Thursday, December 31, 2015

Flower Boy Next Door (live action TV series), via DramaFever
Flower Boy Next Door is a Korean romantic comedy series.


I loved this series more for its characters than for its romance. I blew through all 16 episodes in about a week.

The story: When Dok Mi was in high school, something happened that gave her social anxiety and led to her basically becoming a recluse. In the present day, she works at home editing other people's manuscripts while dreaming of one day writing something all her own. During a brief outing, she falls in love at first sight (literally – they never even speak to each other) with a gorgeous guy who turns out to live in the apartment across the street from hers. She watches him for months, even matching her daily schedule to his as much as possible considering she rarely leaves her apartment. Then one day she thinks she sees his dog get hurt and wants so badly to help it that she even ventures outside.

Dok Mi's path crosses with Enrique (a famous game designer), Jin Rak (a webtoon artist who has loved Dok Mi from afar), Dong Hoon (Jin Rak's roommate and fellow webtoon artist), Do Hwi (Dok Mi's former bully/best friend), and many others. Dok Mi has to decide whether to retreat from the world again, or whether to go farther out into a world where things are unpredictable and those around her could make her happy or hurt her.

The primary romance was between Dok Mi and Enrique. I have to admit that I didn't fully trust or enjoy it, in large part because I wasn't sure how serious Enrique was. He was one of those ultra-positive and fun-loving people who works hard at being an uplifting force to those around him. At the start of the series, he had an unrequited love for Seo Young, who was in love with Tae Joon, Enrique's cousin (so the Internet tells me, although I had thought they were brothers). Tae Joon was also the mystery man Dok Mi loved from afar, so when all four of them met it was a bit of a low key disaster. Dok Mi and Enrique tried to hide that their hearts were breaking while Seo Young threw herself at Tae Joon.

Although Enrique insisted that he really did care about Dok Mi, I couldn't help but wonder if she was really some kind of rebound project, a way for him to keep his mind off his recently failed romance. The series positioned Enrique and Jin Rak as romantic rivals with two very different approaches to loving and helping Dok Mi. Enrique liked to force her out of her comfort zone, drawing back only when it seemed like he'd finally gone too far, and even then he kept pushing her boundaries as much as possible. Jin Rak, on the other hand, held back and tried to give Dok Mi as much space as possible, to the point that he barely ever spoke to her. His most regular form of communication with her was the post-its he secretly put on the milk that was delivered to her every day.

Jin Rak's approach put Dok Mi too much on a pedestal, leading to him seeing her more as a fictional heroine than as a person. This led to a kind of creepy (although I'm sure viewers were supposed to see it as romantic) webtoon (aka webcomic) project in which Jin Rak cast Dok Mi as the Rapunzel-like heroine. Enrique's approach was clearly supposed to be seen as better, but his tendency to completely ignore Dok Mi's established boundaries often made me uncomfortable. There were times when she seemed to appreciate what he was doing, but there were also plenty of times when she clearly didn't, and yet he kept pushing anyway

Like I said, I enjoyed this series more for its characters than for its romance. Every character had a hidden side to them, and I enjoyed watching everything get revealed, from the secret of Dong Hoon's partying, to Jin Rak's other identity, to the mystery of the owner of the apartment building most of the characters lived in. My primary complaints were with Dok Mi and with the series' various loose ends (some of which probably don't matter to anyone but me, like the fate of the dog that Tae Joon left behind). As far as Dok Mi went, the way her social anxiety was presented bugged me a little. At first, I thought she couldn't go out much at all, but then it seemed that she could go out but had to limit her social interaction to brief situations in which her role was clearly defined (for example, a customer buying things from a street stall). I eventually decided that that made sense, but the things that Dok Mi could and could not handle didn't always seem to be very clear.

On the whole, I highly recommend this series if you love shows with a wide variety of interesting characters. There's romantic rivalry between Enrique and Jin Rak, a nice friendship between Jin Rak and Dong Hoon, and lots more. I enjoyed the part where Dok Mi and Do Hwi discussed how and why their friendship fell apart (although I'd have liked it more if “I liked a guy who liked you instead” hadn't been at the root of it all), and I had lots of fun watching the romance between Dong Hoon and Seul Gi (the webtoon editor) develop, even though it was kind of weird. I do wish, though, that the ending hadn't made it look so much like Jin Rak had found himself a Dok Mi replacement, another pretty recluse. That was kind of gross and went counter to how he'd evolved up to that point.


DramaFever included two episodes worth of specials that I think focused on "making of" stuff. I only watched a bit of the first episode because I wanted to move on to another show. However, I did find it interesting that there was quite a bit more CGI involved in the series than I expected.

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