Continuing my Lee Min Ho phase, I finally turned my attention to the Korean drama that launched him into fame; Boys Over Flowers (2009). This 25-episode series is actually an adaptation of Yoko Kamio’s manga of the same name (Hana Yori Dango in Japanese), and it created quite a buzz back in the day. But can the series hold up to a relatively new drama watcher six years later?
What’s it about?
Geum Jan Di (Ku Hye Sun) is an ordinary girl from a poor family. By chance, she finds herself attending the prestigious Shinhwa High School, usually only open to the wealthiest families in South Korea. The school is ruled by the
Fab4 F4, a quartet made up of the wealthiest, best looking male students, who are treated like walking gods. This group includes Gu Jun Pyo (Lee Min Ho), heir to the Shinhwa Group fortune and leader of the group; Yoon Ji Hoo (Kim Hyun Joong), grandson of a previous President and music prodigy; So Yi Jung (Kim Bum), son of an old family famed for their pottery; and Song Woo Bin (Kim Joon), who comes from a family with strong connections to organised crime. Jan Di is disgusted with F4’s treatment of fellow students, and refuses to bow down to them. Her defiance sparks the interest of Jun Pyo, who makes it his personal mission to force her to leave the school. However, amidst all the bullying, is it possible that he may harbour other feelings? And why is Ji Hoo so nice to Jan Di in contrast to F4’s treatment of her?
As far as I’m aware, this was the first main role for the majority of the cast, especially Ku Hye Sun as the main character, and the F4. These five actors put in a lot of effort, considering their age and relative lack of experience. I can see why this is the drama that jump started Lee Min Ho’s career; he captures the immature, angry teenage character very well. The other three F4 do a decent job, with Kim Hyun Joong especially bringing Ji Hoo to life. Despite her character’s inconsistencies, Ku Hye Sun manages to pull off a solid performance, as does Kim So Eun, playing Jan Di’s best friend Choo Ga Eul. All of the actors seemed to have really good cheistry on screen, which I think really helped bring a lot of the scenes to life; both the cute, funny scenes, and the angsty, angry scenes. Of course, there is some cringe-worthy moments with some of the other young cast, but that’s to be expected. On a side note, shout out to the kids who play the younger versions of the F4; they were completely adorable!
Finally, I want to talk a little bit about the character Ji Hoo, who, in my humble opinion, is by the far the most well-developed character in the series. Although I understand he differs quite a bit from the base character and the other portrayals, I absolutely adored the character. He’s adorable, kind, and sweet, but in no way a push-over, standing up to many other characters throughout the series, including the grand Jun Pyo himself. I only wish all of his hard work paid off in the end but *sigh* that’s drama I guess… I’ve never had second lead syndrome so bad before.
Well, it is really tempting to dedicate this section to Lee Min Ho’s notorious “poodle” hairstyle or the costume choices of some of the characters, but there is so much more to talk about. Well really there’s three things, but they’re three big things. So let’s start with the script. Not the strongest. I don’t know if it was just the sub that I was watching, but some lines definitely placed on the corny spectrum. The random bursts of English, laughable in many dramas, was downright out of place and annoying here.
Secondly, character development was all over the place, with the exception of Ji Hoo I’ve already mentioned. I was expecting Jun Pyo, the childish, angry male lead, to go through a transformation into a mature young adult, without missing the unique punch of his character, but sadly his development is minimal. Jan Di is quite an inconsistent character, appearing as a plucky and confident character in some scenes, and completely useless in others. Throughout most of the series, it really felt that Jun Pyo and Jan Di were the type of main characters that have things happen to them, rather than doing things themselves in their own storyline; very, very odd. The treatment of Yi Jung and Ga Eul feels tacked on in the last few episodes and doesn’t seem to sit smoothly with Jun Pyo and Jan Di’s story; it was like the writers wanted to develop them as characters, but couldn’t be bothered going the whole way with it. And then you have the neglect of poor lonely Woo Bin, who, apart from an odd scene here or there, doesn’t get much of a background at all.
Finally, the plot’s pacing was terrible, and this partly accounts for the poor character development I was talking about above. Looking at the other adaptations of Hana Yori Dango, they all have two seasons while Boys Over Flowers has one… this rings alarm bells right from the start. And, as you’d expect, there is way too much crammed into 25 episodes that certain plot points lose their impact because of the speed they occur and then become meaningless. Take for example (SPOILERS/) the kidnapping of Jan Di that occurs quite early in the series; the kidnapper is introduced as an initial nice guy, we’re shown he’s not so nice, the kidnapping occurs, and Jan Di gets saved, all in the space of two very quick episodes. There wasn’t even time to appreciate the whole “wow he’s actually not the nice guy we thought he was” theme or to really acknowledge that Jan Di was in danger. Finally, the whole incident becomes meaningless as Jun Pyo doesn’t even develop as a character after learning the kidnapping was an indirect result of his earlier bullying habits (\SPOILERS). And don’t even get me get me started on the mess of the last two episodes where it feels like the authors try to squeeze in an entire second season…
Anything else I should consider?
As I already mentioned, this Korean drama is an adaptation of a popular Japanese manga. In fact, it is not the only drama adaptation of Hana Yori Dango, others include the Taiwanese Meteor Garden (2001) and its sequel Meteor Garden II (2002), and the Japanese Hana Yori Dango (2005) and its sequel Hana Yori Dango Returns (2007). I will eventually be getting onto these series as well, so if you like the sound of the drama, but want to check out the best adaptation, watch this space 🙂
Story: 6/10: The story itself is actually good! There’s a lot of cool things going on in the plot, but the drama rushes through everything too quickly for big events to really leave much of an impact on the audience. If it had been stretched across a second season or if there had been less crammed in, the story-line would really be able to shine.
Characters: 5/10: Sadly the poor character development and inconsistent characterisation of several key characters, including Jan Di and Jun Pyo, causes the whole series to suffer. But not Ji Hoo, though, because he’s the best.
I can honestly see why this drama became popular back when it first came out, the attractive cast, international filming locations, luxurious and wealthy characters and settings to play around with, and love story involving a lot of obstacles for the main couple to overcome is a set up that would suck any drama viewer in. Although I can confidentially say that Boys Over Flowers doesn’t drag in its plot; I can’t help but feel that the story races forward with little acknowledgement to the grander meaning of each plot point and poor and inconsistent character development, especially for the main characters. I can understand the writer’s desire to adapt as much as the original source material as possible, but I really think this drama suffers from it. With less cramming of events and more character development, this drama could have really stood the test of time. However, I don’t really think Boys Over Flowers should still be considered a suitable “gateway drama” to Korean dramas. Overall, I give it a 5.5/10, and a suggestion to stay tuned to see how other adaptations stack up against it.