But a reliable constant in “Boys over Flowers” is the four young dandies. The look like nineteenth-century European aristocrats thanks to the outrageous costume design. Their clothes, though twenty-first century, are so fashionably cutting-edge that every button and seam establishes their distance from us. They look like time travelers from two centuries ago—or perhaps two centuries in the future. Jun-Pyo’s giant fur collar originated in the Japanese manga, but Lee Min-Ho wears it like a prince stepping off a train in Tolstoy’s St. Petersburg.
And why shouldn’t he? He arrives at school by helicopter. F4 are like the Beatles stepping onto American shores for the first time. When they make an entrance, music plays and women swoon. The lighting is perfect. They have their own barista in their private lounge at school. They drive matching sports cars. They make decrees. They look good in plaid. Ji-Hoo (Kim Hyun-Joong) shows up at school dressed from head to toe in a white morning coat and tails. And no one comments. Lee-Jeong (Kim Beom) steps onto a nightclub stage, borrows a sax and plays a number to impress a girl. And no one in the audience quotes Anchorman.
The Boys live a charmed life. Nothing ruffles their aplomb. Are they twenty-first century metro-sexuals? Nineteenth-century Beau Brummels? They think they belong, when they’re clearly the strangest people in the room. Perhaps that’s the privilege of the mega-rich. Their standards are the only ones that count. “Boys over Flowers” offers a fantasy of absolute wealth. It’s hard to tell what’s more seductive: the riches, the romance, or the trust these guys have in each other’s consumer choices. ♥
- Overall: 7/10
- Writing: 5/10
- Acting: 7/10
- Production & Directing: 9/10
Reasons You Might Want to Watch:
- It’s a cultural education. BOF gives you the ultimate experience of what Koreans mean what they say “makjang“—a word for dramas that are overwrought and far-fetched. Also, Jan-Di is an archetypal East Asian heroine, along the lines of influential Japanese shojo manga heroine Candy. She’s a contrast with Europe’s Cinderella. When she’s offered wealth by a lazy rich guy, she refuses him repeatedly because he doesn’t have a good work ethic. Eventually she teaches him Confucian virtues. Only then does he have a chance with her.
- The absurd Gu Jun-Pyo provided mega-star Lee Min-Ho his breakout role and you can see why. He sets the series’ tone with his mix of self-deprecating humor, larger-than-life outrageousness and genuine emotion. His Jun-Pyo has a touch of vulnerability that makes the egotistical heir the most consistently enjoyable character in the series. Kim Beom also gives a fun performance, as does Kim So-Eun: they have a sweet, slow and likable romance. And the entire cast teems with great Korean character actors.
- The production keeps things light and doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s easy to enjoy. Even when your brain tells you not to.
- Glamour, glamour, glamour: no expense was spared on settings, set design and clothing. And oh, the bizarre clothing!
Reasons You Might Want to Skip:
- The shojo manga plot and style is overwrought, over-the-top and illogical.
- Even experts at suspending disbelief will never believe how many times the supposedly expert swimmer Jan-Di must be rescued from drowning.
- The pace feels slow at times and the series is long for a K-drama romance, at 25 episodes.
- The characters are among K-drama’s most one-dimensional.
- Gu Hye-Seon, who plays Geum Jan-Di, hams it up, and Kim Hyun-Joong, the idol playing Ji-Hu, doesn’t have enough emotional range for the part. Or any emotional range, really.
- Despite Jan-Dee’s Candy-esque disdain of wealth, the overall production worships luxury and wealth. And for these guys, it doesn’t appear that with great power comes great responsibility.
Alternate titles: 꽃보다 남자 , Kkotboda Namja, Boys before Flowers, Hana Yori Dango
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Hana Yori Dango, or “Boys over Flowers,” is a pun on a Japanese proverb, “dumplings before flowers.” The saying refers to people who go to a flower festival and focus on eating the holiday foods instead of enjoying the flowers. By extension, this means anyone who puts material pleasures ahead of deeper concerns.
2009 Baeksang Arts Awards: Best New Actor Award (Lee Min-Ho), Popularity Award (Kim Hyun-Joong)
“Boys over Flowers” and its many versions have influenced Korean and East Asian entertainment a lot, but “Boys over Flowers” does stand in a class of its own. The 2013/4 series “Heirs” is like a “what if?” re-imagining of “Boys over Flowers” formulas. It has a different tone, because it takes bullying more seriously and makes the hero (again played by Lee Min-Ho) more morally compromised. But it also has those spare-no-expense visuals and pop anthems and swings back and forth between stylishness and ludicrousness. “Heirs” suffers from not knowing if it wants to be serious or over-the-top, but it has an outstanding cast and snappy dialogue.
“Shut Up Flower Boy Band” makes for an interesting contrast with “Boys over Flowers.” Both series depict “bromances” but “Shut Up” focuses on six guys at the bottom of the social pyramid. When they come up against wealthy bullies at their new high school, the consequences are life-changing. “Shut Up” features three-dimensional characters with well-developed friendships and real emotions at stake.
Lee Min-Ho has been busy since 2009. His romantic comedy “Personal Preference” and thriller “City Hunter” are particularly good. Kim Beom also reliably turns in charismatic performances, most memorably in “Padam Padam” and “That Winter, the Wind Blows.” Recently, Ku Hye-Sun starred in the solid melodrama “Angel Eyes” (2014) and 2015 “Blood.” Kim So-Eun, who is charming here as Jan-Di’s best friend, played lead in the excellent thriller “Liar’s Game” (2014).