In an effort to support her family, Kang Joo Eun (Shin Min Ah in her first drama since Arrang and the Magistrate) has become a workaholic lawyer without any regard for her personal well being. Overweight, unattractive and depressed at the prime of her life, Joo Eun comes across Kim Young Ho (So Ji Sub in his first drama since The Master's Sun), a renowned personal trainer who considers health a deeply personal calling. Can Young Ho and his stubborn perfectionism whip Joo Eun’s body—and heart—back into shape?
Could be great . . . depending on how Joo Eun is treated.
I approached Oh My Venus optimistically but with caution -- I love a show that makes you root for the chubby girl, but not one that makes you cringe for her.
After the second episode, I cheered -- literally threw my hands up in the air and squeed. Oh My Venus hits everything right.
Except for the fact that in America the sort of things they're suggesting aren't "scandals," we'd be more likely to call them "rumors." Even tabloids who love reporting relationship rumors reserve the word "scandal" for things get you arrested, affairs that end marriages -- or worse, affairs that go public but don't end marriages -- and executive emails that call Angelina Jolie a petulant child. Those are "scandals."
But I'm nit picking. Back to what Oh My Venus does right.
Heroine with a backbone.
Admittedly, at work she's not uber-assertive. In the law office, she's a mix of respectful but strong mid-level employee when dealing with her co-workers and boss. She addresses problems and doesn't let people walk all over her; she asks for what she wants, but is respectful when she doesn't get it, mindful of the consequences of cursing someone out or saying exactly what she thinks when she thinks it.
To her detriment, she does try to awkwardly sneak into a meeting she's late in a rather embarrassing manner. I'm hoping to write it off as "put in for laughs" rather than a demonstration of her lack of self-respect.
A balanced amount of fat-anxiety vs. fat-shaming.
It's also realistic that an overweight character, particularly an overweight woman, be fat-shamed from external sources. It happens. The goal is to not be over the top (gratuitous) or dismissive (thereby condoning it). They're balancing the shamers. The law firm client who makes unpleasant remarks about Joo Eun's eating habits also snipes at her that the plants in her office are dying -- an allover spiteful person. Oh My Venus is also doing a good job not portraying the main character Joo Eun as a punching bag.
That trope has been given to a secondary character from Joo Eun's college days. The drama has set up the old friend as a foil: their weights may change, but Joo Eun still possesses all the desirable personal and emotional qualities that her friend doesn't.
It's how the character carries herself that makes a difference.
Often the fat girl in Korean drama is the carpet everyone walks over, she's all apologies and kindness because everyone is belittling her. Not Joo Eun. Joo Eun believes she's worthy of romantic love -- in fact, in episode one, she is certain her boyfriend is about to propose. She doesn't apologize for her body either. Yes, she's mortified about the medical incident on the airplane, but it's not a simple body-image embarrassment. Rather it's a combination of doing something stupid that caused her to pass out, having a stranger cut her clothes off, and having to have answer the questions of a man who has clearly never seen Spanx in person. She is more interested in correcting John Kim that it's called a corset not an "abdominal belt" than in being embarrassed about wearing one. Most women I know who wear underpinnings don't even want to name them because to name them is to accept the shame of wanting a body you don't have. We may talk about Spanx, but we do not talk about our Spanx. There is a difference. In that aspect, I envy Joo Eun's confidence. The only fat-shaming that Joo Eun lets get to her appears to be what comes from within herself. Way to let the haters hate then brush them off like water on a duck's back.
Joo Eun isn't thrilled with her weight, but she's not a puddle of depression and self-loathing, she's still the same girl she was fifteen years ago going around telling herself, "I'm Kang Joon Eun, I can do anything I put my mind to."
Turn up the music!
This is used to huge effect, coating the scenes with positive vibes. And probably a big part of the reason I was cheering at the end of episode two: play that theme and I get happy! That and Joo Eun is so damn triumphant in that final scene when she asserts her conclusion and receives confirmation from John Kim.
The mystery of John Kim.
Initially we see him training an elite MMA athlete and working out. OMG that work out! How does he make that dance on the pull up bar look easy?! Followed by some serious tub time, because tub time is a beautiful thing. The camera lingers not just over John Kim's chest and shoulders but over a heavy-duty leg brace, suggesting that while John Kim is amazingly fit that he has and has had physical issues.
So it's a romance . . . ?
One of the few things we find out about the mysterious John Kim in the opening episodes is that he can't resist helping a person in need. Since Joo Eun is in the middle of a bad break up, she's not exactly crisis-free. What started as a meeting by medical emergency and becomes a series of entanglements. He can't walk away from a person in need and she's in need of a little saving. But not a lot of saving. She makes a point of walking away from him, curtailing further help, first when she takes his umbrella but not his offered car ride, then when she tells him she needs to leave the hotel by herself so she can settle things with her ex by herself. It would have been easy to take John Kim's help both times -- cowardly in the second case -- but Joo Eun is made of sterner stuff.
Sure, she wants to curl into a ball and disappear after walking smack into plate glass when seeing her ex with another woman, but who doesn't?
It's this mix of smart, strong, and fragile that makes me like Joo Eun and caused me to cheer for her. I await next Monday's episode with bated breath.