Friday, February 3, 2012

Boys Over Flowers


I'll admit, I'm what you might consider a hardcore HanaDan fan. I've completed the entire manga series (including rereads of certain parts) and watched probably every adaptation out there (Meteor Garden - which was what launched my drama craze, Hana Yori Dango, 80% of Jade Palace Lock Heart, and 50% of Let's Go Watch Meteor Shower). It's embarrassing, as some of those were just awful. What's even sadder is that I'll probably watch any future adaptations. If only I could get my hands on the rights for an American version - this is almost guaranteed ratings gold, although I'd hope whoever produces it puts a new spin on the repetitive plots.

Back when BOF first aired, of course I went fangirl crazy at the beginning. But I actually stopped at episode 12, once the conflicts started getting cumbersome. I think most of us will agree that while the conflict and drama is what makes the series so addicting, it's also one of the most annoying aspects of it, especially when you're a knowledgeable fan who knows exactly how every event will end. I mean, freaking get together and be happy already Domyoji/Makino!!! All the denial (on Makino/Jan Di's end usually) and all the conflict (the evil mother) just gets on the nerves at some point.

But regarding the Korean version of this popular tale, back when I first watched it in '09, here were my main takeaways:

  1. Awesome high budget. By comparison, Taiwan's F4 were practically poverty-stricken, and Japan's mere middle-class.



  2. Beautiful F4:
    All-around probably the most visually pleasing of any of the iterations. Vanness and Ken (paired with Jerry's pineapple hair) set Taiwan's standards of bishounen pretty low, while Jun, despite being a terrific Domyoji, didn't quite reach the beauty and height levels of his fellow Oguri Shun and Matsuda Shota (Akira's actor was also pretty meh)


    By contrast, Lee Min Ho is pure perfection with his tailored suits, furs, wonderfully permed hair (for once they got the hair right!), and statuesque build. He looks shockingly like Jerry in some of the scenes, but I suppose that's good since Jerry pretty much defined the role.

    Rui/Ji Hoo: Kim Hyun Joon is gorgeous, and it's a pity his acting skills don't match his physical fit for the role. Oguri Shun remains king here (with Zai Zai a close second)

    Soujiro/Yi Jung: I kind of hate his character, regardless of who plays him. He's just so annoying, and his side story with Yuki (Ga Eul) so freaking cliche and overdramatized. I get that lots of people are fans of the two, but it always annoyed me when their scenes popped up in both manga and dramas. I skipped almost all the Rainie/Ken scenes (and they looked so awkward and age-inappropriate together it was painful), I didn't care for it in HYD and was very unhappy when they decided to fill up the second season with it, and I'm equally displeased here.

    Just as a side note, Ga Eul here is too freaking pretty. Kim So Eun obviously knows how great she looks, and unfortunately a lot of her "acting" consists of her making pretty eyes at the camera (literally, as in Caledonia). I didn't buy the douche boyfriend's insults nor Kim Bum's subsequent jazz save because of that. Makino and Domyoji FTW! No awkward filler side romances please!

    Akira/Woo Bin: All dramas pretty much ignore him (and most actors who played him were relatively far less appealing). He's the foreign-language-spouting guy, for the most part. I actually really like him in the manga though, and only Japan (in season 2) really followed any of that. He's got a pretty complex family background and tragic backstory, and luckily the writer never saddled him with a cheesy love story.



  3. Most annoying Makino/Jan-Di ever
    : I will concede that Gu Hye Sun improved as the episodes progressed, but omg was she irritating and unappealing for much of it. Talk about overacting. While most actresses tend to overact Makino since she's such an exuberant character, only Innoe Mao has managed to hit that perfect mix of strong yet secretly vulnerable and totally likeable. Barbie was a crybaby, and Hye Sun is continually scrunching her face and being loud and awkward. That plus the fact she was 24 years old yet playing a highschooler. She's one of the reasons I stopped watching the first time. 
    So recently I landed on the DVD for this, and since I've been having slow internet issues plus time to kill, thought I'd try getting through this thing. And it was surprisingly watchable, especially the first quarter. I previously thought of Lee Min Ho as the least charismatic Domyoji interpretation and chalked it up to his stiff acting, but on the second viewing, I think he actually hit a pretty sweet spot. Jerry was super aggressive, Jun overly dim and loud, but LMH manages classy and cold with a slight, endearing dull streak and blunt sensitivity. I mentioned in my year-end thoughts on City Hunter that I've always wanted but never quite got into LMH with his projects - I think BOF round 2 just made my wish come true. How did I not see how fabulous he is?

    Of course, I like pretty much all Domyoji's, even the two ill-fated C-drama ones. I mean, name me one girl who wouldn't fall for his character. Makino sweeps you into the series with her resilience and uniqueness, but Domyoji is who keeps you reading, all 37 or so volumes. What I'll really need to test is how long I'll continue liking this interpretation. I've pretty much forgotten both the C-drama ones already, while Jun and Jerry have me as an almost guaranteed fan for the rest of their careers. 

    Here's a rundown of my current thoughts while re-viewing BOF in its entirety (warning, a bit snarky):

    Things I liked:
    1. Lee Min Ho: I managed to stay impressed with him and with Gu Jun Pyo's character through the whole series. Just a perfect performance here, and perhaps the only one. It even made me willing to forgive the few writing inconsistencies that emerged with his persona, and for the wussy Jae-kyung period.

    2. Lavish sets: An F4 that really does live like F4 should. I'm happy these stayed strong til the end, and in fact actually improved as things went along.

    3. Story: This isn't anything especially tied to this particular drama, but overall I liked and was addicted to the drama due to its source story. This version managed to make it crack-like and fantastic to watch, even if things got tiring in the last quarter and I wanted to punch the writers/producers for making elemental oversights in their portrayal of the story.



    4. Non-canon ending
      : My favorite thing about this drama. I liked it so much that I now feel guilty for my earlier snarky thoughts (which you can read about below). In fact, I daresay BOF ended up being worth the time, if only to see the mature, well-constructed final episode. It's great that they didn't end the way the original manga did (which always felt incomplete). But they also didn't completely depart from it, as the J-drama did. Instead, it felt fitting for the characters and the story, adding an extra layer of depth and completion without feeling untrue to the source.


      Going with that, I'm happy that Jan-Di found a unique passion of her own, thereby making their manga-consistent separation at the end not merely out of necessity for Jun Pyo's career growth, but also for hers. They each had to grow up and find their paths in life, and while I think being a doctor is a bit soft for Jan-Di, I can buy in and respect her choice.



    5. Swimming:
      I thought it was cheesy and silly at first (added to the fact that she's apparently the only one swimming in the school), but ultimately the writer did a great job tying this to the story. It didn't feel like a throwaway hobby, but instead a core part of Jan Di herself, and an embodiment of her strength.




    6. Importance of the necklace: 
      In the original manga, the necklace doesn't really play a significant role to the overall story, despite the sweetness and thought it represents. I'm glad that here it actually has a pivotal role in several plot points, especially the awesome pool-fall in the end. Probably my favorite scene in this version.

    7. OST: Don't get me wrong, I too was annoyed at multiple points by reckless, overabundant use of these songs (especially Yearning Heart), but there's some nice tracks here. Because I'm Stupid is very mood-appropriate, and Making a Lover is super catchy. I like that they had a large variety of songs, unlike both the TW and Japan versions, which generally relied on only 2 vocal tracks (although the instrumentals in the Japan version were awesome and Qing Fei de Yi is still in my all-time favorite OST tracks list).

    8. Jun-hee taking over the company: Just brilliant. I always wondered at the male-necessary inheritance path in the manga, and was SOOO happy to see a departure from that. The company is no longer solely the responsibility of Jun Pyo, but rather a joint venture between him and his sister. Going along with this, it shows that Jun-hee has come into her own, forgiving her mother for the past and making use of her intelligence and strength as something other than a rich wife.


    9. The mother: I hate her character, but I liked the actress. She did a decent, albeit stilted, job of not merely being an ice-queen, but also an essentially redeemable parent. But it doesn't stop the fact that I've never liked the parental-disapproval drama trope, and that hers was probably one of the worst in dramaland. I was willing to forgive at the end though, which I can't always say is the case.
    Things I disliked (I wrote this as I watched, and while the ending has won me over, the frustrations in the long middle still deserve some pointing out):


    1. Gu Hye Sun: I'll credit her with the fact that she improved from the first few episodes as the series progressed. Unfortunately, the improvement was very limited. The perpetual face grimaces and contortions were toned down, but replaced by a highly repetitive set of expressions. I could literally predict how her face would look whenever something was said or done. Those included:

      -The trying-to-seem-cute-and-innocent face: used without abandon in the vacation sequences, and whenever she tries to look "quizzically pleased." Basic sequence is for her to look down while smiling, then cast her eyes to the side, then have that smile fade into a pouty lip curl. There's a couple variations of this, but you'll know what I mean once you see it.

      -The anger-pout: used with almost all the Gu Jun Pyo scenes

      -The teary face: this one I actually thought was pretty good. GHS cries well, unlike others in the cast who can't even shed a tear without help. She also puts a lot of emotions into her tears without passing into annoying territory, so that was great.


      Unfortunately, she just looked too old to be playing a high schooler. It's mostly her face, and the appearance only worsened as the actors suffered through long shoots. Presence of age wrinkles around the eyes that no amount of make-up can cover, and just general maturity of the skin and face. I'm annoyed that they couldn't have cast a younger, better actress for the role, since frankly I would have preferred a high-potential newbie to a slightly better known but essentially limited, age-inappropriate woman to carry this pivotal character. Jan-Di wasn't written very well (no one really was), but the acting here just made a kickass heroine into a whiny, irritating presence.

    2. Ridiculously nonsensical plot: I like that they tried to mix it up and put a (high-priced) spin on the story arcs, i.e. the Ji Hoo/Jan Di vs. F3 battle, but the way it's put together sometimes makes no sense. For instance, the part where Jun Pyo pretends to be in a coma while she confesses her feelings is meant to take place WAYYY later in the manga. Instead, here it's early on, right after the Ji Hoo issue is resolved. At that point, Jan Di isn't conscious enough of her feelings to be saying anything along the lines of what the drama has her say. It's a minor gripe, but just causes the story to lose further logic and realism.

      Overall it felt like the writer just cut and pasted the manga subplots into a different order and tried to tie them together with feeble excuses for logic.



    3. Terrible editing
      : Scenes are essentially piecemealed together, and not just the writing. It's like cut-cut-cut with almost no transitions. I think the DVD set actually worsens that - the director tries to get clever and do these cutaway sequences. For instance, after the auction at Jun Pyo's house, it cuts directly to Jan Di showing her family the goggles she suddenly acquired. Then it flashes back to Jun Pyo giving it to her. There's many instances of this where I'd rather they just present it chronologically - it'd be way less confusing that way.

      Some of it is also just lack of common sense. Jan Di's hair changes without warning in the middle of her first day at Shinhwa High. It starts off fairly attractive and face-framing as she arrives, then suddenly becomes a blunt-edged bob-like thing when she enters Ji Hoo's woods. Then, in Caledonia/Macau, it becomes long again. If you're going to film out of sequence, don't be getting different haircuts! And for the record, she looked way better with the pre-cut hair (plus Makino had free-spirited long hair for most of the early volumes)

      Plus, lots of little things - like Ji Hoo waking up after Jan Di nursed him, removing the "wet" towel she'd apparently placed OVER HIS BANGS. Even worse, said bangs are dry and perfectly swept to the side. Psh.

      Then in Macau, Jan Di struts around the whole time in Christian Louboutin red-soled shoes. Really?? That's like her family's earnings for a year. Not to mention, they're later shown suddenly snapping in two. Ok, if you're going to do a scene like that, pick some cheap, flea market shoes, not designer.

    4. Extreme lack of realism for some storylines: I get that this is fiction, but it shouldn't be that hard to make the arcs at least convincing. Example: Jan Di swims for her scholarship, but we never see her compete, or see anyone else using the pool. She's also terribly slow during the race against Kim Bum.

      Additionally, the scene where the F3 and Ga Eul are repainting her house, and literally, a job that should take days (especially with only 4 inexperienced teens) takes what seems like an hour - including for the furniture moving/rearranging and paint drying. Jan-Di was apparently waiting outside the whole time as they carry on their secretive painting (and even I know you're supposed to put tape on the windows, not just start painting directly on the window sill).

    5. Nose-bleeds galore: There's always someone suffering from one (usually Jan Di). I've personally never had a nose bleed from overworking, even back when I was doing months on 4 hours or less of sleep a night. I've also never seen anyone around me get a nose bleed so easily. What a cop out. It's like the new, visually colorful version of the also overused faint.

    6. Cringe-worthy foreign-language scenes: Macau, I'm looking at you. Just an onslaught of embarrassing language-skillz and awkward tag-along bystanders in all the touristy scenes. Korean-accented Chinese is actually even worse than Korean-accented English. K-dramas get pretty lazy with this, since I guess they assume none of their native viewers can tell the difference. You get actors speaking with accents so thick it's literally incomprehensible (that's right, Lee Min Jung and Kim Joon) AND what's even worse, the actual native actors in the scene pretend like there's nothing wrong with what the actors are saying. I think Lee Min Jung was meant to look cool during her Chinese spiels, but holy cow I was blushing in shame for her.

      What was surprising is that Kim Hyun Joon was actually pretty good. His (albeit few) lines in English and Chinese were pretty darn clear. It's at least one consolation for his overall lack of acting skills.



    7. Ji-Hoo overload:
      No other adaptation has spent so much freaking time on this guy (aside from Meteor Garden 2 perhaps, but I don't count that because the story was non-canon and just stupid crap Taiwan wrote up to try pumping for money). Ji-Hoo appears so much, especially post-episode 12 that I was literally sighing in frustration each time his orange hair popped up. At least his haircut halfway through made things a little better.

      I just don't understand why BOF writers chose to do that.  The ratio in the second half was like for every 1 Jun Pyo/Jan Di scene, we have to sit through 5 Ji Hoo/Jan Di scenes. Did producers think Kim Hyun Joon was magic on the screen? Cause he certainly fell short of that - I would've personally kept him with as few lines and little presence as possible given his one-tone acting palette here. It was just ridiculous, because we all know Jun Pyo is Jan Di's ultimate guy, so why waste so much time on Ji Hoo? If their scenes together were even slightly charismatic and interesting, I might understand, but instead they were entirely the opposite. It was like watching two very dry, boring zombies sitting there exchanging words. Most viewers don't give a shit about Ji Hoo by this point, and omg was it annoying.


      As if making him rescue her every other second wasn't enough, they had to add the non-canon grandfather drama. I suspect it's probably because this director can't let go of that old man who's played the grandpa in both My Girl and Witch Amusement (and was annoying and had health issues in both those shows). He's less irritating and more wise here, but also totally unnecessary as a character. I guess they tried to give Ji Hoo some depth? The screetime would've been better spent on some Jun Pyo/Jan Di action though.

      It's a pity because I actually like Rui in the manga and Japan/Taiwan versions (he's hideous in the C-drama one). However, what's great about Rui is that he's a background presence - there and comforting, but not outright stalkerish and appearing in every scene.



    8. Yi Jung angst-storm
      : I like Kim Bum, but I hate his character here. It's also weird seeing him with chipmunk cheeks after watching his mature, awesome looks and terrifically subtle acting in Padam Padam. Here, he's obviously still a novice, and paints his character in wide strokes. There's also a lot of angsting around - talk about the stupidest way to injure his hand (got stepped on in a bar fight while he was drunk). I liked Ga Eul more, but I liked him far less, so I ended up neutral and a bit bored to death on their scenes together. Anytime it'd transition over to him I'd prepare myself for more self-pity parties.

    9. Obviously dramatized dialog: people here don't carry conversations like normal, logical humans. Instead of answering a question directly, characters will add a qualifier, such as "Why" or "What?", making them sound like a dim-witted idiot attempting to pointlessly lengthen a scene.

      Example: Scene when Kim Bum sees the puzzle piece next to Ga Eul

      Him: Where'd you get that?!
      Her (completely ignorant of how urgent he sounds): Why?
      Him: WHERE'D YOU GET THAT?????!!!!

      There's literally dozens of examples of this (many with Jan Di and Jun Pyo). I know that if someone asked me a question like that, I'd just give them the answer. Why play coy?
       


    10. Pointless flaunting scenes:
      i.e. the food and casino-porning in Macau, the sudden sports shows (hockey, rugby, soccer, etc.), the strutting around the auction, etc. So many scenes are literally useless, except for the production to show off the cool things they got to film, from expensive suits and dresses to nice scenery. I understand their motivations, but they could've tried to be less obvious about it. This isn't some travelogue movie.

    What most disappoints me is that while this was a decent drama, it fell hugely short of the greatness it could have been. 90% of the shortcomings are owed to inconsistencies and fundamental logic flaws in presentation and story, something that a halfway decent editor/director should have been able to avoid. That's why BOF won't be going into my hall of fame drama list, because I honestly felt like I had to crush my brain's function in order to go along with the story. Absolutely no more rewatches. 


    Yet despite my large list of grievances, I had fun and I'm sure most viewers will enjoy it. It's shockingly addicting and beautifully filmed, with some heartstoppingly sweet OTP moments. It's also strange, because while some parts made me literally gnash my teeth in frustration and anger, now that it's over I actually miss the drama. No more Gu Jun Pyo or scenery-porn? Even no more ice-prince Ji Hoo? The thought makes me sad :(

    Overall, BOF is worth checking out if you're in the mood for some illogical but pretty fluff, or if you're a general fan of HanaDan. Lee Min Ho is the biggest driver for it, and perhaps it'd be worthwhile just to see his awesome Gu Jun Pyo on screen.

    And just in case you're curious, here's my overall ranking of the adaptations I've viewed in completion:
    1. Japan
    2. Korea
    3. Taiwan


    Japan's is simply unbeatable so far. It's the version for strong fans of the story like myself, because it doesn't drag out, thanks to the short episode lengths. Also a fantastic cast, and the only Makino that I've never been annoyed by.


    Taiwan fell short, but mainly because it feels so dated now. I think it's a good version for those completely new to the franchise. It follows everything almost scene-by-scene with the manga, making almost no innovations. The production value is pretty low and Barbie was annoying, but I loved Jerry and the overall feel to the drama. It's also the most serious version of the three, which I actually like. 

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