And he has the same response: he is delighted.  It’s a memory that he cherishes. Similarly, Min Hyuk (Park Hyung Sik) is saved by a mysterious stranger when the bus he is riding is prevented from swerving off the road. Min Hyuk also encounters his savior, Bong Soon (Park Bo Young), later in life, and also has fond memories of the encounter. It is also interesting to note that both male leads lack a mother figure. Min Hyuk’s mother died and Joon Hyun’s mother abandoned him to his aunt and uncle. The lack of a mother figure may factor into their tendency to accept the female leads in their unconventionality.

Throughout both dramas, the male leads appreciate the women because they are strong. Both develop into the lead couple. Joon Hyun likes the fact that Bok Joo is a weightlifter and that she’s good. He cheers her on at her competitions and takes an interest in her life, meeting her family and friends and understanding her struggles. While Min Hyuk likes to tease Bong Soon, he does not run away once he finds out about her powers. Instead, he is endlessly delighted at the things she can do, and also does all he can to try to teach her to control them (often to his own injury).

These responses differ from the way other men react to the strength of Bok Joo and Bong Soon. Joon Hyun’s impossibly talented cousin, Jae Yi (Lee Jae Yoon), may be a good doctor, but he’s clueless about relationships, ignoring the girl who likes him and not realizing the crush that Bok Joo has on him. More importantly, as a weight loss doctor, he embodies all of Bok Joo’s insecurities and is of absolutely no help when it comes to understanding her plight. He does not understand why she is so upset when he comes to her competition, and has no clue about how she feels about her appearance and the way society views her.  He’s no help at all!  Gook Doo (Ji Soo) is worse in Strong Woman. While he is equally clueless about her powers as well as her crush on him (even though they grew up together) he only sees her as helpless, and yells at her! Once he finds out about her powers, he does not respond as positively as Min Hyuk.

What I really like about the relationships in both dramas is that the women are strong, but not invincible and the men are also keenly aware of their emotions. Both Bok Joo and Bong Soon need connection to other people, despite their strength. Bok Joo undergoes the trials of being a young woman in a difficult sport for women. She also has zero experience with dating, so she struggles with her relationship with Joon Hyun. At the same time, Joon Hyun has anxiety that holds him back from succeeding in his swimming career. In Strong Woman, Bong Soon has anxiety about using her powers, thinking they will forever separate her from other people. And Min Hyuk is never more vulnerable when he pleads with Bong Soon: “Please love me.” (I’m not crying, YOU’RE CRYING!).

K-drama is almost always about emotional men, but these dramas show that K-dramas can also complicate the narrative of the strong woman as well.

Images

girlfriday. “Bright and cheery posters for youth sports drama Weightlifting Fairy.” Dramabeans. 3 Nov 2016. http://www.dramabeans.com/2016/11/bright-and-cheery-posters-for-youth-sports-drama-weightlifting-fairy/ (6 Aug 2017).

“Strong Woman Do Bong Soon EP 2 Recap.” Abby in Hallyu-Land.” 27 Feb 2017. https://jediprincess.wordpress.com/tag/strong-woman-do-bong-soon-episode-2-review/ (6 Aug 2017).

Creative Commons License
Strong Women and the Men Who Love Them: Strong Woman Do Bong Soon and Weightlifting Fairy Kim Bok Joo by CeeFu is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

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