“Shut Up Flower Boy Band” contains a sweet but slight romance. The real action here is in the well-written friendships.
“Flower boys” show up in the titles of three TvN shows made between 2011 and 2013, but each story takes the vague idea in a different direction. “Shut Up Flower Boy Band” makes the good-looking charmers the main characters and keeps the romance to a relative minimum. The focus is on the friendships between the six title teenagers. The well-developed characters make for a funny, sweet coming-of-age story that is the most consistently strong of TvN’s “flower boy trilogy.”
The eighteen-year-olds of rock band Eye Candy are unlikely pop idols. In a Korea that grooms K-pop bands according to the latest market trends, Eye Candy are the ungroomed outsiders. Their teachers and parents tell them to shut up more often than they encourage them to follow their dreams. In the first episode they’re even fleeing police after their music sets off noise complaints.
And the music they love is the opposite of synthetic pop tracks. They don’t have any cute dance moves. They want to play guitars and drums loudly in front of a live crowd. Their leader, Byung-Hee, writes his own songs à la John Lennon, wears as much eyeliner as a seventies glam rocker, and dreams of taking the stage at Glastonbury. He’s genuinely strange, as played by Lee Min-Ki. But he’s also endearingly passionate about music.
Compared to the bland idols of Korean top ten lists, these guys are slouchy, rude and pissed off in a way that vaguely echoes punk rock. Though their songs are more Paul McCartney than the Clash, they do live the lifestyle of angry rebels, minus the drugs. The two ringleaders, Byung-Hee and his best friend Jin-Hyuk, have reasons to be angry. Jin-Hyuk lives alone. He isn’t on speaking terms with his mother since her remarriage. And Byung-Hee crashes at Jin-Hyuk’s place most of the time to avoid his abusive father.
The scenes of the six friends goofing off and eating noodles in the rooftop apartment look like a Lost Boy fantasy, but as we get to know everyone better, the rooftop gets to looking a bit lonely. Byung-Hee and Jin-Hyuk don’t live up there for fun. Eye Candy is actually the closest thing they have to family.
Independence is also forced on Su-Ah, the girl who moves into the apartment on the rooftop next door. The once wealthy Su-Ah is living on her own since her investor father went on the run from investigators. She adapts quickly, taking several part-time jobs and living on ramen. But she’s afraid to tell her friends or her chaebol boyfriend.
The guys don’t notice the new neighbor at first because they have serious problems of their own. Their high school is closing due to poor performance. They’re getting transferred to a ritzier school, which means finding the money for costly new uniforms. Also, Byung-Hee is obsessed with finishing the song he’s writing. He says he can’t get it right till he finds a “muse” to inspire him. Su-Ah is the lucky—or unlucky—girl that Byung-Hee adopts for this role. At the same time, the six transfer to Su-Ah’s school and make themselves unpopular with the wealthy kids running things there. The stage is set for Eye Candy to come to blows with Su-Ah’s boyfriend and his friends, who have their own band.
A couple story arcs later, they’ll find themselves on the rise, scouted by a production company. Though they’re attractive characters because they’re so independent, their independence doesn’t endear them to studio executives. The 16 episodes run them through all the trials and tribulations of the music industry. And like so many bands before them, the guys end up arguing over money and girls, but in a straightforward eighteen-year-old way. Their disagreements arise from the emotional strains of growing up and learning you can’t have everything. The series tells a satisfying story of their crushes, jealousies, misunderstandings and occasional outbreaks of male stoicism, which usually happen right when they most need to ask for help.
Though the story starts funny and light-hearted, “Shut Up” also contains heartfelt drama. The end of episode two is a shocker for anyone who hasn’t come across spoilers beforehand. The comedy gets spun on its head with a major twist that would feel contrived, except that the writer and director pull it off convincingly. The accident that occurs is one of those formative experiences that the friends will deal with for years to come. It grounds the comedy in serious emotions. From this point on, the series isn’t about music, but about people using music to come to terms with tragedy.
Afterwards, we can see that despite the comic tone, these guys are pretty close to failure, in school and in life. Eye Candy faces as many obstacles as Roddy Doyle’s great fictional band The Commitments. One guitarist is the son of third-rate cabaret performers who work all the wrong hours, leaving him to care for his little sister. The drummer spends his nights sleeping on a ratty couch in his mom’s pool hall to avoid his gangster father. The keyboard guy comes from Busan, on the other side of the country, and together with the bass player works nights at a convenience store. The guys work multiple part-time jobs and use all kinds of tricks to afford instruments and rehearsal space. Eventually they settle into an illegal practice space that would make any 1979 Hampstead London squatter proud.
It’s easy to see why these guys are failing their classes, when they even bother to show up. Adults don’t expect them to even graduate high school, much less go to college. The only grown-up who respects them a little is the teacher who dislikes them most—he at least recognizes that their talent for trouble shows they’re smart and resourceful. But they don’t act like promising material.
Jin-Hyuk, in particular, is the spitting image of that kid everyone was afraid of in eleventh grade. He’s older, taller and tougher than his classmates, but he’s also acutely aware that no one expects him to be good at anything except fighting. Whenever we see Jin-Hyuk, he’s sucking on a lollipop suspiciously like a guy trying to give up a pack-a-day habit. The quirky charisma of actor Sung Joon works great here, and makes Jin-Hyuk a perfect foil for Byung-Hee’s delicate features and Davie Bowie persona.
Though friendship is more central than romance, Su-Ah’s story does add a lot to the series. The guys might not understand what Byung-Hee means when he calls her his “muse” (in English of course), but they do know their friendship is in danger if one of them gets serious about a girl. They may be willing to take punches for each other, but they can’t deal with a buddy falling in love. The friends’ conflict around Su-Ah leads to a couple of the series’ most poignant moments.
Two other smart things stand out. One is the studio executive, a tough professional woman played by Kim In-Seo. K-dramas feature lots of good female characters, but Director Yoo is memorable because she could have been played by a man just as easily. She doesn’t have a romance and she doesn’t show much open affection for her family, though her younger brother is an important character. And she’s a well-rounded character who balances business-like cynicism with just enough love for music to make her human. She serves as a hard-headed voice for the adult world.
Another nice touch of realism is that sometimes the fistfights have real consequences. K-dramas usually show violent fights resulting merely in a couple artistically placed bruises and a band-aid. In early episodes of Shut Up the young men get into plenty of fights, some of the bruise-and-band-aid type but a couple much more serious. When they put a rich kid into the hospital and the police investigate, it forces the Eye Candy boys to think twice. As an audience we have to pause as well. Ironically, the central chaebol character is played by Jung Eui-Chul, recognizable from his memorable part as the suicidal bullying victim in the opening sequence of Boys over Flowers. He plays almost the opposite role here, but the same theme returns: the rich students will always get away with more than the poor ones.
“It’s a talent to know how to have fun,” the recording studio’s Director Yoo says about the friends. Shut Up Flower Boy Band tells a thoughtful story with strong characters, but never forgets the serious importance of fun. It’s a winning story of friendship, and a high-spirited ode to making music.
- Overall: 8/10
- Writing: 8/10
- Acting: 7/10
- Production & Directing: 8/10
Reasons You Might Want to Watch:
- Awesome rock soundtrack is a change from the usual K-drama pop music
- Focus is on heroes and heroines who aren’t wealthy
- Fast-paced, high-energy production with lots of hand-held camera-work unusual for K-dramas
- Some smart, funny dialogue, especially if you know the difference between Van Gogh and Picasso
- A satisfyingly adult conclusion with some wisdom to it
Reasons You Might Want to Skip:
- The tragedy at the end of episode 2 isn’t the usual stuff of comedies and will upset some viewers
- The romance is sweet but by K-drama standards insignificant
- The male lead isn’t wealthy, extravagant or prone to big gestures—or even particularly articulate (which is why I like him)
- The story’s a bittersweet mix of idealism and realism
- If you don’t like the wry, ironic sense of humor
Alternate titles: 닥치고 꽃미남밴드, Dagchigo Kkochminambaendeu, “Shut Up and Let’s Go” (Netflix’s title for it)
Also recommended: Sung Joon was great as second lead in the light, enjoyable “Lie to Me” (2011) and he played a sexy first lead in “I Need Romance 3” (2014). For high-energy movies about the spirit of rock, don’t miss “The Commitments” (1991) and, of course, the Beatles’ “A Hard Day’s Night” (1964). They’re classics for a reason.
Trailers: To fill the sad lack of good trailers out there, I’ve pulled together a 7-minute NO SPOILERS** YouTube playlist. Includes a music video from tvN with one of the “Eye Candy” songs (Sung Joon singing) and a couple fan made videos that get the mood right. Click and watch below. Enjoy!
** No spoilers unless you count as a spoiler finding out that someone’s going to kiss a girl. Since it’s a K-drama, I figured you knew that part of the story already, though.