Webtoons continue to be popular and high in demand. Based on the webtoon of the same name, True Beauty has been running since August 2018 and enjoys high popularity in digital comic form. Since the drama was announced in July of this year, its release has been highly anticipated and buzzed, particularly due to its cast consisting of stars Moon Ga-young, Cha Eun-woo, and Hwang In-yeop. Viewer reactions and ratings to the first four episodes have so far been positive.
Standing in line with other dramas that deal with the seriousness and effects of lookism on young people in South Korea’s society, True Beauty revolves around Im Ju-kyeong (Moon Ga-young), who since her birth is being made fun of for being ugly and experiences bullying from her school peers. The ugly duckling of her family, Ju-kyeong’s life changes 365 degrees after she transfers to a new school and transforms into an outstanding beauty through make-up. She is labeled a goddess at her new school and admired by her peers. Her secret is however found out by the textbook perfect male protagonist Lee Su-ho (Cha Eun-woo), who frequents the same comic book store as her. Su-ho decides to keep her secret to himself and an awkward relationship ensues between our main characters, which is further complicated with the arrival of Han Seo-jun (Hwang In-yeop), who also takes an interest in Ju-kyeong.
What might sound like a frequently recurring and clichéd drama plot turns into a promising and youthful adaptation. The first four episodes act as a solid introduction into a drama that stays fairly faithful to its source material. It is sprinkled with many hilarious and quirky moments without neglecting to take a deeper look into the painful experiences of the protagonist. There are some borderline cringy scenes, but not to the extent of impacting the drama negatively.
NB: Mild spoilers ahead.
The first episode focuses on Ju-kyeong’s hardships as an “ugly” girl. From her childhood to her youth, she is made fun of and humiliated, finding comfort in consuming comic books. After her confession to a guy at school goes horribly wrong, she decides to commit suicide, but is saved by Su-ho at the very last moment, who talks some sense into her. Contrary to expectation, this scene is infused with humour and hilarious moments such as Su-ho carrying Ju-kyeong down the stairs. This balances the heaviness of the scene. Ju-kyeong’s timid and dense character starkly contrasts with the cold and unemotional Su-ho.
Eventually, Ju-kyeong makes a new beginning at a new school and decides to change her outward appearance through make-up. Admittedly, an ugly girl transforming into a beauty with the help of make-up is a predictable storyline, but the drama portrays Ju-kyeong’s journey as surprisingly plausible and vibrant through incorporating animated scenes, in which she explores the world of make-up and beauty products. In the early steps of application, she fails and ends up looking like a witch, but after many sleepless nights and experiments gone awry, she eventually succeeds.
At the end of the first episode, we are now fully introduced to Lee Su-ho as the handsome, ambitious student, who frequents the same comic book store as Ju-kyeong. The next two episodes subsequently revolve around her attempts at finding out whether he knows her bare-faced appearance. These scenes are incredibly hilarious with Ju-kyeong perceiving Su-ho as a sadistic and mean guy. The standout scene is arguably her imagination of vampire Su-ho trying to bite her neck to suck her blood. While the school moments between our main characters are rather comical, their encounters at the comic book store show them interacting in a more amicably way, adding nice layers to their budding friendship. Su-ho is admittedly cold as an ice block, but we get glimpses of what might be hiding underneath his perfect and unpredictable facade.
Enter the second male protagonist, Han Seo-jun, whose motorcycle-riding debut scene takes the cake for how cliché it is. Seo-jun is initially introduced as intimidating and insurgent, but quickly proves that appearances are deceptive as he is revealed to be a pretty decent and attentive guy who takes care of his sick mother. The drama also takes us into the tense and strained relation between him and Su-ho, who were formerly best friends, but have been enemies since a fallout. The reasons behind this are not prolonged and revealed fairly fast. The drama does not dwell too much on the past but comprehensibly decides to focus on the friendship between our male characters in the present day, which is a nice turn of events.
The stark contrast in the relation between Seo-jun and Su-ho and Seo-jun and Ju-kyeong play out nicely in the fourth episode, creating a dynamic development. Ju-kyeong is pretty comfortable with both, not shying away from making jokes with Su-ho, making their interaction natural and fun. This is especially seen with the scene where her older sister returns home severely drunk and is helped by both male characters.
At the end of the fourth episode, the love triangle now stands and it will be interesting to see how it will play out. Unfortunately, the bickering relationship between Ju-kyeong and Seo-jun moves too fast, making it hard for viewers to grasp how Seo-juns interest in her happened. It is nice to see these two interact outside of school, but so far there is not enough substance to create a potential love story between the two characters.
One of True Beauty‘s strengths so far is the cast. Moon Ga-young has proven her versatility and she perfectly portrays the naive and good-natured Ju-kyeong. The make-up artists further deserve praise for making an actress as beautiful as Moon Ga-young visually unappealing. Cha Eun-woo’s casting as Lee Su-ho is like a match made in heaven and he delivers his role convincingly. This is not the first Cha Eun-woo plays an otherworldly good-looking student and his acting can leave a lot to be desired, but in True Beauty it fits the cold and nonchalant natured Su-ho well so far. Hwang In-yeop also nails his rebellious, yet sweet character. All in all, it is the chemistry and dynamics between these three that makes the drama entertaining.
As we are one fourth into the drama, True Beauty is enjoyable and promising so far. It strays away from being too dramatic and serious by setting the tone for a lighter and comedic drama with an abundance of hilarious and cliché scenes. It stays faithful to its source material with only little modifications (e.g. the change of Soojin’s character). However, True Beauty undoubtedly deals with the significant and very timely subject matter of lookism in modern-day Korea, so it will be interesting to see whether it will be able to bring a fresher message or will end up being just one of many dramas, who have treated this topic superficially.
(Images via tvN)