directed by Jun Ki Sang
Korea 200
9

Boys Over Flowers

Aka: Boys Before Flowers

Aka: Kgotboda Namja

Directed by Jun Ki Sang (My Girl)

Written by Yoon Ji Ryun

Based on the Japanese manga: Hana Yuri Dango by Yoko Kamio

 

The Series : 7
This television series, Boys Over Flowers, was exceedingly popular in Korea last year. Based on a Japanese manga and the Japanese and Taiwanese TV series derived from it, I’m not certain that it translates easily to Western audiences.

Perhaps the first thing about this series that anyone who has actually been to high school anywhere on this planet will observe is the absence of teachers. Students go to class, but no teacher walks in or is seen anywhere. No books are cracked. No studying is observed. For what is described as “Korea’s most prestigious high school” Shinhwa represents a sorry state of learning indeed, the very embodiment of a “party school”. Since Shinhwa is where the country’s wealthiest kids go to school (fictitious though it may be), we can only fear the worst for their country’s future. I assume this is meant to be satirical. In any case, it certainly places the adventures of the kids in a surrealistic spotlight.

The original manga was targeted for high school age girls. While it may be tempting to say “need we say more?” we shall indeed say more – a little more, anyhow, starting with the title. I gather from my researches that the manga title derives from a pun on the popular Japanese expression that translates: “Dumplings over Flowers,” meaning that one prefers physical gratification to the appreciation of beauty. Substitute “boys” for “dumplings” (which works in Japanese in a way that it does not in English – though I kind of feel it is suitable in any case) and the implication is clear enough – to a teenage girl, anyhow.

Adding another spice to the stew is that the “F4” (the "boys" in the title) originally meant “flowery four” – that is: the boys that comprised this revered club were seen by their classmates, especially the girls, as lovely as flowers. Indeed, besides their wealth, prettiness and prestige, if these boys had anything else going for them, the girls really wouldn’t care, for their vision is narrowed only to see what they want to see. (So what else is new!)

After the manga, which was serialized over a number of years, came a Taiwanese live action television series (Meteor Garden) and its sequel back in 2001 and 2002, followed (yes, followed) by the Japanese TV series version of the manga (Hana Yuri Dango) and its sequel in 2005 and 2007. All of these have been immensely popular, so it was only inevitable that Korea would give it a spin of their own. The gauntlet was picked up by KBS, who has presented many successful shows, such as Emperor of the Sea, Seoul 1945 and The Snow Queen. A number of small changes to the story were made, and voila: 25 episodes later, and KBS scores another triumph.

There are two themes that run through the series : The first describes the resistance to falling in love by all parties and the eventual giving way to the natural order of things. The acceptance of love and the putting away of juvenile attitudes about power and relationships occurs at different times throughout the series and in differing degrees with the various protagonists. The second theme is that of family resistance to and/or acceptance of persons of a class quite different from one’s own.

As just described, one could write a drama or a romantic comedy: the Korean version is the usual melding of the two, where drama is heightened by exaggerated circumstances (kidnappings, near death experiences, amnesia) and exaggerated responses (I love you; I never want to see you again) with just about every episode.

The plot is quite simple: Shinhwa is a major conglomerate with a private high school where the richest families send their kids and where the F4 (Gu Jun Pyo, Yoon Ji Hoo, So Yi Jung, and Song Woo Bin) are deified by their classmates. The narcissistic F4 rule ruthlessly. If they don’t like another student, they “red card” him or her and the other students will torment the victim just short of actually killing them until the helpless soul either leaves school or jumps off a rooftop – which is just what one such student is about to do when Geum Jan Di (Koo Hye Sun), the daughter of a local dry cleaner, happens by and rescues him at the moment of truth. Jan Di’s indignation about how this boy was treated infuriates the kids at school and astonishes the members of the F4, but the public at large seeks an investigation. To quell the angry public, Shinhwa’s CEO, Kang Hee Soo (Lee Hye Young), offers a scholarship to Jan Di which she, at first, is too prideful to accept. Her family, being both practical and opportunistic, sees Jan Di’s admission to Shinhwa as a stepping stone to better things and insists she change her mind. Once Jan Di arrives at school she finds herself the target of F4’s outrage and immediately endures the most relentless hazing by their minions.

I detail all of this, which amounts to only the first fifteen or twenty minutes of the first episode because it sets up the dynamics for the entire series. Boys Over Flowers therefore could be thought of as an updated and overheated version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice with Jan Di as “Pride” and Shinhwa and all its inhabitants as “Prejudice.” As each episode unfolds, especially throughout YAE’s first volume, Jan Di’s righteous pride makes it difficult for her to recognize, let alone accept, her positive feelings for Jun Pyo (Lee Min Ho), the leader of the F4. Jun Pyo, for his part, is at first angry and disturbed by Jan Di’s unwillingness to kowtow to him – for how could someone of such a lowly status not recognize his authority, beauty, riches, etc., etc. But soon, Jun Pyo’s attempts to make her acknowledge him turn him upside down and he comes to respect Jan Di and even find her attractive (Koo Hye Sun is no slouch, by the way), much to her annoyance and puzzlement. Thus, the comedy.

As the series moves along and once Jun Pyo and Jan Di acknowledge at least the possibility of love - they are still far from an outright declaration - Jun Pyo’s mother enters the picture to put a stop to all this nonsense – after all, her son (did I mention she is Shinwa's CEO) is being groomed to follow in her footsteps as the heir to Shinhwa and it simply will not do to have one such as Jan Di as a daughter-in-law. Her attempts are quite nasty, even criminal – thus the drama.

Among the more entertaining and satirical touches throughout the series are the attempts by a trio of particularly hot and haughty girls at Shinhwa to unseat Jan Di as a favorite of the F4, whom they see as their special property (even though this is never reciprocated.) Their manga methods may be as transparent as glass to us, but poor Jan Di, unwise to the ways and wiles of others, is the perfect victim. Time after time she fails to see through them – Of course, if she did, this would bring the series to a premature close.

Boys Over Flowers wouldn’t be a Korean romantic comedy if there wasn’t at least one other couple to enjoy – and the best friends of both Jan Di and Jun Pyo provide some interesting adventures. F4’s Yi Jung (Kim Beom) is narcissism personified, and a player. When he is thrown together with Jan Di’s best friend, Ga Eul – translated as "Gayle" I suppose to avoid any possible confusion with Stargate - (Kim So Eun), his veneer and methods are given a bit of a twist. F4’s Ji Hoo (Kim Hyun Joong) is one of the more ambiguous characters to grace a Korean comedy series. Jan Di’s initial feelings for an F4 member is for him, but Ji Hoo is clearly otherwise taken with a childhood friend who has gone on to a more international stage. Jan Di, always righteous, even if means playing the fool, encourages Ji Hoo to follow her. When that relationship falls through, as we know it must, Jan Di remains confused (pretty much forever) especially as she begins to develop feelings for Jun Pyo.

I came to enjoy Boys Over Flowers almost in spite of myself. The acting is generally unremarkable (unusual for a Korean drama) - Lee Min Ho (Jun Pyo) took several episodes before he found his character; meanwhile he always seemed to be in rehearsal. Koo Hye Sun (The King and I) is no doubt perfect as Jan Di – part Giulietta Masina, part Stan Laurel, but always predictable, as is demanded by the manga script. Yet there is something engaging about these characters, forever trying to act like adults, forever missing the mark, always exploring any and every excuse to express their passions. I found the trio of hotties absolutely irresistible in every way, and smiled a big one when Jan Di accuses them (and practically the whole school) of being cosmetically altered.

Originally aired in Korea, from 5 January to 31 March, 2009

DVD Review: YA Entertainment (USA) - Region 1 - NTSC

DVD Box Cover

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Distribution

YA Entertainment (USA)

Region 1 - NTSC

Runtime 25 hours
Video

1.78:1 Original Aspect Ratio

16X9 enhanced
NTSC 720x480 29.97 f/s

Audio Korean DD2.0
Subtitles English, none
Features Release Information:
Studio: YA Entertainment (USA)

Aspect Ratio:
Widescreen anamorphic - 1.78:1

Edition Details:
• Exclusive 34-page Color Photobook (vol. 1)
• Making-Of & Interviews (75 min)
• F4 Talk Show (63 min)

Presentation
25 episodes, approx. 65 min/episode
Published in 2 box sets, totaling 9 discs
Release Date (Volume 1): November 17, 2009
Release Date (Volume 2): December 15, 2009

DVD Release Date: May 27th, 2008
1 box set

Chapters

 

Comments

Image : 9/7
The score of 9 indicates a relative level of excellence compared to other standard definition DVDs on a 10-point scale. The second score represents a value for the image on a 10-point scale that accommodates both standard and high-definition video discs – where, since the large majority of Blu-ray discs are 8-10, any score of 7 or more for a DVD is outstanding.

Boys Over Flowers continues the trend of excellent standard definition offerings from YA-Entertainment noted with Time Between Dog and Wolf. Like that reference quality DVD Boys Over Flowers is artifact-free, and displays no edge enhancement to speak of (rare on DVDs of any origin.) Bit rates are quite good, higher than previous YAE releases (averaging just under 6 Mbps), and it’s progressive, without evidence of combing. Colors are true, beautifully saturated with natural flesh tones in the appropriate light. Sharpness and resolution is also very good, and contrast is well controlled. There are fewer instances of totally blown out highs as there used to be in Korean television series (though this is generally the fault of its being shot in HD Video). The only fault I found occurs rarely when the edges of hair are fuzzed out against a bright sky. When I have reported about some Blu-rays that I have seen better on DVD, Boys Over Flowers is an example of what I had in mind.

Audio & Music : 7/4
One very positive thing about Korean television dramas in general is how little post-production looping of dialogue or effects there is. In this way there is a convincing immediacy to the dialogue, even if we are unfamiliar with the language. That said, the downside is that certain defects remain uncorrected, the most pervasive and annoying of which is Jan Di’s frequent screeches which devolve into grating distortion every time.

While the music does become more engaging and used more sparingly as the series goes along, I found it all pretty generic and uninspired. The title theme is especially obnoxious, though the style is appropriate enough.

Translation & Subtitles : 9/9
YAE’s translations continue to be more idiomatic with time. I noted no spelling mistakes, and even the past misuse of the colloquial “guys” was not to be found. The subtitles’ white font is outlined in black and is not so large as to get in the way of the action.

Operations & Box Design : 8/7
The names of the stars appear in English over the episode's credits, as they have been doing more regularly in recent YAE series. The menu is uncomplicated, in English, with animated thumbnails for each of the four chapters per episode. YAE packages each of the volumes with magnetic overlapping spines – very effective. The case opens in gatefold style to reveal the four or five discs within. The downside to this design is that you can’t access the outer discs without laying the case down and opening it completely. The Bonus Features are found on disc five of the second volume, along with the final episode.

Extras : 7
Except for the 34-page Color Photobook, which is tucked away neatly in Vol. 1, the remaining two bonus features are on the final disc of Vol. 2. These are a Making-Of documentary + cast interviews (75 min) and a television talk show featuring the F4 actors (63 min) – all worth your while. I want to give special mention for the PhotoBook, which is almost the same height and width of the box and printed in beautiful color - a piece of substance and value.

Recommendation: 8
Audience interest in Korea for Boys Over Flowers began modestly with numbers in the mid-teens, but by the tenth episode to the end of the series, the television audience share was consistently above 30 – an extremely popular show. Like many another Korean romantic comedy, the dramatic elements seem contrived, especially in that they occur with such predictable regularity. Such difficulties are likely to go unnoticed by its target audience: teenagers and “family-oriented” adults. In many ways Boys Over Flowers is not unlike that staple of 1950s American television: The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet, but with the next higher rating: almost a “PG.”

 - Leonard Norwitz

 



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DVD Box Cover

CLICK to order from:

Thinking of buying from YesAsia? CLICK HERE and use THIS UPDATED BEAVER PAGE to source their very best...

CLICK to order from:

Thinking of buying from YesAsia? CLICK HERE and use THIS UPDATED BEAVER PAGE to source their very best...

Distribution

YA Entertainment (USA)

Region 1 - NTSC

 





 

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