If you haven’t yet caught the Hallyu Wave, the holiday season is the perfect time. And if you’re looking to dip your toe in the waters and want an easy breezy show to start with? True Beauty has all the right ingredients for a tasty kdrama meal.
Based on the internationally popular webtoon, this hot new drama has already aired 4 of its 16 episodes and is available on the Viki Rakuten streaming platform. It tells the story of high school student Im Jugyeong, who was born the kind of “glasses and a ponytail” ugly that only counts onscreen with an unfortunate side of bad skin and no good dermatologists. In order to escape constant bullying once she transfers to a new school, she learns the wonders of makeup and seems to be off to a new and better life. But what happens when the cutest and coldest boy in school, Lee Suho, finds out her secret?
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If you guessed anything other than “he falls in love with her,” we need to take you back to elementary narrative class – but in the land of kdramas, it’s all about the highly addictive journey. Here are five reasons why you can’t go wrong picking True Beauty as your first, or newest, drama of choice.
1. True Beauty Is Trope-Tastic
Do you remember a decade ago, when Korean drama first started making waves with high school and college romances like Boys Over Flowers and The Heirs? Can you still taste the cheesy but delicious goodness that permeated every frame as you savored the guilty pleasure that was love triangles and jerkass boys with hearts of gold? Well, have no fear, because True Beauty came straight out of that wheelhouse and now you can enjoy it with 2020 production levels.
But there’s a catch! Director Kim Sang Hyub (whose work you might recognize from Extraordinary You if you took our advice and watched) is fully aware of how silly these tropes can come across in today’s day and age, so there’s always a cheeky twist. From the video game dramatics of Jugyeong’s imagination to the countless kabedons (that’s a supposedly sexy wall slam, for the record) the men put her through, everything is done with a wink to the audience so they’re in on the joke.
The biggest selling point here, though, in Moon Gayoung’s (Find Me In Your Memory) performance. She knows when to be over-the-top comical, such as when she first tries on clown makeup to look beautiful, and when to come crashing down into reality. It’s her effort and talent that breathes life into the relatively trite tale of the webtoon, turning True Beauty into a true coming-of-age onscreen.
2. Cha Eunwoo, The GOAT
If you’re an Army – and who isn’t a fan of BTS in this day and age? – you may be familiar with Cha Eunwoo by extension, as he is besties with Jungkook and a member of the kpop group Astro. But for better or worse, he’s most well-known as an actor and the male lead of every webtoon come to life.
In this case, the author of True Beauty arguably did base the character of Suho on him – largely thanks to his tsundere (that’s an emotionless jerkass with a heart of gold to you!) role in another huge webtoon-turned-drama, My ID Is Gangnam Beauty. But he and the creative team wisely worked to ensure he wasn’t just repeating the same performance, from making Suho physically active (and doing his own stunts!) to amping up his rage issues with his father and ex-bestie.
The loveline between Suho and Jugyeong has already been clearly defined within the first four episodes, bringing us back to more delightfully overused tropes like “they met as children!” and “they bonded over horror comics and metal music” – okay, actually, that’s a new one. But a high school kdrama is nothing without a love triangle, and True Beauty is more than ready to answer the call.
3. Second Lead Syndrome, You Say?
Second Lead Syndrome, known as SLS, is what you get when Brutus is just as cute as Caesar, Brutus is just as smart as Caesar, and people totally like Brutus just as much as they like Caesar. The other guy in this particular triangle is Han Seojun, played by newcomer Hwang Inyeop, and he is ready to put up a fight.
Aside from the fact that the True Beauty webtoon is best known for its love triangle to the exclusion of almost everything else – aside from makeup brands and character designs based on idols, Seojun actually has plenty going for him. His tragic backstory dovetails perfectly with Suho’s, giving viewers a chance to root for both boys and their broken friendship even if they’re not interested in the romance. And more significantly, Inyeop recently shot to fame with him bad boy turn in 18 Again, and fans are itching to see more from him.
But this is a show about one very special lady, not about the supernaturally attractive men that surround her, and it’s time we talk more about her.
4. Welcome To Korea’s Beauty & Entertainment Industries
If you’re already cringing at the premise of True Beauty, I can’t say I blame you. We all know glasses and acne does not an ugly girl make, and some might argue it’s harmful to say they do. But unfortunately, many places are still battling overly strict beauty standards for women – and Korea is certainly one of them. With the 9th largest cosmetics industry in the world, it’s not passe to teach young women that they still have value whether or not they apply the right concealer.
An interrelated theme is the harshness of the entertainment industry, which is another situation that’s specific to Korea in True Beauty but can easily be applied to any country with a thriving music or film business. Part of Suho and Seojun’s past is intricately connected to the music companies that churn out idols, and how the public’s demand for perfection can have harmful effects – which pairs perfectly with the insecurities that societal demands for beauty instill in Jugyeong.
It’s too early to say whether the drama will deftly handle criticisms of both industries, but solid groundwork has been laid thus far.
5. Female Friendship FTW
A female lead who loves metal and reads horror comics, but still falls flat on her face any time a man is around to catch her? Sounds pretty basic, but once again True Beauty manages to make some changes for the better. Suho might be Jugyeong’s guardian angel, but the key difference in her high school experience is making genuine female friendships.
Park Yoona (SKY Castle) and Kang Minah (A-Teen) play Sujin and Sua, new friends that Jugyeong makes on the first day of school who have her back at every opportunity. They may not know about her bare face yet, but the story is perfectly poised to showcase that true friends love your True Beauty, which will ultimately be part of what helps Jugyeong grow into self-love. Plus, it’s refreshing not to see them fighting over a guy. We’ll let the boys do the fighting, right?
Has True Beauty caught your attention yet, or are you looking for something a little gorier (such as Netflix’s Sweet Home, perhaps)? Check back next week for 10 other options when we debut the top kdramas of 2020, and keep up with The Illuminerdi for all the latest entertainment news and features.
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