Learn to Love Yourself (and Your Face) in “True Beauty”

True Beauty
Su Ho, Ju Gyeong, and their comic counterparts. (Image: screengrab)

It’s been a while since I’ve done a Wednesday Webcomic recommendation, and one of the ones I was sitting on is True Beauty by Yaongyi. But then I was tracking down a C-drama that I wanted to watch and I stumbled across a live-action version of the Webtoon on Viki. I had no idea there was going to be a drama and I may have freaked out a little bit when I saw it. Naturally, I had to start watching it and it’s so dramatic and cheesy and I love it.

True Beauty is about Lim Ju Gyeong, a girl who likes heavy metal music and horror comics, who gets bullied a lot because she’s not what you would call traditionally attractive. Tired of being bullied for her appearance, she gets super into makeup and cosmetics, and going to high school gives her the opportunity to start over with her “new face”. Suddenly, people think she’s pretty, and she gets friends for the first time. She also finds herself stuck between two former best friends – Lee Su Ho and Han Seo Jun.

The webcomic doesn’t have a plot, per se, and I’ll admit that one of the reasons I haven’t really kept up with it is because it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. I love the premise, the characters, and the art style, but it sometimes seems like the author doesn’t know where the story is supposed to go, so it just kind of ambles along. I really love the art style, and it seems obvious that the author is more focused on aesthetics than story. (I mean, seriously, the art is stunning, but I need some plot occasionally!) At least that was the sense I got a few months ago; perhaps it’s gotten some direction since then.

It also has a harmful message. The English translation is inaccurate; its original title in Korean is something closer to “A Goddess Descends”. By titling it “True Beauty”, it either implies that there will be some sort of moral that looks aren’t everything, or it’s claiming that one can only be considered beautiful if you fit a certain stereotype. Another reason I’ve fallen behind on the comic is because I thought it would be the first and it’s coming across as more like the second, and that’s a fault of expectations and translation errors rather than of the comic itself.

True Beauty
Image: screengrab

Of course, every piece of media does not need to have a moral or a message. Some things just exist to exist, and they don’t need to teach a lesson or make a statement. Plus, I can’t speak to how the culture in Korea may influence the story, as I know very little about it; but as someone who is also not conventionally attractive, it bothers me that there is so much emphasis on appearance not just because Ju Gyeong is interested in makeup (she is, and that’s a totally admirable hobby, not that anyone needs my permission) but because she truly believes she needs to be pretty for people to like her.

However, I wouldn’t be recommending the drama if I didn’t genuinely enjoy it. True Beauty the drama made some changes to the story and, for the most part, I think they’re for the better. They took the comic’s basic premise and just ran with it. It keeps some of the same events and plot lines but basically does its own thing. It’s still slice-of-life, but there are a few central arcs aside from the romance – Ju Gyeong’s self-acceptance, Su Ho and Seo Jun’s reconciliation, and their family finances – that help in tying everything together.

The drama deals a lot more with Ju Gyeong’s bullies – in the Webtoon they disappear rather quickly, but in the drama they make several appearances – and focuses more on her insecurities. This means that Ju Gyeong gets more development than she gets in the comic. She has the arc I thought she would have in the Webtoon – realizing that people should like her for who she is and not what she looks like and embracing the way she looks without makeup. She even stands up to her bullies in a truly inspired, completely ridiculous fight scene.

The drama is also a little darker than the comic; in the first episode, after a particularly brutal bullying incident, Ju Gyeong stands on the ledge of a roof. This is how she meets Su Ho for the first time. That’s the only time that Ju Gyeong is ever pushed that far, but Se Yeon’s suicide is an event that recurs throughout the drama via flashbacks. (It’s not graphic at all, but I’m sure even just the implication will be triggering for some people, so keep that in mind if you choose to watch.) Su Jin’s family life – hinted at in the Webtoon but never explored – is just as unpleasant as it’s implied to be and is a big factor in her subplot.

True Beauty
Su Jin, Ju Gyeong, Su Ah, and Tae Hoon. (Image: screengrab)

There is more character development for everyone in the drama. When Su Ho was first introduced in the comic, he came across as very flat and boring; Su Ho in the drama has a lot more depth, and it makes him a much more compelling character. Se Yeon’s death – which is a huge part of both Su Ho’s and Seo Jun’s past and relationship – is introduced much earlier, as is Su Ho’s issues with his father. Ju Gyeong’s family members are more fleshed out, even getting subplots of their own. Her sister’s relationship in particular is great because it puts her in the more traditionally “masculine” role – she’s the one chasing after him, and she even gets a kabedon moment. Su Jin is almost a completely different character here; in the Webtoon she starts out as a fake friend to Ju Gyeong, but in the drama, she was one of my favorite characters at the beginning.

Su Jin’s arc is one of the reasons I’m glad I waited before posting this rec. (I started writing it weeks ago.) When she is first introduced, she’s a badass bully stomper, even chasing some guy down for taking upskirt photos of Ju Gyeong. Once she learns that Ju Gyeong is dating Su Ho, she does a complete 180, conspiring with Ju Gyeong’s bullies to destroy her life, thinking that Su Ho will break up with her and date Su Jin instead. When that happened, I thought for sure that there was no way to redeem her, and for a while it looked as though they weren’t even going to try, but after the time skip (yes, there’s a time skip, I know, I know, but apparently this is a K-drama staple) she does properly apologize to Ju Gyeong.

I do wish they hadn’t dragged on the love triangle as long as they did. I understand that it’s apparently another staple of K-dramas, and it is a big part of the Webtoon, but it’s clear from the beginning that Ju Gyeong and Su Ho are end game, so I wished they would have just let Seo Jun move on earlier. However, I do think they handled it fairly well. Seo Jun was, for the most part, respectful of Ju Gyeong’s feelings and despite the fact that they both liked the same girl, once he reconciles with Su Ho their friendship is one of the best parts of True Beauty. There are some moments after the time skip where both guys act kind of sketchy, but what I like about this show is that it doesn’t linger on these; they are addressed and dealt with. Communication!

True Beauty
Image: screengrab

True Beauty leans heavily on the romance, of course, featuring many of the tropes you’ve come to know and love – Ju Gyeong falls a lot and one of the boys has to catch her, there are lots of forehead kisses and super dramatic hugs. I legitimately love Ju Gyeong and Su Ho’s relationship, even if he is a bit of a jerk at times, because they’re super adorable. But there is also a lot of comedy; it can be a little over the top (and I could live without the poop jokes) but seriously, scenes like Su Ho and Seo Jun being forced to clip each other’s toenails are absolutely hilarious and work very well at balancing the more dramatic aspects of the show.

I’d also like to take a moment to gush about the soundtrack because I really enjoyed pretty much all of the songs and have added many of them to my iPod. My particular favorite is “Love So Fine”, sung by Cha Eun-Woo (Su Ho), which was just officially released this week.

When it comes down to it, the greatest thing about True Beauty is the characters. Ju Gyeong, Su Ho, and Seo Jun are amazing leads, and I love all three of them equally. They all had great personal journeys where they dealt with trauma and conflict and they come out the other side better people with stronger relationships. I looked forward to watching this show every week. Even during the stressful parts, watching it made me happy.

True Beauty is currently streaming on Viki.

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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