With The Punisher out on Netflix and Runaways currently on the air at Hulu, what’s been a hell of a year for superhero streaming shows is nearing its end. But if you’re still itching for superhero fun but want something a bit different, there’s a quirky Korean rom-com currently on Netflix that’s a strong contender for what you should watch next. Pun obviously intended.
Strong Girl Bong-Soon aired in South Korea to popular acclaim earlier this year, but recently made the leap over to the US this month. It follows the titular Bong-Soon Do (Bo-Young Park), a young woman with dreams of a career in game development, but hopelessly unemployed and pining after her childhood friend, local police officer Guk-Doo (Ji-Soo Kim). But Bong-Soon has a family secret: She actually has super-strength, a power handed down throughout the female members of her family for centuries. If she uses it for good, she’s got immeasurable power. If she uses them for selfish gain (as her mother did), she is inflicted with a disease and loses her powers forever.
It’s more of a comedy than a straight drama, thus hijinks ensue, and by the end of the first episode (and after some comical fight scenes), Bong-Soon finds herself employed by the young, dashing CEO Min-Hyuk Ahn (Hung-Sik Park) of a huge game developer, as his unlikely bodyguard and eventual love interest. It’s a tale of love triangles and silliness, even after Bong-Soon gets embroiled in the hunt for a creepy masked serial killer targeting women in her local neighborhood. But while its goofiness might be off-putting to what most people expect out of a superhero drama from our own shores, it’s a weirdly refreshing sight in a sea of pleather-clad men, plodding around in the dark getting angry and punching people, that we’ve come to expect from the CW or Netflix.
And I don’t mean that as an offense to the pleather-clad men of superhero TV—I’m an avid watcher of them, after all—but Strong Girl Bong-Soon speaks to just how far you can expand superhero media as a concept, and how our own ever-growing crop of superhero TV seems unwilling to get out of its comfort zone. Strong Girl manages to be unlike anything else in live-action superhero-dom, while still touching on the sort of thematic concepts we’ve come to expect from these shows—the struggle between balancing a personal life and a hero life, the burning desire to do good in a often not-great society, how great power begets great responsibility, and all that. It uses superpowers as a tool in its arsenal, rather than necessarily as its defining “genre,” and in doing so manages to portray a pretty heartfelt story about the life superheroes live outside of the parts when they’re running around being the hero.
And really, that’s still very true to the world of superhero comics, even if it’s not as overt as what we’ve come to expect from other superhero media. Superhero comics are so much more than just action sequences or high stakes adventures, they’re windows into the lives of these characters, in and out of their larger-than-life alternate personas. It’s not as literal in Bong-Soon’s life—she’s not putting on a costume when she’s out and about guarding Min Hyuk or investigating crimes. But Strong Girl is more of a story about her life where the fact she’s also a super-powered woman becoming a vigilante isn’t her defining trait. If anything, it’s almost an intrusion on her normal life, instead of normal life being the intrusion on superhero antics we often see on these shows.
It helps that Strong Girl Bong-Soon’s characters have excellent chemistry with each other, so you don’t get too antsy waiting for the superpunches to fly. There’s a silliness at play in Bong-Soon’s interaction with every day life, almost like an outsider, given even the slightest thing could reveal her powers and inadvertently hurt the people closest to her. This mostly comes through in the love triangle that develops between herself, Min Hyuk, and Guk-Doo, but it gives the show a heart, and the focus on its supporting characters means the times it does goofily let loose and have fun with Bong-Soon’s powers are all the funnier.
Strong Girl Bong-Soon’s got a few pacing problems (not unlike its Marvel cousins on Netflix), and you should know going in to expect something that’s more lighthearted than grim and gritty—even with the surprisingly dark subplot. But if you’re coming up to the midseason break looking to scratch your superhero TV itch with something a bit different, try out Strong Girl Bong-Soon. In a world of superhero action, it tells a story that feels like relatively unexplored territory for live action superheroes, especially in comparison to what we usually get to see.