Friday, April 10, 2009

Boys Over Flowers post-mortem

Boys Over Flowers, Korea's ever popular drama series, has finally rolled to an end after 25 lengthy episodes. The object of affection for many a swooning Korean fangirl, Boys Over Flowers is loosely based on the Japanese manga Hana Yori Dango, but more diligently follows the Japanese drama adaptation of the same name.

The series follows the exploits of Geum Jan Di (Koo Hye Sun) and is a rags to riches Cinderella story of her romance with Korea's most affluent prince, Goo Jun Pyo (Lee Min Ho). Goo Jun Pyo is the heir to the Shin Hwa corporation, South Korea's most prosperous and influential company. The entire nation is at the whim of the mighty Shin Hwa, which seem so to virtually determine the course of the country's prosperity.

Jun Pyo's grandfather and Shin Hwa founder asked the President of Korea for the go-ahead to build a high school that he could send his grandchildren to. Thus Shin Hwa High, the lap of luxury, was born - a school for only the rich and the affluent and from which admission to the choicest universities was guaranteed. By a stroke of fate, Geum Jan Di, the poor daughter of dry cleaner parents, finds her self admitted to this illustrious and unbelievable learning institution.

At Shin Hwa high, Jun Pyo is king. He does whatever he wants and is the idol of entire student population together with his infamous "Flower 4" or F4. The F4 are Jun Pyo's friends from childhood and include Yoon Ji Hoo (Kim Hun Joong), grandson of the former President of Korea and an aspiring musician; So Yi Jung (Kim Bum), a notorious playboy and renowned potter; and Song Woo Bin (Kim Joon), heir of a prominent construction firm with underworld connections.

Jan Di's fiery and defiant attitude quickly draws the ire of Jun Pyo and his F4, leading to her receipt of the infamous "red card" - a card that once put inside your locker signals the entire student population to prank, torment, and beat you... essentially to death. Yet the unyielding Jan Di quickly transforms Jun Pyo's hate to love, and so begins their twisted and tortuous path to happiness.

It's easy to see why Hana Yori Dango made such a smooth transition to a Korean drama. It's rife with shovelling, rivalry, and paradoxical sacrifice such that it is at many times frustrating to watch. But I did watch the entire series, and as with even the most exasperating drama, Boys Over Flowers has its pros and cons. Let's begin with the good news...


The Good

Boys Over Flowers offers a mesmerizing look at a life of comfort and opulence. Everything involves immaculately polished mansions, gourmet multi-course meals, and fleets of servants. Jun Pyo and his F4 are rather trendy and are fun to watch as they embark on their escapades, each driving a gorgeous Lotus Elise (except for Ji Hoo, who bucks the trend and drives a white Mini Cooper). Oh yes, and they play Soul Calibur... so they can't be all that bad.

Not long ago, I asked Jun something. Between friendship and love, if you were to pick only one, what would you choose? He said he wouldn’t give up either. They say people get as much as they are greedy for. Neither you nor I have enough greed.

While the series is rife with love rivals (and most of them are deceptive, evil schemers), the two key rivals, Ji Hoo for Jan Di and Jae Kyung (Lee Min Jung) for Jun Pyo, are quite likable. In fact, if there's anything frustrating about them, it's that they're much nicer and less difficult than the protagonists. As Ji Hoo slides into the "best friend" role while Jan Di remains a tortured soul over Jun Pyo, you realize that she must be some kind of masochist to be able to love the latter over the former. It's heartbreaking to watch these rivals' love go unrequited, but surely that is the intended response.

Let's see, what else did I enjoy about the show? Oh yes, every once in awhile, someone gets the living snot beat out of them. Some of these earlier fight scenes are really quite intense. There's a twisted but satisfying feeling of justice when Jun Pyo runs to the rescue of a suffering Jan Di who is being beat and tortured with a fire extinguisher (admittedly due to Jun Pyo's own red card), plucks the fire extinguisher from her tormentor's hands, and uses it to smack him a metre into the air. Maybe that's just the testosterone talking.


The Bad and the Ugly

For starters, Jun Pyo, while at times likable is often a barbarian. He's easily infuriated, overly physical, and frequently misinterprets the situation for the worse without clarification. He's brash, except when it comes to his witch of a mother - who contemptuous of Jan Di's commoner status does everything to uproot her (including buy her off, torture her family, and destroy her friends). As the heir to Shin Hwa, Jun Pyo should have a lot of clout, so why is he unable to even utter a word in defiance of his mother when she barks about how Jan Di needs to learn her place? Jan Di's situation puts her through situations that defy endurance.

Geum Jan Di, the things you see with your eyes are not always real. Some things are only visible… with faith.

But Jan Di is no angel herself. She never speaks up in her own defence when it actually matters, only defying the situation to make things worse. Upon meeting a particularly evil love rival and spending a day with him, she casts off Jun Pyo's well developed care and affection to declare of her new friend, "Inside school, he was the only real friend I felt close to." Understandably, the F4 are baffled. Her oscillation between Jun Pyo and Ji Hoo is also rather frustrating. While she seems intent on settling Ji Hoo into the "best friend" persona she is constantly giving mixed signals, which is rather uncomfortable for her knight in shining armour (who happens not to be the same person as her lover).

Additionally, the actors are young and seemingly inexperienced. They approach interactions (particularly romantic ones) with spastic discomfort. Whether it's hugging or kissing, the actors look as stiff as dolls and out of place. Whenever they try to express "work" in the show, they show the same repetitive task repeatedly and do so from different angles to make it seem like a task is taking hours when it's quite clear they filmed the scene in approximately ten minutes. For instance, when Jan Di needs to wash all the windows of a concert hall, there are multiple scenes where she scrubs the same window over and over, and in random directions no less.

Similarly, the series uses a classic romance movie trick which I call "faux-bonding time." This involves a scene where the background music overrides the characters' voices. The characters are shown laughing, presumably having fun and "bonding." This allows for the accelerated simulation of bonds being built because actually having to script a conversation is simply too challenging...

I could spend hours trying to describe the flaws with this series, but someone has kindly gone and done it for me. In a recent post on 50 Things You Learn from K-Drama, I found that I was not alone in my understanding of the frustrations of Boys Over Flowers... and that Boys Over Flowers is not unique in presenting these frustrations.

I get rather amused tickled by the fact that K-dramas are really popular based on the number of clichés they put in the plot. And people seem to like it!

1. Men who are hawt and rich fall in love with vulgar, outspoken women.

Jun Pyo rich. Jan Di vulgar and outspoken. Check.

2. If you are a girl and have a best guy friend, he’s definitely in love with you.

Best friend Ji Hoo loves Jan Di. Check. In fact, after jumping through a lot of hoops to break up with Jun Pyo and get together with Ji Hoo, she ditches him to return to Jun Pyo after only one date. What a woman...

3. Brothers/best friends/schoolmates/enemies always love the same girl.

From Jun Pyo versus Ji Hoo to Yi Jung versus his brother, this principle of course holds true.

10. If you’re rich, you’re an asshole.

11. If you’re poor, you’re an angel.

I think these two points have already received sufficient explanation. I don't think it's particularly normal for people to recruit the entire student body to goad their rivals into suicide. Then there are the times where Jun Pyo and Jan Di treat each other like dirt in order to "let the other down hard" with the intent of letting them down easy.

16. If two people are talking confidentially, they will leave the door of the room ajar so that a third party will eavesdrop on the conversation.

Of course, the listener always either misinterprets the conversation or uses it as the impetus to take some kind of unilateral and ill-advised action.

22. If you’re saving someone from being hit by a speeding car, you’ll push them out of the way and wait for the car to hit you instead.

You'd think that this is a bit too cliché. Of course, you're wrong. To add salt to the wound, it leads right into...

30. If you hit your head in a traffic accident, you might lose your memory. But don’t worry, you will get it back when you hit your head a second time.

And don't worry, it's perfectly normal to selectively forget one person but remember everything else about your life.

26. If you’re in a relationship, you must, at one point, leave the country and have your lover tearfully come RIGHT before you board the plane (vice versa applies as well. You can be the chaser.) 60% of the time you meet each other, and 40% you’re roaming around in circles in pass each other about 6 times. But you don’t see each other.

I've been told the most important skill for a Korean actress is to be able to cry on demand.

27. If you’re getting off a plane, you’re always wearing sunglasses.

34. Unless you’re fabulously rich, your in-laws will always hate you.

If trying to pay you to break up with their son, forcing your parents out of work, closing down the companies of even your obscenely wealthy friends, and telling you what a dirty peasant you are qualifies as hating you, then... yes.

45. One man can kick the butts of 6 gangsters, especially when they all stand in a circle and attack the guy 1 by 1. When each of them get their butts PWNED, they wise up and attack the guy at the same time. Then the guy will get pulverized and bleed out onto the dusty concrete floor of the empty warehouse they found to fight in. And the girl will have watched this the entire time, screaming in horror. Instead of calling 119, she’ll just watch and cry. But it’s okay. Because the next day the guy will be fine with a few random bandages and a few scars on the face. But never a black eye.

Never. Never a black eye. Who would dare ruin such a celebrated face? And finally...

49. If you study in the States (preferably Harvard), you are one of the top students and you can speak perfect English (as assumed by the reactions of those around you). Why the rest of the world OUTSIDE the TV can’t understand a single word uttered in your melodramatic voice is beyond me.

Yes, that's right, it's almost terrifying to listen to the characters' broken "perfect" English as they interact with poorly acted Caucasian love interests who clearly have no interest (or understanding). There's something dissatisfying with ebonics when they're used correctly, so it's even more ingratiating to hear "Yo, yo, yo, my bro!" coming out of Woo Bin-sunbae's mouth in a thick Korean accent. End of story.



Boys Over Flowers presents a pretty world with some interesting moments but ultimately suffers from unbelievable characters with self-inflicted problems who work diligently to follow every drama cliché in the book.


yubin said...

I must say that I also can't stand to hear them speak English.. it was the most painful when I heard Jihoo speak English when they went abroad.

I will remain faithful to Goo Jun Pyo and his big eyes.

P.S. I am not mad by the way..not as bad as I thought! hahah said...

stick to jdoramas. I will keep saying it until you finally convert. I looked into the korean version because the taiwanese version was kind of funny. hana yori dango 1 was 50x better.

sandlot said...

i'm about 6 episodes in. i don't really like this drama... but i can't stop watching it (granted, for the most part "watching" involves skimming through the episode). i just wish that junpyo would shave his hair off. AWFUL HAIR.