This quirky and endearing sleeper mini-series from Korea (premiered on Netflix, March 2021) is a definite winner. (Navillera in Korean means “like a butterfly.”)
In the opening scene Sim Deok-chul (the renowned Park In-hwan) is celebrating his 70th birthday with his wife, three sons and their wives. Only the youngest son, considered a failure for quitting his hospital position as a doctor, is unmarried. Sim is a retired mailman who always dreamed of performing “Swan Lake” on stage and now, at his advanced age, is determined to follow his passion after seeing how his friends regret not pursuing the dreams of their youth. Accidentally, he observes the gifted Lee Chae-rok (Song Kang) practicing for his upcoming ballet competition. Unbeknownst to Sim, Chae-rok is struggling financially, working a part-time job as a waiter, and is considering giving up ballet.
Sim persuades the ballet studio’s manager to accept him as a ballet student. So Sim is assigned to be the young Chae-rok’s manager and literally follows Chae-rok around, making sure he eats well and practices without distraction. Sim literally stalks him, almost following him into the bathroom. At first Chae-rok is irritated and deeply annoyed, but both Chae-rok and Sim have family issues and dysfunctional relationships with their fathers. They have a lot to learn from each other and most of all, have the need to develop empathy. Sim’s family—and especially his wife in some hilarious scenes—can’t understand why he doesn’t play golf and follow the usual routine of a retiree.
There are comic scenes between the elder Mr. Sim and his millennial counterpart as well. Watching a 70 year-old dress up in a leotard with a beaming smile on his face is entirely unexpected and for this viewer, utterly charming. Not quite a melodrama because of the extraordinary pas-de-deux (both figuratively and literally) between these two powerful and beautiful actors, Navillera does make us soar as the septuagenarian and his 20-something counterpart lift the story to a breathtaking, poignant finale where dreams and memories are not completely extinguished. The peak of youth and the decline of the aging are mirrored images of disappointment and loss, seamlessly and poetically intertwined throughout the film.
Viewers will fall in love with this pair of sympathetic characters who must resolve issues from their painful past with mutual grace and compassion. Don’t be surprised if you experience a heart squeezing, and are moved to tears.
Note: A great family show for adults and older children who can read subtitles.
Availability: Netflix streaming