|[Please be advised, this review may contain spoilers.]|
Seldom does a K-drama not present a romance. Very few, in fact, do not give even the slightest of hints. Navillera is one of those dramas. Or, so I thought until it dawned on me. There, in the airport, a farewell and an embrace. Two souls, who'd spent the better part of a year propping each other up, were now in the throes of a tearful parting. It is as conventional as cicadas buzzing on a hot summer day, yet Navillera's isn't a traditional romance. It is equally as romantic, however, as any I've watched. It is the quintessence of a love story, with a fresh take on love. The Greeks believed that there are seven ways to love. In Navillera, it is agape that shines brightest, for it is a brotherly love. It is, inherently, the highest form of love - a platonic love - and as philosopher Thomas Aquinas once declared, it is to will the good of another. And that is, in a nutshell, Navillera's gift.
To will the good of another. It's as good a description as any, for Navillera is the story of two men, a 70-year old retiree and a 23-year old aspiring ballerino, connected by their love for ballet. Having absolutely nothing in common, otherwise, it is the ballet that links the two. It seems rather inconceivable to think that a lofty form of dance could bring together two men from different walks of life, but that is the beauty of Navillera. It is a drama that, by its end, is able to convince even the biggest skeptic that a 70-year old retired postman could, firstly, be accepted by an industry that is inaccessible to most, and secondly, be given a platform to achieve his dream. It feels right, however, in Navillera.
It isn't often that a show gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. It isn't to say that I don't enjoy many dramas - I do, in fact - but it takes an extra special show to truly stir one's emotions, in a very real way. Navillera achieves exactly that. The story of Deok-chul is inspiring and moving, and represents the sort of courage one can muster when a lost dream is, suddenly, within reach. To root for Deok-chul is to root for an underdog who is battling, not a tangible adversary, but the cruelty that is time. Deok-chul's struggle isn't with age, but a race against an affliction that, at any moment, could take it all away. And suddenly, a heartwarming story turns tragic. In case one wasn't fully invested in Deok-chul's touching story, a shocking revelation midway through comes along and hits you like a ton of bricks. So hard and sudden is the impact that, instinctively, it will make your eyes water. The tears in my eyes, I admit, poured down in torrents, and I knew then that the story of an underdog is now a heartbreaking tale of a cruel fate. How cruel life can be, I thought.
Navillera's message isn't a sad one, however, and that is due in part to Chae-rok, the young ballerino who is tasked with training Deok-chul. It isn't long before the two men form a friendship, which builds into genuine camaraderie. Their's is a long-lasting bond, full of intimacy and a closeness that even the most loving of siblings would find envious. It almost felt like a violation of privacy to watch the two in their most intimate moments. One, in particular, stands out to me still and that is the afternoon the two spent at a bathhouse, scrubbing each other's back. It was a poignant moment, and one steeped in Korean tradition. There aren't many things more intimate than scrubbing a man's back. Or, should I say, more romantic. Romance comes in many forms, and Deok-chul and Chae-rok sharing such intimacy is certainly one of them. It's an intimacy which represents a relationship built on trust and mutual respect. I say mutual because as much as the younger Chae-sok respected his elder, Deok-chul saw in his young teacher a mentor. A protector, even. And in Deok-chul, the young ballerino found comfort and kinship. A truly majestic connection, it was. The moment in Navillera that best embodies this is one I will never forget. It is quite possibly the most heartbreaking moment in the history of K-dramas, so heartbreaking that my body and soul reverberated with pain. And it haunts me still...
"I shouldn't forget your face."
Never have five words meant so much. There are moments in films and dramas, of course, that one never forgets: historic moments that are, forever, instilled in our minds. How many could provoke, literally as was the case here, such agony, however? Very few, if any. My suffering is a testament to Navillera's mastery. It is a drama that will grab hold of you from the very start and won't let go until the very end, and you will be all the better for it. I am a better man, having gone through this journey with Deok-chul and Chae-sok, for when Chae-sok, so stricken with grief, began to weep after hearing those five words, I wept with him. And for Deok-chul.
Navillera is a magnificent drama, which will resonate with viewers for many, many years to come. I'd go as far as to say, it is a modern day classic.
Cast: Park In-hwan, Song Kang, Kim Tae-hoon, Na Moon-hee
[Click here to watch on Netflix.]