True Beauty: Obsessed with as of Episode 6
It's been a long time since I've been as gripped to a drama as I am to True Beauty. It actually makes me sad that I started watching this before it fully aired, as now I'm stuck in the rather annoying cycle of waiting week after week (and 2 weeks for episode 7!).
True Beauty, despite containing many of the common cliches and tropes of shojo high school comics, feels refreshing and is so completely addictive, to the point where I can't stop thinking about the episodes after I watch them. It helps that the drama features one of my favorite leading actors of the moment, Cha Eun Woo, in a role that is a close mirror to his absolute dreamboat hero in My ID is Gangnam Beauty (which is also one of my favorite dramas ever).
True Beauty stars Moon Ga Young as a girl who is bullied for her looks, and who teaches herself how to expertly apply makeup to transform her face. In the meantime, she runs into Lee Su Ho (Cha Eun Woo), a guy in her class who first meets her while she's evaluating whether to commit suicide on the roof of a building, and who gradually uncovers her two-faced secret. This drama is basically Gangnam Beauty-lite, in that it focuses on the theme of external beauty and revolves around a girl who's seen as ugly and a guy who likes her despite that. It also shares actors including our main lead and second female lead with the previous drama, but in a more innocuous high school setting and with makeup as the theme rather than the more serious issue of plastic surgery. I did love Gangnam Beauty for the more mature themes it covered, but True Beauty delivers more heavily on the squee-worthy romance which I'm completely enjoying.
Su Ho is definitely the best part of this show for me - he's your old-school romantic male lead who secretly falls for our heroine despite knowing about her "ugly" face and proceeds through the episodes to perform one heart-throbbing act after another to help protect her. Cha Eun Woo is also perfectly cast in this role - he literally looks like he stepped out of a comic (the heroine makes as much reference to this), and he does the subtle smiles and romantic moments with such aplomb. If you liked him in Gangnam Beauty, you'll almost certainly like him here.
As for our heroine, I'll admit that I wish she were stronger, although she seems to be improving as the episodes pass by. She's written as a readily-bullied passive personality, who remains fearful of her former bullies and is too easy to manipulate into performing serventile tasks for those who request it. She oddly demonstrates more of a backbone around our second male lead, Han Seo Jun (Hwang In-yeop) but is otherwise portrayed as fairly timid and fearful of the opinions of those around her. I suppose it has to be this way, as if she were bold and confident she wouldn't have resorted to make-up to hide her face in the first place.
This is my first time seeing Moon Ga Young in a lead role. I do recall her as Pal Gang from Don't Dare to Dream / Jealousy Incarnate (which was tbh a pretty annoying character). I will say that she's endearing here, although her voice can sound a bit too high and cutesy to the point where some scenes annoy me. They did a decent job of the "ugly" face makeup, although I do wish they wouldn't just plaster over red acne and huge fake glasses and caterpillar brows on anyone they try to call ugly (the same formula they used on Seo Jun's sister). Given the actress is seriously gorgeous I get there's only so much they could have done, and overall I suppose it's not bad.
What I was pleasantly surprised by (at least through episode 6) is that unlike other manga shojo heroines who are written to be almost stupidly ignorant or uncaring of the male lead's flirtations, Ju Gyeong soon sees the signs of his affection and behaves as one would expect - by growing bashful and even forwardly asking our leading man out on a date. Unfortunately that date gets derailed by an episode of incomprehensible stupidity on the male lead's part, but at least she remains strong and resilient through it and after.
At this stage, it's quite obvious that both our leads have strong feelings for the other, but her insecurity about her appearance and his emotions (thanks to his past trauma) leave her uncertain of how to read into his actions. Their interactions are undeniably cute and I love seeing them together. Can't wait to hopefully get that date in the next episode, though also hoping that we don't get too much more forced drama like the friend's suicide arc or the hand-washing second female lead standing in the way.
As for our second male lead, I've warmed up to him although unlike with Start-Up I feel zero second lead syndrome. Partly it's my bias for Cha Eun Woo, but also it's partly that Han Seo Jun feels like a caricature of a character. Everything from his excessive earrings to his make-up slattered face (it looks pretty obvious to me that he's got almost as much makeup on as our heroine), I just don't find him appealing or tempting. His rather harassing initiations of fake affection for her, from forcibly sitting next to her to throwing his keys at her were also really unappealing - a man should learn to listen to the word no, especially if he really cares for a woman.
I get that now he's technically ACTUALLY in love with her based on the mood-lighting campus sequence in episode 6, but frankly I think these two have more of a platonic chemistry than a romantic one. I do like that she's very straightforward with him, in a way that she isn't with either the male lead or her classmates. It shows us a stronger side to her personality, and lets us recognize that she can stand up for herself. In fact, it seems like she's actually much more comfortable with him that with Su Ho, but again I see nothing but friendship between their interactions.
Moving to her family and friends, so far nobody's quite annoying enough to detract from the drama. I like her relationship with her younger brother, although find the older sister's romance with the teacher to be quite a snore (aside from that eyebrow incident which was too hilarious). I love the actress who plays her mom, who's always hilarious whether in Parasite or Crash Landing on You.
Overall, I'm absolutely obsessed with this drama and literally spend my days waiting for it to air (on top of listening to the song I'm in the Mood for Dancing). My favorite moments from the past few episodes include:
- When he rescues her from the cake-face incident at the end of episode 2 - it's the moment that made me obsess over this drama
- The blind date incident of episode 4
- When they're being cute at the beginning of episode 5 and she starts to realize he likes her
- The fight sequence karaoke room at the end of episode 6 (although the whole sequence of events leading up to that was pretty unbelievable)
Generally there's just so many squeal-worthy moments to share, and that's exactly the fun of this drama. I will say that the even episodes are noticeably better than the odd episodes, which is pretty typical of Kdramas given the two-episode airing schedules. I hope that the plot can sustain for the next 12 episodes, and can only hope that given there's a webtoon it'll be able to. If only we didn't have to wait til Jan 6 for the next episode :(