Review: True Beauty

THE SHORT VERDICT:

True Beauty doesn’t exactly re-invent the drama wheel in any sense of the word, but it’s fun and endearing, even while it’s being tropey and silly, and altogether, it works out to be a reasonably good time, especially if you’re in the mood for something that doesn’t tax the ol’ brain much. As a bonus, thematically, Show manages to shine a bit of a spotlight on the importance of inner beauty, even as it plays with the contrast between our female lead’s bare and made-up face.

The acting in this show may not be the most skilled or nuanced, but our characters are generally earnest, well-cast, and pretty to look at. Moon Ga Young and Cha Eun Woo are picture perfect as our story’s leads, and share decent chemistry as the sweet OTP at the center of our story. It’s second male lead Hwang In Yeop who ended up stealing my heart a little extra, though. I do have a bit of a weakness for broody bad boys with hidden marshmallow hearts, heh.

Far from amazing, but a solid pick for a bit of sweet, mindless froth.

THE LONG VERDICT:

One of my long-standing guilty pleasures, is the fluffy high school drama. Even though my friends think that I should have outgrown them long ago, I still do have a soft spot for them. I don’t know why; I may be way past high school, but somehow, a good frothy high school drama never seems to fail to get my inner teen going.

And this show, in all its tropey glory, does just that. It has its flaws, but it’s simple and uncomplicated, and my inner tween approves.

OST ALBUM: FOR YOUR LISTENING PLEASURE

Here’s the OST album, in case you’d like to listen to it while you read the review.

The music, like this show, is mostly light, breezy and pretty. Among the easy-breezy tracks, I have a soft spot for Track 2, I’m In The Mood For Dancing, for its cute vibe, as well as Track 8, Love So Fine, which is sung by Cha Eun Woo, and which makes me feel like I’m on vacation without a care in the world.

I also really like Track 9, How Do You Do, performed by Chani, which lands in a lovely, poignant, bittersweet sort of way, due to the context of how this song is introduced in our story.

MANAGING EXPECTATIONS

Here are some things which I think are useful to keep in mind, in order to maximize your enjoyment of this show.

1. Show is obviously meant to be a live action manhwa, so a lot of suspension of disbelief is required, and a manhwa lens is a must.

2. There’s a lot of early emphasis on beauty or the lack of it, in our drama world. Hang in there; this is necessary context for our story, and Show eventually balances it out by adjusting our characters’ mindsets. Focusing on the underdog quality of our story helps, I found.

3. There are tropes aplenty in this show. Rolling with them, and expecting them, instead of expecting Show to be fresh or original, helps a lot.

4. Show can be a little uneven, sometimes. Sometimes it can feel a little underwhelming, but at other times, it can serve up a nice bunch of cracky feels.

5. The acting can lean a little green, but everyone’s so earnest that it kind of makes up for it. Plus, our characters are well-cast, such that the roles tend to work with our actors’ strengths instead of against them.

Overall, I found Show endearing and entertaining. There’s something.. sweet-tempered about this show, which I liked a lot.

STUFF I LIKED

Moon Ga Young as Ju Kyung

It did take me a while to get a handle on Show’s vibe, and so, it took me a while to get used to how Ju Kyung is delivered as a character as well. In the end, the manhwa lens worked best; that helped me to roll best, with Ju Kyung’s bouts of ditziness and clumsiness, which I’d found a bit bemusing at first.

Ju Kyung did grow on my nicely as a character, and I thought Moon Ga Young did a solid job, considering the requirements of the role. I felt sympathetic towards Ju Kyung for the bullying she’d suffered at her old school, and I definitely rooted for her to have a happier time at her new school.

Ultimately, Ju Kyung’s journey towards self-acceptance, self-love and self-confidence forms the main backbone of our narrative, and I’m glad that Show takes the time to allow her to work through it, instead of waving a magic wand and making all her troubles go away, once she learns how to use makeup.

[SPOILER ALERT]

My favorite Ju Kyung scenes, I realize, are the ones where she stands up for others. Like in episode 5, when she defends Go Woon (Yeo Joo Ha) and then helps her with her makeup, so that she’ll wow everyone when she performs onstage. And then again, in episode 12, when Ju Kyung helps Hye Min (Oh Yu Jin) when the bullies get all up in her face, even though Hye Min had once been used by the same bullies to terrorize her.

That just shows how kind Ju Kyung is. I like how she is able to help Hye Min, even though she hasn’t forgiven her. “Just because I helped you doesn’t mean that I’ve forgiven you.” That might be Ju Kyung’s way of drawing the line with Hye Min, but it does show that she’s compassionate and full of humanity, regardless of whether she considers you a friend.

Ju Kyung turns out to be such a sweet soul, that I was legitimately proud of her, when, in episode 13, she opts to go to school without makeup on, and then stands up to gossipy mean girls, for having the nerve to insult Soo Ho (Cha Eun Woo) because of her. What an important breakthrough, for a girl who’s stronger than she’d realized.

[END SPOILER]

Cha Eun Woo as Soo Ho

At first glance, Cha Eun Woo looks like he’s reprising his role in My ID is Gangnam Beauty, because he’s styled quite similarly, and his character vibes quite similarly as well. However, to Chae Eun Woo’s credit, even though a fair amount of stiffness is still apparent in his delivery, I do think that he manages to show more depth in this role.

As a character, Soo Ho is a fairly typical tsundere male lead, who initially comes across as cold, aloof, and sometimes even rather hostile, but who’s tenderhearted and lonely on the inside.

I’ll admit that I struggled somewhat, in trying to understand Soo Ho, because Show keeps him quite opaque for the first half of our story. However, the more Show peels back Soo Ho’s prickly layers to reveal the good-natured dork underneath, the more I grew fond of him. And the more Show revealed the personal pain that he struggled with, the more sympathetic I felt towards him too.

[SPOILER ALERT]

The thing that struck me most about the arc around Soo Ho’s angst around the death of his friend Se Yeon (Kang Chan Hee; Chani), is how much guilt Soo Ho was carrying on his shoulders.

Even though Soo Ho hadn’t contributed to Se Yeon’s death on purpose, he holds himself accountable anyway, and it was really sad to see him beat himself up over it, for so long. For a while, it really looked like he planned to live his whole life unhappy and in self-imposed isolation, because of how guilty he felt. Poor guy.

I felt like I could see how lonely Soo Ho was, and so, in episode 9, when Ju Kyung’s dad (Park Ho San) ends up staying over at Soo Ho’s apartment, I found it as sweet as it was ridiculous. Even though Dad is really a special brand of hapless annoying, I found it quite sweet to see him provide Soo Ho with a semblance of familial warmth.

In the end, I’m glad that Soo Ho makes peace with his dad (Jung Joon Ho), and father and son begin to heal their relationship, bit by little bit.

[END SPOILER]

Soo Ho and Ju Kyung together

Cha Eun Woo and Moon Ga Young make a pretty cute couple, and even though I wouldn’t call their chemistry super crackly, it’s sweet and warm, and suits this OTP perfectly.

I found this OTP loveline the most fun to watch, in the earlier episodes, when they are not yet a couple, and their connection is new and tenuous, and they’re both not quite sure what to make of each other.

One of the best things about this pairing, is the fact that Soo Ho falls for Ju Kyung first, and falls hard. The idea of the most handsome, popular guy in school being head over heels for our bashful “ugly duckling” is just the sort of thing to get my inner teen squeeing, ha. I loved the idea that he was softening towards her, and the private leaked smiles were among my favorite things.

When our OTP does come together as a couple, I found them cute and sweet, and importantly, I found quite a few of their conversations healthy.

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. I like that Soo Ho knows about Ju Kyung’s secret, and yet still likes her company. He’s too closed off and proud to actually say it in so many words, which is why he keeps sending her on errands as an excuse to connect. It’s hard on Ju Kyung, but Soo Ho’s consistent attempts to spend more time with her, foiled by her jumpy habit of scooting off immediately, are quite endearing. Especially that time he prepare two bowls of ramyun, and then summons her to the comic bookstore. Too bad she runs off without ever seeing it.

I’m also amused by how Soo Ho finds out about her secret – he’d seen her note, before she’d taken the paper bag with his jacket in it back. Ha. So she’d basically outed herself, without realizing it. This amuses me. 😆

E3. Ju Kyung’s tearful outburst at the park, followed by Soo Ho’s apology and his run to the convenience store for bandaids and medicated cream, is a nice change of pace. It’s also sweet and empathetic. Soo Hoo’s been too closed off, and Ju Kyung’s been too quick to run away, for him to notice how much she’s been suffering, with his constant requests.

E4. It’s rather melty that Soo Ho seems to genuinely see no difference between barefaced Ju Kyung and made-up Ju Kyung. And it’s cute that he’s getting quite hyperaware of her presence, like in the comic bookstore.

E4. Soo Ho is definitely unable to stop thinking about Ju Kyung. The epilogue says it all, with the way he basically walked out of his math competition, so that he could spy on Ju Kyung during her blind date. And what an event that turned out to be, with him literally vaulting over rows of seats, when he thought that Ju Kyung’s blind date was making a move to kiss her. Pwahaha.

E5. Soo Ho continues to leak from his big soft spot for Ju Kyung, and that includes, but is not limited to, sweeping Ju Kyung off her feet, by telling her matter-of-factly, that she’s pretty even without makeup. Aw. That sure is the way to Ju Kyung’s heart, whether he’s cognizant of it or not.

E6. Ohhh, So Hoo readily admits to Ju Young (Kim Min Ki) that he likes Ju Kyung, when Ju Young questions him. Innteresting.

E6. I appreciate the way Soo Ho asks Ju Kyung about the bullies, concluding that she must’ve been shocked and scared. That’s empathetic, and gentle. It’s not super cool that Soo Ho lies in order to keep hugging Ju Kyung, but the gentle way that he tells her that it’s ok, definitely helps to make up for it.

E6. Ju Kyung getting “kidnapped” by the bullies, and then getting cumulatively rescued by Soo Ho, then Seo Joon, then the rest of her friends, is silly but quite epic. The way Soo Ho fights is full of fire; he’s livid that anyone would do this to Ju Kyung. I can’t blame Ju Kyung for not being able to look away.

E8. I can’t help rolling my eyes at how quickly and easily Ju Kyung’s makeup wears off, any time she comes into contact with water. Girl needs to invest in better foundation, ha. But, I do like the idea that when Soo Ho confesses that he likes her, she’s barefaced instead of wearing a full face of makeup. This idea, that he sees her and likes her for who she is, and doesn’t care whether she wears makeup or not, is very appealing to me.

E9. Ju Kyung’s determination to keep her relationship with Soo Ho a secret is really out there, but it’s sweet that he doesn’t get fed up about it, even though she often ends up treating him coldly for show, or even shoving him under the restaurant table. Instead, he’s content to go with whatever she prefers, because nothing’s going to change the fact that she’s dating him. Aw. That’s sweet.

E9. It’s nice that Soo Ho shows Ju Kyung his music room and even tells her that he used to write music with Se Yeon. That’s pretty huge, for him. And there’s also how Soo Jin (Park Yoo Na) observes that Soo Ho’s more warm and relaxed these days. This is everything to do with how happy Ju Kyung makes him, and that’s nice.

E12. I do enjoy how generally healthy our OTP relationship is. It’s not all just smitten faces and heart-eyes; Ju Kyung spends time comforting Soo Ho after his breakdown with his father, and gives him space to talk and express how he feels. That’s important, and I like how they instinctively do this, even though they are both new to dating someone. The bundle of gifts, full of things to help him cope, is a very sweet and thoughtful gesture too.

E13. It’s nice to see Soo Ho and Ju Kyung together again, once she’s stopped trying to hide from him. And it’s also sweet that he’s been trying to hard to make her smile. I especially liked the way he told her how strong she is, with that Spanish tomato analogy, saying that the tastiest tomatoes are the ones who have to strive to live in an unfriendly environment.

[END SPOILER]

Hwang In Yeop as Seo Joon

I gotta say, Hwang In Yeop really grew on me in the course of my watch. I started out this show just thinking of Seo Joon as our token resident bad boy, but by the end of my watch, I found myself a bit smitten. 😍

This is partly to do with the fact that Show peels back Seo Joon’s bad boy layers to reveal a tender dork on in the inside. I found this dork very sweet. At the same time, Seo Joon’s patience and long-suffering in his quiet one-sided love for Ju Kyung does land very poignant, which made my heart go out to him as well. There’s a casual playfulness about him when he’s with Ju Kyung, and also, a gentle tenderness about him, when she’s sick or crying, that really appeals to me and makes me want to root for him, even though he’s clearly not romantic endgame for Ju Kyung.

On top of this, we also get to hear quite a bit of Hwang In Yeop’s very nice singing voice, which I find very deep, rounded, smooth and quite delicious on the ears. Quite lovely.

Also, the more Hwang In Yeop appeared on my screen, the more interesting I found his face. He’s very pretty, but in an unconventional, roguish sort of way, and I found this all very appealing indeed. 🤩

[SPOILER ALERT]

In terms of memorable Seo Joon scenes, I had to include the scene in episode 6, where he rocks out in his leopard print underwear at home, only to realize that Ju Kyung’s right there, teaching Go Woon about makeup.

It’s all very secondhand embarrassing to watch, yet hysterical at the same time. 😆 Kudos to Hwang In Yeop for leaning into this scene; it must have been quite mortifying to film! 😅

Another scene that really stands out in my mind, is the modeling session in episode 9. That was hawt. 🔥 Mmph. The way Seo Joon looks at Ju Kyung is so molten that it melted my insides. Also, Hwang In Yeop photographs gorgeously; his features are so unique and special. Combine that with the confident, molten, searching gaze, and I’m drowning in a puddle of flail. 🤩

[END SPOILER]

Park Yoo Na as Soo Jin

I really like Park Yoo Na, and for the most part, I really like her character Soo Jin, who is not only nice, but also cool and badass.

I love how friendly, supportive and easygoing Soo Jin is to Ju Kyung, even when they first meet. And I like how protective Soo Jin is of Ju Kyung too, once they become friends.

Show does cause Soo Jin as a character to take a sharp left turn later in our story, but thankfully, Show redeems her character quite nicely, by the time we reach the closing credits.

[SPOILER ALERT]

One of my favorite Soo Jin scenes is in episode 5, when she steps in and is so protective of Ju Kyung, when Ju Kyung freezes on the bus, at the sight of the girls who had bullied her in her previous school. Ju Kyung doesn’t even need to say anything; Soo Jin simply reads her body language, concludes that Ju Kyung isn’t comfortable, and doesn’t hesitate to get Ju Kyung off the bus. She’s so awesome.

Subsequently, when Show reveals that Soo Jin is nursing feelings for Soo Ho, I was quite disappointed, because I felt that this made her character feel rather pathetic. I also felt sad because this felt like Show was sacrificing Soo Jin’s friendship with Ju Kyung for the sake of amping up the drama in our story.

I didn’t like the lack of nuance in the treatment of Soo Jin’s crush, because Show turned her into a straight-up villain, at least for a handful of episodes. However, to Show’s credit, Soo Jin is shown to struggle with emotional and physical abuse at home, which lead to self-esteem issues, so it’s not hard to rationalize that Soo Jin isn’t just acting out because she’s jealous that Soo Ho likes Ju Kyung. Rather, there are deeper, more troubling issues at work, that are causing her to spiral so badly, and this thing with Ju Kyung and Soo Ho, is just the tip of the iceberg, as it were.

Credit to Park Yoo Na’s delivery, I did get the sense, in episode 14, that Soo Jin hates herself enough, to want the rest of the world to hate her too. It’s like she’s leaning hard into the rebel villainess persona and punishing herself through it. And ironically, that actually helped me to sympathize with her, and root for her eventual turnaround.

[END SPOILER]

Special shout-outs:

Kang Min Ah as Soo Ah

I just wanted to give a quick shout-out to Kang Min Ah as Soo Ah, because even though Soo Ah doesn’t get as meaty of an arc as Soo Jin, I really liked her. I found Soo Ah warm, friendly, and quick to accept someone new into her circle of friends, and sincere and enthusiastic, as she goes about it. She was one of my favorites.

I also found Soo Ah’s relationship with Tae Hoon (Lee Il Jun) amusing. I was quite amused by their aegyo on steriods, and their random break-up and make-up scenes.

The gal pals together

A quick shout-out to the three gal pals together, because I just really liked how quickly Soo Jin and Soo Ah absorbed Ju Kyung as one of their own. It really wasn’t long before it felt like Ju Kyung had always been one of them, and I liked that a lot.

Im Se Mi as Hee Kyung

Gosh, I don’t think I’ve loved Im Se Mi as much in a role, as I love her in this one. 🤩

She is just freaking awesome, as Ju Kyung’s gruff, cheerfully buoyant older sister. Show gives Hee Kyung a lot of alpha male traits, and she wears them so well. I never grew tired of watching her be her awesome self, never backing down or changing herself just because she didn’t fit into the typical mold of how a lady should behave.

Hee Kyung’s loveline with Teacher Han

Hee Kyung’s loveline with Teacher Han (Oh Eui Sik) is clearly a simple case of gender role reversal, and I love it. I never grew tired of this trope reversal, no matter how ham Show went with it.

Generally speaking, Hee Kyung keeps taking on the traditionally more masculine role of active pursuer, approaching Teacher Han with a great deal of off-the-cuff swagger, while Teacher Han is the one who basically blinks with shy nervousness and swoons like a delicate gentlewoman in response. Tee hee hee. This was a definite highlight of my watch. 😆

I was very amused, and thoroughly charmed, at the same time. ❤️

STUFF THAT WAS OK

The thing between Soo Ho and Seo Joon [SPOILERS]

There is a lot of misunderstanding and angst behind the antagonistic vibe between Seo Joon and Soo Ho, and while I don’t fully buy the logic that Seo Joon never had a proper conversation with Soo Ho about what had actually happened that fateful night, before declaring war on his best friend, I rationalize that an impassioned teenaged mind might not be able to think rationally like that.

I thought the car accident was an unexpected choice of catalyst to galvanize the boys into sorting through the messes in their friendship, but I found the agonized co-dependence due to the complementary nature of their injuries quite amusing, and I dig the reluctant bromance that we get, as a result.

It was also nice to see Soo Ho and Seo Joon get some closure in episode 12, with that hidden letter from Se Yeon, and I thought it was heartwarming to see them renew and revive their friendship, sometimes amid the silliest scenes. That chase scene with the gangsters, landing them in a pile of manure, is so random and silly. But, how cute, to see Soo Ho and Seo Joon knitting together, only to be joined by their other friends who are jealous at being left out. Pfft. 😆

Show’s brand of funny 

As a general rule, Show’s campier, more OTT attempts at Funny weren’t my favorite, but at the same time, there were quite a few times when I found myself giggling at my screen. For the record, here are some of the things that I found amusing, during my watch:

[SPOILER ALERT]

E3. Ju Kyung taking off running after her imagination concocts a vision of Vampire Soo Ho about to take a chomp out of her neck in revenge, is ridiculous and hilarious. Ju Kyung’s nervous flights of fancy can be quite entertaining.

E4. The cameo and crossover from Extraordinary You was fun, although viewers who hadn’t watched that show would’ve found the cameo very strange.

E5. Seo Joon and his determination to have Ju Kyung take care of his bike key, and Ju Kyung’s determination to give it back to him, become a bit of a running gag this episode. It’s quite harmless and silly, and it’s amplified by Seo Joon’s refrain that he seems to delight in tossing out, that he’ll only listen to Ju Kyung, from here on in. I am dutifully entertained.

E10. I like Ju Kyung’s imagined makjang scenarios. Not only are they entertaining, they help me accept Ju Kyung’s subsequent behavior, because now I know exactly what her worst case scenario is.

E10. The dumpling showdown between Soo Ho and Seo Joon is silly, hammy fun, and exactly how Show rolls.

E10. Ju Young’s crush on Go Woon amuses me, not least because he’s always made fun of Ju Kyung’s looks, and Go Woon basically looks just like Ju Kyung. It also amuses me that Go Woon is so unfazed by Ju Young’s attention. And then it’s just bonus, that Ju Young’s under the mistaken impression that Go Woon is dating Seo Joon, heh.

E14. The showdown fight among the girls, paralleled with Soo Ho’s computer game showdown with the boys, is silly and ridiculous, but rather fun. More importantly, it’s nice to see Hye Min become friends with Ju Kyung and Soo Ah.

[END SPOILER]

STUFF I DIDN’T LIKE SO MUCH

Show’s episode lengths

As a general rule, I wished Show’s episodes were shorter. Rather than movie-length episodes, I thought shorter episodes would have suited this show’s light fluffy popcorn sort of nature better.

The thing with Ju Kyung’s parents [SPOILERS]

The relationship between Ju Kyung’s parents (Jang Hye Jin and Park Ho San) is played for laughs, but I have to admit that I found it a little uncomfortable to watch, when Mom spent most of her time picking on Dad and even using some violence on him, to make her point.

I also didn’t like how Mom was unnecessarily harsh on Ju Kyung when it came to, well, most things. From Ju Kyung’s grades at school, to her desire to use make-up, to her goal of studying cosmetology, Mom is shown to react in one single, consistent way: anger and disapproval. This troubled me, honestly.

As a silver lining, Mom and Dad are shown rekindling their romance somewhat, in episode 8. Yes please, Dad deserves some love, after all the scolding he’s been subjected to all this time.

Also, Mom comes around and becomes a lot more sympathetic towards Ju Kyung, once she realizes what Ju Kyung’s been dealing with. I also appreciate the introspection that Mom and Dad do, in thinking about the issue afterwards, to see how they might’ve contributed to Ju Kyung’s struggles. Of course, this could lean unhealthy too, but I just like the fact that they’re not excusing themselves from blame.

The bullying can be hard to watch

To be fair, this isn’t the worst bullying I’ve watched in a drama. However, that didn’t make it any easier to watch Ju Kyung being terrorized by her bullies. I hate that these kids seem to feel so entitled to making Ju Kyung’s life miserable. Ugh.

Show does acknowledge Ju Kyung’s pent-up trauma around this, though I do think that Show oversimplifies the issue. That said, given that this is a fluffy, frothy sort of show, I can’t fault Show too much for the direction that it chose to take.

Sometimes the secondhand embarrassment gets a bit much

Sometimes, I found the funny scenes painfully secondhand embarrassing to watch. In particular, Ju Kyung’s bombed audition in episode 3 comes to mind. Eep. That was so very awkward. Kudos to Moon Ga Young for throwing herself into the physical comedy of this without a shred of vanity. Props to her; I just found it hard to watch. 😝😅

THEMES / IDEAS

I do think that Show manages a nice amount of thematic messaging, given its frothy nature.

Personally, I feel that Show’s main message is its most important, that we need to learn to love the skin we’re in. It’s a lesson that Ju Kyung needs to learn over the course of our story, and I actually really like that she has a mirror of sorts, in Go Woon.

Go Woon’s so strong, for someone who looks different from the norm, and who’s been bullied for it. The matter-of-fact way she decides to embrace the way she looks, is very appealing, and I like that in this way, she models self-love and self-acceptance for Ju Kyung, even though Ju Kyung is the one who’s supposed to be older and wiser.

SPOTLIGHT ON THE PENULTIMATE EPISODE [SPOILERS]

Considering that this is the episode serving up requisite separation and angst, I’m pretty surprised that I didn’t hate it. This penultimate episode was.. reasonably pleasant, even.

I mean, it’s true that the whole separation and break-up feels like manufactured angst that writer-nim came up with, just to squeeze more story out of a drama world that feels like it’s already dealt with its main conflict, ie, Ju Kyung’s insecurity about her looks and her dependance on makeup to give her self-confidence. However, given that we are in this space, where there is manufactured angst that has to do with an OTP separation and break-up, I’d say that this episode landed more comfortably, and was easier to watch, than I’d originally expected. That’s not bad?

To be clear, that is a great deal of suspension of disbelief that’s required; it feels like the intern who’d been keeping tabs on believability took a bunch of sick days and there was no one left to take over his job, ha. I mean, even if we put aside smaller things like Show’s poor attempt at constructing a “US world” where a doctor stands around with a nurse having an unnaturally long conversation in the ICU while Soo Ho visits his dad, and the hospital is simply named “Hospital” (I giggled out loud at the one, not gonna lie 😆), Soo Ho’s entire reason for breaking up with Ju Kyung – to reduce her stress so that she wouldn’t be sick – is completely ridiculous. How does he not realize that him breaking up with her is actually only increasing her stress? 🤦🏻‍♀️

I rationalize that Show’s done a reasonably good job of showing us that Soo Ho’s quite clueless as a boyfriend, quite a bit of the time, so the suspension of disbelief around our central conflict this episode, wasn’t too hard.

We spend a big chunk of time this episode revisiting Seo Joon’s one-sided love for Ju Kyung, and his desire to confess his love to her, despite having been friend-zoned for the last 3 years.

I do feel sympathetic towards Seo Joon, because it can’t be easy to remain close friends with someone whom you’ve got a serious crush on. When Ju Kyung tries to persuade him to meet the idol Chen (Da Young) who’s got a crush on him, I can feel his angst, of the person he likes, asking him to meet someone else. Ouch. That’s gotta hurt.

..Which is why, when the situation is such that Ju Kyung’s already broken up with Soo Ho for more than a year, and Seo Joon’s filling in that protector space for her, I kinda-sorta wish that Seo Joon would have his chance to win her heart. But, because this is not that kind of show, I know that Seo Joon will ultimately be disappointed. Poor baby. 💔 However, I am glad that Seo Joon gets to make his confession, and that his confession is sincere and heartfelt, with him just being honest about his feelings. I’m also pretty happy for him, that Ju Kyung agrees to his request for 3 dates. It feels like he’s finally kinda-sorta-maybe getting a bit of a fighting chance.

In the midst of all this, the relationship between Teacher Han and Hee Kyung continues to amuse me, and even though the treatment of their relationship is essentially a one-trick pony where the laughs are milked from gender stereotypes being turned on their heads, I find myself still reasonably entertained by their antics. Teacher Han being a picky groom while Hee Kyung plays a nonchalant bride was quite funny, to me.

Of course, Soo Ho eventually comes back to Korea, and of course, he and Ju Kyung coincidentally meet at the top of Namsan Tower on the night of the first snow, because that’s something that they’d talked about as kids. I had no problem with this, because this kind of thing just goes with the territory of this tropey manhwa-inspired world. I didn’t even mind so much, the awkward-embarrassing development, of Ju Kyung collapsing in pain, and Soo Ho rushing her to the hospital, only for the doctor to casually announce that she’s just constipated. Eep. It’s rather funny, but also, completely humiliating. 😝😅

What I didn’t like, is Soo Ho’s efforts to try to reconnect with Ju Kyung, as if he hadn’t senselessly broken her heart without warning, by breaking up with her when she’d promised that she didn’t care that he was that far away, or that he didn’t know when he could come back to Korea.

To be honest, Soo Ho’s efforts to hang around Ju Kyung, all smiley and nonchalant most of the time, kinda annoyed me. And the way he waits for her outside her house, and lingers in the salon where she works, comes off as rather stalkery to my eyes, since Ju Kyung makes it clear that she’s actively trying to avoid him now.

Because of this, I find that by the time we reach the end of the episode, I’m still kinda rooting for Ju Kyung to pick Seo Joon, because Soo Ho annoys me that much, at the moment. Ha. I think I would feel a lot better about this, if Soo Ho were to apologize somberly to Ju Kyung for breaking her heart, but I suspect that Show is purposely keeping this development for the finale. Because, surely once Soo Ho apologizes, our OTP will reconcile and go back to being toothachingly sweet together, right? 😏

THOUGHTS ON THE ENDING [SPOILERS]

As I’d expected, our finale feels mostly like an extended epilogue, designed to be feel-good and fan-servicey. Not that that’s a bad thing, mind you. I’d rather have this, than have Show extend the separation angst between Soo Ho and Ju Kyung until its very last minutes. Now, that would’ve been a lot less enjoyable to watch, I think.

Happily, Show has our OTP overcome their separation angst within the first few minutes of our finale, so that we can spend the rest of the episode on other, more fun and interesting things. Once our OTP makes up and reconciles, though, I hafta say that they become almost as uninteresting as background wallpaper, because they just go right back to being the sweet, unassuming couple that they’d been, before Show decided that they needed to be separated for Maximum Drama.

It’s Seo Joon that grabs my heart so much more, this episode, with his selfless decision to push Ju Kyung towards Soo Ho, with the catalyst of a lie that Soo Ho was planning to leave for the US that very night, which then galvanizes Ju Kyung into showing her true feelings for Soo Ho.

Before I get into Soo Ho’s arc, though, I just wanted to state for the record that I didn’t hate our OTP scenes. They were mostly pretty sweet, except for when Soo Ho cluelessly keeps talking about Ju Kyung’s bout of constipation, to her mortification; that was pretty secondhand embarrassing. 😝 I liked that they talk about things, and how each empathizes with the struggles that the other faced, while they were apart.

I personally thought the inclusion of sexytimes for this couple felt shoehorned in, and found it awkward in its placement in the story, as well as awkward to watch.

The only reason it even comes up, it seems, is because Soo Ah suddenly takes it into her head to ask Ju Kyung if anything interesting had happened between her and Soo Ho, when they’d taken that trip together. Thereafter, it all just seems to be a case of coincidence, that allows Ju Kyung to be at Soo Ho’s apartment in the middle of the night, which is when he decides to make a move, and ask her not to leave.

Perhaps it’s in keeping with this story’s webtoon origins; the fact that our OTP consummates their relationship seems to have no bearing at all, on how they relate to each other. There’s no increased sense of intimacy between them afterwards; even when Soo Ho’s making breakfast for them the morning after, there’s no hint of increased bashfulness or coziness. It’s very weird to my eyes, because the fact they’ve slept together seems to make no difference to the way they relate. Because of this, it feels like the sexytimes have no real place or purpose in this story, except to perhaps titillate the imagination of viewers – and that feels cheap and unnecessary.

I honestly think Show would’ve been better off leaving our OTP to their own sweet and innocent devices. That would have felt more in character, I think.

On a happier note, I’m pleased that Show brings Soo Jin back, now older, wiser and more grounded, and works out the tangles in the friendships between her, Ju Kyung and Soo Ah. Although we don’t see Soo Jin’s growth arc, it’s nice to hear her talk about it, and acknowledge that she’d been mean and messed up, when she’d tried to break Ju Kyung and Soo Ho up.

I like that everyone involved basically has no hesitation about letting bygones by bygones, and it’s sweet to see Ju Kyung and Soo Ah welcome Soo Jin back with happy tears and open arms.

Everything around Teacher Han and Hee Kyung’s wedding is silly fun, and I find myself pleasantly surprised by how amused I still find this one trick pony of a trope reversal. From Hee Kyung being super pleased to receive a drill set as a wedding gift, to her working late even the night before her wedding, to Teacher Han sitting in the receiving room to take photos with guests, it’s all very comical and amusing.

I hafta say, I really do love how casual and blithely happy Hee Kyung is at her wedding, even though she literally has to walk down the aisle with a piece of grill around her neck. We should all aspire to be as easygoing as Hee Kyung, I feel. I love her. ❤️

We spend a nice chunk of time on the music-related side of things this episode, and while I get that part of this is for Soo Ho’s sake, because of his unresolved identity as Leo, I feel that in effect, this is mostly for Seo Joon’s sake.

Even though Hwang In Yeop’s delivery of Seo Joon’s tears, after he sends Ju Kyung off in Soo Ho’s direction, effectively crushing any remaining hope that he’d had of winning her heart, leans flat and stilted to my eyes, there’s still something very poignant and endearing about Seo Joon’s arc.

It’s in how he attempts to be gruff and casual about the breaking of his own heart; how he still desires to be friends with Soo Ho and Ju Kyung despite it; how he pretends that everything’s ok and he isn’t hurt; all these things make my heart go out to him even more. And, I feel that Show’s makers know that this is how we feel as well, because Seo Joon clearly gets a little extra time in the spotlight this episode, with the focus on his debut, and on him singing the song that Soo Ho had written with Se Yeon.

There’s a lot of broody appeal in the way Seo Joon sings that song, and I can practically feel fangirl hearts exploding everywhere. 🤩 I’d like to think that what Seo Joon loses in not winning Ju Kyung’s heart, he’ll gain in personal growth – and fan love! – so that he’ll come out of this an even better man. I’d watch a True Beauty spinoff of Seo Joon’s story in a heartbeat – provided he’s still played by Hwang In Yeop, of course.

As we close out our story, our OTP relaxes together in their nook at the comic book store, and as they kiss to their happy ending, we see flashbacks to them sitting in that same nook as kids, and then as high-schoolers, and then as their present young adult selves. It’s just the kind of fairytale ending I’d expect of a fluffy show like this, and I get the idea, that these two were always meant to be.

THE FINAL VERDICT:

A little rough around the edges, but engaging and slurpable, in its tween-appeal sort of way.

FINAL GRADE: B+

TEASER:

MV:

8 thoughts on “Review: True Beauty

  1. Pingback: Dear kfangurl: How can I stop myself from becoming jaded with dramas? | The Fangirl Verdict

  2. Kay

    Ah, you’re never too old for high school dramas, hehe 😉 I’m happy you enjoyed this one too. I really liked it a lot as it was so much fun with a nice helping of heart. It shows you can do a drama with lots of cliches that doesn’t do anything revolutionary and it still be great. It all comes down to execution. And Moon Ga Young was just delightful here. A thoroughly enjoyable drama for sure 🙂

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  3. dramallama

    I have to say this drama while often ridiculous gave me something consistently look forward too amidst a hard winter. I would add that the way this drama was filmed with OTT effects and the almost rose tinted glasses effect of this drama world (besides the bullying subplot) did make a Manwha lens much easier. I am actually surprised how much I enjoyed this chaotic story considering how quickly I dropped extraordinary you.

    After watching and dropping one too many Im Se Mi dramas where she was some weird poorly written villain, it was so nice to root for her. I also feel like when there were episodes at the midway point where characters were getting frustrating, her scenes felt like a breath of fresh air. I also felt like Cha Eun Woo grew a lot in this role, I was rather put off by him in My ID is Gangnam Beauty, but found myself really able to appreciate the growth and pain of his character in True Beauty. This makes me hopeful for his acting future.

    Much of your qualms with the show I agree with, particularly your reflections on the mother and the way she treated family members and also the episode lengths. I also agree that the sexy time felt a bit weird considering it did absolutely nothing to the relationship dynamics and felt like a rushed addition to wrap up our OTP story, like almost a way of saying look how far we have come? After watching Find me in Your Memory a week or two after I finished True Beauty I was surprised how much more I enjoyed the chemistry between Moon Gayoung and Kim Dong-Wook. That said they are very different shows exploring completely different relationships.

    This is my first time commenting after being an avid reader. Always enjoy your insight and love the details you notice, that I always forget!

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  4. Natalia

    Hey, Kfangurl, my inner teen agrees 100% with your inner teen, that was a nice little show to watch. All things considered, including the silly plot devices, I enjoyed it for what it was – the only exception being Mom and how unjust and mean she is to everyone. I wonder if reverse domestic abuse is really a thing in Korea (I hated this also in Backstreet Rookie) and if it is supposed to make people laugh.
    Anyway, even though I liked the show, I wouldn’t recommend it to real teens – my daughters, for instance. I get that the show tries to speak up for inner beauty, yet we still get a very pretty lead actress whose “ugliness” is a couple of pimples and ridiculously big spectacles and whose life gets improved because she uses a ton of makeup. To me, the real true beauty was the girl playing SeoJun’s sister: she’s the one who loves herself for who she is, without a face mask or an insanely handsome boyfriend.

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  5. Vespertyne29

    I think I’m one of the few people who doesn’t have a crush on Hwang In-Yeop, who looked far too old to be playing a HS student, and relies on heavy makeup (and if photos floating around that are alleging of him in his late teens and early 20s are really him, some major plastic surgery) in order to look pretty. It doesn’t help, I guess, to be in a drama with someone as flawlessly handsome as Cha Eun-woo, although he looked a little heavy in this drama, compared to his perfection in MIDIGB and Rookie Historian. But I rather enjoyed the character of SeoJun, despite the fact that he always knew, without a doubt, that JuKyung never felt even the slightest bit of romantic interest in him, and was always in love with SuHo (which she repeatedly outright told him, so no chance of a misunderstanding), and selfishly decided to create awkward tension in their friendship by his ridiculously ill timed “confession.”

    I agree that the pretty, adorable leads had a lot of chemistry, but that the “sex scene,” or what passes for a sex scene in Kdramas, seemed oddly out of place and gratuitous rather than organic to their relationship at the time.

    I loved all the many nods to other dramas (TKEM, FMIYM, EY, MLFAS, and my favorite iconic scene from Goblin) and various films (Interview with a Vampire, The Matrix, one of those African wildlife documentaries, and hilariously, that awkward sex scene between the Parks in Parasite, when the Kim dad is hiding under the coffee table 😹, and more I probably missed). The writer had a wicked sense of humor!

    As for acting, I was pleasantly surprised at how well CEW did, especially in a role that could have been a carbon copy of his antisocial, externally cold character in MIDIGB ( for which he – as a true “face genius” was extremely well suited. But he brought a very different internally/mentally character to life. Good for him.

    I think fans of the webtoon have reason for complaint, unless they treat the drama as something unique and separate from the webtoon. But I applaud the writer and PD for bailing on the (probably only temporary as a substitute for SuHo) romance JuKyung and SeoJun, which sounds super toxic in the webtoon, as it causes JK to revert back to being obsessed with physical appearances, and escalates her insecurities about being with her “handsome BF.”

    The last episode was charming, as was the relationship between JuKyung and SuHo. I also enjoyed the way SuHo always loved JK, just as she was (shades of Mr. Darcey and Bridget Jones?), and he was always the person with whom she felt 100% comfortable showing her real face to.

    A light, charming drama, with an underlying message that was pretty decent (as opposed to the webtoon, which sounds like it has maintained the obsession with physical beauty uber alles).

    Reply
    1. Natalia

      I have no idea whether Hwang In Yeob has had plastic surgery or not, and to be honest I really don’t care. You do realize though that plastic surgery is extremely common among male stars in Korea, so there’s no need to be nasty about it.

      Reply
  6. phl1rxd

    Fangurl – I am stunned at the number of reviews that you have accomplished in the last 6 months. It is pretty amazing. As always, everything is top notch. Good job you!

    I did try to watch this Fangurl and I have to say that HS Dramas are really not my thing and I simply lost interest. I tuned in for Cha Eun Woo as I really enjoy him as a regular on the Master in the House variety show. He is a smart cookie and a nice young man. I will probably give this another chance but right now I am watching 9 dramas and the Money Flower re-watch so it may be a while. I was a good girl and did not look at the spoilers so that means I will get to it eventually.

    Thank you for the review!

    Reply

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