by Nauriya, April 3, 2021

This recap may contains information that might be revealing for some readers. 
It is not intended, but such information can be deemed as a spoiler.

Therefore readers discretion is advised. 

tvN and Netflix's original television series Navillera is a character-driven story with dream and passion as its fuel. Only four episodes in, the show is oddly satisfying and a healing experience for its viewers. And as for its characters -  it is all about regret and unresolved longing for the truest joy of life that they are unable to embrace.

Navillera is a journey of self discovery and long-lost dreams, and even though it's just fiction and a drama on some streaming service, and maybe for some it is just a well-executed drama, but for many it will be a moving experience to witness the growth of two people standing at the opposite ends of life.


Navillera (Korean: 나빌레라, RR: na-bil-le-ra, Nabillela or Nabillera) roughly translates to Like a Butterfly in English and is a combination of two Korean words, Na-vi or Na-bi which is ‘butterfly’ and ille-ra - a traditional Korean suffix. If combined together, they complete the word navi+illera = Navillera with the possible English translation Like a Butterfly or It’s like a Butterfly. 

Other sources also said to have this word come from Cho Jihoon's poem 승무 - “The Nun's Dance”. One of the lines of poem reads: “얇은 사 하이얀 고깔은 고이접어서 나빌레라,” which can be translated as, "The fine gauze white cowl wavers, Gently, delicately folded like a butterfly."

Regardless of the origin of this unique name, it is a perfect representation of our two main characters, who are going to grow together and change each other into their best versions, just like a butterfly does, from being merely a caterpillar to this beautiful winged adult self that has a power to fly. 

It is also a song name by Korean Girl group GFriend from their first album LOL (2016).


This coming of age story with slice of life naturalism tells the story of a man named Deok-chul in his 70s, who decides to learn ballet after encountering 23-years old ballet dancer Chae-rok. Deok-chul, who is a retired mailman, has spent his entire life doing what was expected of him, everything except what he really wanted to do since childhood - study dance. As Deok-chul spends his days doing mundane things and starts to lose his friends, a desire to reinvent himself ignites the long-lost passion he once had. As a child, he was enchanted by the beauty of dance, but his father did not permit to pursue his dream, saying this is not something a real man would do.

However, Deok-chul's fate intertwined when he sees young Chae-ruk dancing in a studio alone, and it reminds him how much he loves ballet. And after watching a rendition of Black Swan by young students, he finally muster-up his courage to approach Chae-ruk and ask for mentorship. 

Chae-ruk, who has a peevish image to himself, was once a rising football player, and is now a struggling on-leave student, who supports himself through part-time jobs while learning ballet to fulfil his late mother's dream. Chae-ruk has unresolved issues with his father, who was in prison for reasons not disclosed, and is constantly looked down on and bullied by his former teammates. Gloomy Chae-ruk endures all, while giving everything to his passion. 

Deok-chul faces rejection from Chae-ruk but seeing the determination of an old man who goes all the way to prove to Chae-ruk and his teacher, Seung-joo, that he is up for the job, Deok-chul is made Chae-ruk’s student. And to much protest of Chae-ruk, Seung-joo also assigned Deok-chul to be his manager. 

The odd relationship kicks off with a hefty start, but with no family and friends to go to, Chae-ruk finds comfort in Deok-chul. Together they embark on a journey of self-healing, dreams, regrets, and hopes.


Park In-hwan as Shim Deok-chulSong Kang as Lee Chae-rok
The breathtakingly calm and surreal character who looks at the world with kind eyes and hope is a 70ish years old retired mailman living with his wife. His life changes when he decides to learn ballet after his encounter with a young ballet dancer, Lee Chae-rok.

The character itself has a very positive aura, filled with resilience and kindness, he has always put others first and thus far been unable to do things he really wanted. When his long-lost dream, which was crushed by his father, reignites his passion, he decides to go all the way to pursue his dream of becoming a ballet dancer. Deok-chul who becomes Chae-rok's student and manager and plays a vital role in nourishing the young man, teaching him the values of relationships while healing himself and Chae-rok’s soul, which are constantly crushed by others. 

Their chemistry is off-charts, Deok-chul is completely determined to help Chae-ruk "soar high like an eagle", and is completely aware that his ability to learn ballet is limited, but he is happy to act on his dreams with a courage he thought he never had.

As legendary as the career of Park In-hwan is, this role is a unique mark on his long shining career. As an actor he has outdone himself, and in just four episodes, I can tell he is going to give us the tears of sadness and joy by bringing this character to life. 

A troubled soul, hurt by others and in a deep state of self discovery, Lee Chae-rok is a 23-years old ballet dancer. While juggling life, he is determined to master the art of ballet but is dragged down by his unresolved issues and personal problems. 

Chae-rok has a wall around himself that doesn’t let people in. Broken and hurt, he resents his father for their misfortunes. Despite starting ballet a little late for his age, he quickly masters the craft, but he is tethered by unresolved issues which makes it difficult for him to go all the way up. He has to go through it all alone with no family around, but then he is introduced to Deok-chul, who becomes his saviour. Deok-chul and Chae-rok give comfort to one another, they are like a mirror, standing at the opposite ends of life, teaching each other how to break free from the barriers holding them back from achieving their dream.
Song Kang is a talented actor, his claim to fame came with a project that I don’t even want to talk about in a million years, but I am so glad it gave him the push he needed to shine. He played his character with utmost sincerity - and yes, he did not use a body double for those ballet movements - he learned it in a period of five - six months, and was able to deliver perfectly what was required. 


Na Moon-hee as Choi Hae-namHong Seung-hee as Shim Eun-ho
Wife of Deok-chul, who lives an ordinary life but cares for her family deeply. Initially, she strongly apposes her husband's choice of doing ballet, but seeing her husband become gloomy after giving up on dance, she allows him and becomes supportive.

Na Moon-hee is one of Korea's best known actresses and her career spans sixty decades. She is playing a supporting role, but her presence is filled with an aura a viewer can not forget. 
The granddaughter of Hae-nam and Deok-chul, she is a new employee and a trainee at the restaurant where Chae-rok works part time. She is constantly pressured by her father to do best in life. She works very hard to excel at her job,  but ends up getting failed in the final selection, despite giving her all.

Seung Hee is a relatively new actress but does not leave a vague expression, she has potential and her character is another representation of struggle in this series.
Jo Sung-ha as Lee Moo-young
Kim Tae-hoon as Ki Seung-joo
Lee Chae-rok’s father who was recently released from jail, was once a reputable football team coach in school. After getting out of jail, his father leaves without meeting him to accept a job with less favourable conditions arranged by his old subordinate in their hometown.

On a rift with his son, their unfortunate life will unfold the truth as the series will progress, but their interaction is breathtakingly sad, and their suffering speaks volumes of their vulnerabilities. 
Lee Chae-rok’s teacher and So-ri’s ex-husband, who was once a principal ballet dancer, now owns the studio where Chae-rok practices. He has a pleasant personality and deeply cares for Chae-rok and seeing his struggle and troubling personality, he assigns Deok-chul as his manager and student. He still has feelings for his ex-wife, who he visits often.

Tae-hoon has played both positive and good supporting roles, in this series, he is leaving a warm impression of a great teacher.
Yoon Ji-hye as Eun So-ri
Kim Hyun-mok as Kim Se-jong
Ex-wife of Seung-joo, she was also a ballerina, and now trains young students for competitions. She taught Chae-ruk ballet for a year before Seung-joo took him in. She has numerous encounters with Chae-rok, giving him direction for his path. So-ri is constantly visited by Seung-joo, who still seems to have feelings for her.
A friend of Chae-rok since school days and also works with him at a part time job. He is a loyal friend and defends him every time there is gossip surrounding Chae-rok. 
Kim Kwon as Yang Ho-beom
Jung Hae-kyun as  Shim Sung-san
Once a friend of Chae-rok and a rising star of the football team, he now resents and bullies him, holding Chae-ruk accountable for his father's actions. He targets Chae-ruk every time he gets a chance and verbally tortures him, claiming his life was ruined because of Chae-ruk.

I saw Kim Kwon in He is Psychometric, he was playing a breathtakingly evilish-hero role there, and he is equally ruthless here as well. But his character has a good side to it, just as in above series mentioned. I am really looking forward to him realising his dream and stop picking on Chae-ruk before it's too late. 
Eun-ho's father and oldest son of Hae-nam and Deok-chul. He is cynical and always criticises people for their incompetency. He strongly opposes his father and blames him for raising him in poverty. He also opposes his wife's decision to work, and is very strict with his daughter over her career.

Hae-kyun, as far as I can recall, I have never seen him playing a positive role, either he starts off evil or ends up getting dead as a good person. In this series, he is neither evil nor bad. He is a realistic portrayal of a typical kind that every family has. However, his acting is "lajawab". 

Other characters: 

Shim Sung-suk played by Kim Soo-jin, daughter of the Shim family, is embroiled in her husband's political career; Byun Young Il played by Jeong Hee Tae. The youngest son, Shim Sung-gwan, played by Jo Bok-rae, is pursuing a filmmaking career after quitting as a doctor, and faces criticism from his older brother. Their daughter in-law and Sung-san's wife, Kim Ae-ran, played by Shin Eun-jung, decides to restart her career, which baffles her husband further.

Production details

The story of Navillera is based on a popular manhwa/webtoon of the same name by author Hun and illustrator Ji-Min. It was released in 2016 and has five volumes. The show is directed by Han Dong Hwa while the screenplay is written by Lee Eun Mi. 

GenreDrama, slice of life, coming of age
WriterLee Eun Mi
DirectorHan Dong Hwa 
Episode Count12
Run-time65 minutes
StudioStudio Dragon / The Great Show
Original NetworktvN / Netflix
Original release dateMarch 22, 2021 - April 27, 2021
Online availability Netflix (subscription) 

The soundtrack of the show has not been fully released yet, but the first song is sung by Taemin, known as “My Day”. With the background score, a piercing melody that hits all the notes right, having Chae-rok performing like a Swan is a delight to watch.

Should you watch Navillera?

When it comes to programs like Navillera, it's either a hit or miss. I am a huge fan of television series that do not involve over dramatic and over romanticized plot, unnecessary angst, evil planning, and above all, a bunch of idiot exes scheming to ruin lives for nothing.

"I have realised something after all these years. You live only once, not twice. 
What really scares me is that someday, I might not be able to do what I want 
or don't even remember what I want do anymore."

Navillera, just like it peers The Light in Your Eyes, Dear My Friends, When the Camellia Blooms or Go Ahead, chokes you many times and leaves you with a profound and satisfying experience of storytelling. Whenever there is a proper use of an actor’s talent, script, and human emotions, that series is always going to score on people's hearts. Such is the story of Navillera, that directly moves its audience by giving them a meaningful conversation that is uncannily close to reality.

The portrayals of Chae-ruk and Deok-chul by Song Kang and Park In-hwan respectively, has already left a deep mark on viewers, who felt nothing but a unique bond of life coming together. Actors playing these characters have invested their truest and earnest efforts to bring their characters to life because they knew they carry the burden for this drama, and as a viewer, I am completely enchanted by their performances.

“I decided to do the drama in order to give other people my age the courage to pursue their dreams. At our age, our fields of work tend to become narrower, so this was a very fortunate offer for me. 

Ballet is a graceful, flexible mode of expression, but my body was stiff and I found it hard to do. I even thought it was impossible.  

But this drama isn’t about Deok-chul becoming a professional ballet dancer. It’s about the meaning of taking on a new challenge. 

I was embarrassed at first putting on the ballet clothes, but after a while I got used to it.”   

– Park In-hwan on selecting the role of Deok-chul [A]

The sublime effect of their presence simply cannot be put into any words, as the story itself is a remarkable impression of human emotion. With so much going on these days, we are running in a reward-less marathon of life and have stopped reflecting on ourselves, and just like that, have stopped searching for our true happiness.

“I had a lot of concerns about taking on the role of a ballerino. It was important to pay attention to the overall lines of the body. 

I watched a lot of videos and thought a lot about how to express these lines in detail. 

I learned ballet for about five to six months. Rather than any high-level or expert skills, I focused on lines and details. I’m an actor and I like seeing my body change, so I had fun doing it. 

I also learned a lot playing Chae-rok, who grows up after meeting Deok-chul, and I believe this character will stay with me for a long time.”

- Song Kang explaining his role and experience [B]

"Life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you", and despite all, it is still worth living. So do not lose hope, and in whichever loophole and dark phase of life you are in, you are worthy of every happiness. I will leave you with some meaningful lines, I read and they stayed with me ever since.  

"My life was sometimes unhappy, and other times so happy. 
They say life is nothing but just a dream, yet I am happy that I got to live it. 
The chilly air at the dawn, the sweet breeze before the flower blooms, and the smell of sunset in the evening. 
All these things were so shiny everyday.  
I know you are having a hard time in your life. 
But since you are born in this world, you deserve to feel this too, everyday. 
Your not so great days will pass, and another average day will come, but your life is still worth living. 
The past is full of regrets, and the future is filled with uncertainty, but don't ruin this moment. 
Live today! Make it dazzling..."

- From The Light in Your Eyes, final scene, narrated by Kim Hye Ja

Make sure to look forward to Seo In Guk's cameo!!!

Image credits:
All images used here are released by tvN and Netflix.
All copyrights belongs to original author and their use is not intended for any kind of profit. 

drama slice of life friendship ballet coming-of-age dance dysfunctional family young-old friendship teacher-student relationship