Monday, March 18, 2013

Boys Over Flowers (live action TV series), via Netflix

Boys Over Flowers is a 25-episode contemporary romance K-drama. I watched the first episode via Crunchyroll, but, because Crunchyroll was having horrific buffering problems, I switched to Netflix for the rest.

This series is based on a manga. I think I've read a little of it, but I can't remember much about it.


Geum Jan Di's family owns a dry cleaning business, and she's attempting to deliver a cleaned school outfit when she realizes one of the school's students is threatening to kill himself while the other students egg him on. She saves the student and ends up in the news, prompting the school (a super-elite place whose students are all from wealthy families) to offer her a full scholarship. Jan Di doesn't really want to attend, but her family forces her to, figuring that attending such a prestigious school will open a lot of doors for her.

It's not long before Jan Di clashes with Goo Joon Pyo, the arrogant head of the F4. The F4, composed of Goo Joon Pyo, Yoon Ji Hoo, Soo Yi Jung, and Song Woo Bin, is known for terrorizing anyone who annoys them or tries to stand up to them. The student Jan Di saved was F4's previous victim, and now it looks like Jan Di might be their next.

Jan Di begins to suspect that one of the F4, Ji Hoo, is not like the rest. He seems kinder and more introspective. Her budding feelings for him face a few roadblocks, however. First, Ji Hoo has an unrequited love he has nursed for years. Second, Joon Pyo has started to mistake Jan Di's resistance to him for hidden romantic feelings.

Things just get more complicated from there: Joon Pyo has an evil mother who tries to destroy Jan Di and everyone she loves, there's a surprise fiancee, sudden amnesia, several scheming sweet-looking girls, etc.


I've seen this show recommended by a lot of K-drama fans, so I decided to give it a shot. To be honest, it took a lot of willpower for me to finish it. There were quite a few storylines I enjoyed, but I was so frustrated by the romance between Jan Di and Joon Pyo that there were several times I almost quit watching.

Jan Di thankfully doesn't fall for Joon Pyo right away. She also doesn't fall for him right after he starts to show an interest in her, or after he gives her a makeover (not surprising, really, since he kidnapped her and gave her one without even asking if she wanted one). I'll give her points for that. However, whenever she showed signs of softening towards him, all I could think was “This is the same guy who laughed while the person he bullied threatened to jump off a building.” I couldn't even convince myself that he'd changed, because there were several times in the show when he fired or threatened to fire people over minor offenses. He had anger management issues and regularly hit or threw things while in a fit of rage (while he never hurt Jan Di, I could never quite convince myself that he wouldn't). He regularly abused his power, and there was never a moment when he demonstrated true remorse over all the bad things he'd done to so many people.

It's hard to enjoy a romance when you're not happy with the primary pairing. I just could not accept Jan Di and Joon Pyo as a couple and vastly preferred any alternatives that presented themselves. In my ideal Boys Over Flowers world, Jan Di would have ended up with Ji Hoo (although that relationship had its own problems) and Joon Pyo would have fallen in love with his fiancee (she comes up late in the series). Ji Hoo was kind of boring, but, even so, he seemed to be a better fit for Jan Di and he made her happier than Joon Pyo did.

My other issue with the series was that it had so much padding. I think all the musical montages were meant to both show how rich the F4 were and to allow the audience to vicariously live the high life. However, they were so frequent, and it bothered me that, during the montages, the actors didn't always behave in ways that fit with what was going on in the story. There were quite a few times when certain characters should have looked tense or distracted, but instead I felt like I was watching the actors' vacation footage. It also didn't help that the selection of music seemed to be slim, so the musical montages forced me to hear the same three or four songs over and over again.

Just like all the other K-dramas I've seen so far, the cast of Boys Over Flowers was pretty big, and each character had their own secrets and/or issues. I enjoyed watching some of that play out. The storyline involving Joon Pyo's fiancee was fun – while I rolled my eyes over Jae Kyung's declarations of love (she only just met him!), I mostly liked  her and wished the series' ending had shown how she was doing.

My absolute favorite side story was the one involving Ga Eul, Jan Di's best friend, and Yi Jung. Ga Eul was naive and kind of shy. She believed firmly in the idea of true love and felt that everyone has a soulmate. Yi Jung was more cynical, dating and breaking up with girls without giving it a second thought. I enjoyed finding out about his reasons for acting the way he did and was truly upset when it looked like the show was going to pair him up with someone other than Ga Eul. There were times he acted like a complete and utter jerk, so I kind of wish he'd had to work harder for Ga Eul's final acceptance of his feelings (i.e. there needed to be more groveling on his part), but I still enjoyed their romance overall. Certainly more than Jan Di and Joon Pyo's romance.

Not every character was interesting and fun to watch, unfortunately. Ji Hoo had a lot of potential, what with his unrequited love and tragic parents-dead-and-abandoned-by-grandfather history. In the end, though, he just became more and more pathetic. He seemed to only exist in relation to another characters, either his first love or Jan Di, and I was left with the feeling that he had no life outside of making sure the people he cared for were happy. Woo Bin fared even worse. I'd rank him as being the most boring character in the entire series. Having connections to organized crime does not automatically make a character interesting, and Woo Bin's sole purpose seemed to be as backup for the rest of the F4.

Although this series was decent enough that I was able to finish it (the last quarter or so was the best), it wasn't as good as I was hoping it would be.

Watch-alikes and Read-alikes:
  • Protect the Boss (live action TV series) - If you'd like another K-drama that features romance between a rich guy and a poor girl, you might want to give this a try. I'm in the process of watching it and haven't finished it yet, but it's turning out to be a breath of fresh air after Boys Over Flowers' frequent montages and flashbacks.
  • Coffee Prince (live action TV series) - If you'd like another contemporary-set K-drama starring a plucky, cheerful heroine, you might want to give this a try. Like Jan Di, Eun Chan works super hard to support her family. I have written about this series.
  • Boys Over Flowers (manga) by Yoko Kamio - I don't know how similar the TV series is to this, but fans of the TV series might want to give it a try anyway.
  • Ouran High School Host Club (manga) by Bisco Hatori; Ouran High School Host Club (anime TV series) - If you'd like another "heroine surrounded by gorgeous rich guys" series, complete with a love triangle, you might want to give this a try. I've only read a bit of the manga, but I've seen the entire TV series. It had a lot less drama than Boys Over Flowers, and the romance was pretty one-sided (the heroine isn't really interested in romance), but it's still fun. I've written about the first half of the TV series and volume 1 of the manga.
  • Special A (manga) by Maki Minami; Special A (anime TV series) - Another "rich guy, ordinary girl" romance, with a good bit of humor and romance, although the resolution to the romance is kind of unsatisfying. I haven't read the manga yet, so maybe it has a better ending. I've written about the anime.


  1. I watched a little bit of this drama, and I noted that they'd toned down the violence quite a bit from the manga. I'm firmly convinced that the woman who wrote that manga is completely insane, and it doesn't say much for the rest of us that the manga was as popular as it was. Being shojo manga, it's all about understanding and forgiveness and impressing the enemy with your niceness, but the stuff that gets forgiven just isn't forgiveable-- the male lead has sic'ed gangs of thugs on the female lead on multiple occasions. There's a scene early on where she's threatened with a gang rape that's interrupted. There's a later one where she's tied behind the back of a car and they're about to start dragging her around the parking lot. That entire school is crying out for the Columbine treatment.

    1. This is what the story is like with the violence toned down? Ick. There was a bit in the drama where Joon Pyo sent a group of boys after Jan Di, and there were indications that they might've raped her if Ji Hoo hadn't gotten involved. Joon Pyo swore he just wanted them to scare her, but I was doubtful. I couldn't remember why I'd abandoned the manga, but if there was even more of this sort of thing in the manga than in the drama, then maybe that's why.