The second perfect ten of 2021 goes to a heartwarming drama called Navillera (which means “like a butterfly”). It turned out to be so much more than I expected! I’ll never be able to listen to the music from Swan Lake again without fighting back a tear.
After his dear friend passes away, never having realized his dream of building and sailing his own ship, 70-year-old Sim Deok-Chul makes up his mind to pursue his fondest dream of being a ballerino before it’s too late. He returns to a dance studio where he had witnessed a magnificent ballerino in practice, and asks the owner of the studio, Ki Seung-Joo, to allow him the privilege of becoming a pupil there. Hoping that teaching Mr. Sim might be the encouragement his one-and-only student, Lee Chae-Rok, needs to keep him focused on his art, Teacher Ki makes the old gentleman Chae-Rok’s manager and has the young man teach ballet to the kind-hearted and optimistic senior citizen.
As a child, Sim Deok-Cheol fell in love with ballet and dreamed of one day soaring on stage under the spotlight. However, his father was very opposed to the idea and didn’t allow Deok-Chul to pursue ballet. When he became an adult, his family was his first priority and so he tucked his dream of being a ballerino deep in his heart and honorably fulfilled his duties as a loving husband and father. For forty years he was employed as a postman, making ends meet and providing for his wife and children. Now in retirement, he has decided to dust off his life-long dream and pursue ballet, passionately stating – “I don’t care if I lose to reality. I want to give it a shot at least.”
While still in high school, life threw Lee Chae-Rok a curve when his father was imprisoned for assault and his mother passed away, leaving Chae-Rok to fend for himself. He works part-time at a fancy restaurant and also delivers food every now and then for a smaller one. Chae-Rok is a ballet prodigy and was admitted into Hankuk University of Arts Dance School just one short year after starting ballet. Lately, Chae-Rok has been having a difficult time focusing on his dancing and is stressed over finances. To make matters worse, he is having trouble with a knee injury and his audition for a spot in the National Ballet is just around the corner.
Once a premier ballerino, Ki Seung-Joo was forced into early retirement because of a back injury. Although he owns his own dance studio, he has only ever coached one person – Lee Chae-Rok. Because he sincerely believed in the young man’s abilities and recognized the passion he has for the art, Seung-Joo took Chae-Rok under his wing with the sincere belief that he would soon be a world-famous ballerino. At one time, Seung-Joo was happily married to Eun So-Ri, a ballerina who also retired early and is now a teacher at Hankuk University of Arts Dance School. Although the two later divorced, they are still very close friends.
Sim Deok-Cheol’s family –
*Choi Hae-Nam is Deok-Cheol’s wife. She worked as a housekeeper to help make ends meet and was always supportive of her husband. Cooking for her family is the way she shows her love for them. At first, she strongly opposes the idea of Deok-Cheol learning ballet but later changes her mind and decides to back him all the way in following his dream.
*Sim Seong-Kyun is the oldest child in the family. He has worked hard his entire adult life at a large company and has provided well for his family. He is married to Kim Ae-Ran, who has been an at-home mom until just recently when she decided to go back to work now that their only child is grown. Eun-Ho, their daughter, interns at the fancy restaurant where Chae-Rok works part-time.
*The middle child is Sim Seong-Suk. She is married to Yeong-Su-Il, an aspiring politician. They have been trying for many years to have children but all their efforts have proven unsuccessful.
*Sim Seong-Gwan is the youngest sibling. He was a surgeon at a hospital but quit when he was unable to save a patient. He only recently decided that he wants to film a documentary.
In high school, Yang Ho-Beom had dreams of becoming a professional soccer player but it all came to an end when his high school team disbanded. The coach, Chae-Rok’s father, disciplined the team members by physically beating them and when he was sent to prison for assault, that was the end of the team. Ho-Beom became bitter he could no longer play soccer and has no desire to better his life. He blames Chae-Rok’s dad for ruining what could have been a promising career.
To read a bit about Song Kang, the wonderfully talented actor that plays the part of ballerino Lee Chae-Rok, you can flip over to my Sweet Home review. Navillera is the third thing I’ve seen him in in a little over three months. It looks as though this young workaholic has a wonderful future ahead of him!
Seventy-six-year-old Park In-Hwan, the gentleman who so brilliantly gives us such a precious grandpa to fall in love with (Sim Deok-Chul), has been in the acting profession since 1965. He began in TV with the show The Long Voyage Home and then in 1990 he branched out to the big screen with a part in the movie I Stand Every Day. I remember him from the dramas Please Come Back, Mister and Save the Last Dance For Me. That man’s innocent smile is infectious. I just can’t imagine anyone else but him playing Sim Deok-Chul.
I was only about a quarter of the way through the first episode when I thought I had the story all figured out. “This is just Rocky, ballet style,” I told myself. “I’ll bet Sim Deok-Chul is an old ballerino who teaches Lee Chae-Rok to dance. Deok-Chul is Mickey and Chae-Rok is Rocky.” Then, when Chae-Rok became Deok-Chul’s teacher I thought, “Okay, it’s still Rocky, it’s just that the roles have been reversed.” Wrong again. Yes, Navillera has the “I won’t give up! I can do it!” feel to it but the story encompasses so much more than just a Little Engine That Could moral. I’m not going to tell you anything more about the plot than – think The Wind Blows. I suggest you have some tissues handy as you watch this show. I cried so much I didn’t just wipe away tears, I had to stop and blow my nose.
The chemistry between 70-year-old Deok-Chul and 23-year-old Chae-Rok is just precious. The characters show us their relationship is more than one dimensional – they are teacher/student, artist/manager, grandfather/grandson, and above all – friends. We witness the power of love easily cross generations. It’s absolutely heartwarming!
I loved the dynamics of the Sim family. Their relationships with one another and the way they reacted to other family members is very authentic. Deok-Chul’s wife and two of his children are opposed to him pursuing ballet in his old age while his youngest child, granddaughter, son-in-law, and daughter-in-law are very encouraging of him following his dream. Spouses, siblings, in-laws, grandchild, parents… their relationships are varied and convincingly real in so many ways. You’ll just have to watch the show to understand exactly what I mean. At times, I felt like I was observing my own family.
The dancing in this drama is jaw-droppingly beautiful and, thankfully, we see a lot of it. You might be wondering (like I did) if Song Kang was the person who actually did his character’s dancing scenes. Well, the answer is yes and no. I read an article that said Song Kang and Park In-Hwan both trained in the art of ballet for six months before filming the drama so quite a bit of what we see really is the actors. Although six months of training can’t produce all the amazing dancing we observe, Song Kang was able to perform quite a bit of the ballet dancing we see Chae-Rok do, and the rest was performed by an amazingly incredible double.
The beautiful and emotionally moving Navillera was based on the 2016-2017 Daum webtoon of the same name which was written by Hun and illustrated by Ji-Min.
Navillera’s soundtrack is filled to overflowing with gorgeous, emotional music, most of which is instrumental, and so many of the songs’ titles fit beautifully with the feeling of the drama – A Dream of Deok-Chul, A Scent of the Dream, Dreams Come True, A Journey to Myself, Soaring, Finding Me, Prayer, A Dream of Chae-Rok, and Gifts. It’s the type of soundtrack you can turn on, sit back, and relax while listening to it. I highly suggest you give it a try.
The main background in the drama is quite clearly Ki Seung-Jo’s dance studio. Dark wood covers the floors, ceiling, and walls while large mirrors reflect the golden sunlight streaming through the windows. It’s a beautiful place and a perfect spot for a dancer to feel close to their music. When the audience later learns the building had previously been a church, I wasn’t surprised because the place naturally brings with it a kind of soft reverence – just like what you’d feel in a place of worship. That also explains the pews/wooden benches to the side of the room and the stained-glass windows.
I’ll leave you with these encouraging words, the sentiment of which is the main theme of Navillera – don’t let things stand in the way of your heart’s good desire. Pursue what makes you happy before you regret your inaction. Even if you think it may be too late, to paraphrase Sim Deok-Cheol – Don’t worry about losing to reality. You can at least give it a shot.
“A director named Ken Loach once said, ‘Our lives depend on how well we fight.’” – a quote from Navillera
Very real-people characters
Chemistry between characters
Uplifting and encouraging message
Ballet dancing is stunningly beautiful
Realistic family dynamics
Park In-Hwan and Sim Deok-Cheol do much of their own dancing
Nothing (but be ready to cry)