Updated: Feb 26, 2020
You'll never be the same
Over the last couple years, we’ve been experiencing the Korean Wave in the States. From skincare to pop music, the intricacy of Korean culture has really shined. With this wave, a long list of K dramas has been added to different streaming services, specifically Netflix, which I believe has the most to choose from.
K dramas come in the form of a miniseries, running for about 24 hour-long episodes, with some historical ones running over 50 episodes. Depictions are typically idealistic and plots are almost always extremely palatable for women of all ages. It’s important to remember that each show is one very long season. I didn’t know this coming into the genre, and I was very depressed at the end when I realized the show had ended. It took me weeks to get past the shock.
I made the mistake of starting with one of the most successful K dramas, “Boys Over Flowers”. This was a mistake because I fell so in love with the show that I haven’t been able to watch another K drama since, out of fear that it won’t match up.
“Boys Over Flowers” opens with a news special featuring Shinhwa, a corporation that essentially owns everything in South Korea. The special hilariously comments that while some people may not know the President’s name, everyone know’s Shinhwa, which even has a prestigious academy in its name, an academy for the “chosen sons and daughters of God.”
F4 (Flower Four) are the sons of the four biggest business moguls in Korea, with Gu Jun-pyo being the leader because he is the wealthiest, as he is the heir to the Shinhwa throne.
F4 rules the school. Whatever they say goes. If they don’t like you, they label your locker with a red slip, which means you are now fair game for being bullied by the entire school. Viewers first meet a boy who is being bullied because of the infamous F4 red slip, and we watch as he runs to the school’s roof in an attempt to commit suicide.
The portrayal is light, but audiences still feel a twinge in their hearts as we watch a bloody-faced kid try to end his life out of pure desperation, but Jan-Di, the protagonist and female lead, swoops in like Wonder Woman to save the day. She shows no concern towards F4, as she doesn’t even know who they are, nor does she care, and she catches the boy as he is about to jump, saving him from the deadly fall.
Jan-Di’s heroism makes headlines, but so does the academy’s problem with bullying. Protests ensue, so in order to fix their public image, Shinhwa offers Jan-Di admission to the academy for free. At first, she doesn’t want to go. Jan-Di is steadfast and headstrong, but her mom reminds her of how much she loves swimming and how this fancy school has a huge, beautiful pool where she can swim every day.
And with that, she enrolls in Shinhwa Academy...
On her first day, she arrives in her dad’s Jan-Di Dry Cleaners bus, immediately attracting laughs and jeers from her ultra-wealthy peers. While finding her way through the school, she stumbles upon a beautiful boy playing the violin as the sun shines perfectly over his face in a dreamy sequence, bringing us the beginning of the love story that all viewers want from a rom-com.
The F4 make a ridiculously over-the-top entrance into the school’s main hall and we see Jan-Di’s dream boy is a member. The sun is always shining perfectly over his face, almost giving the illusion that the sun rises and sets around him.
Gu Jun-pyo is a bully and after he bullies a kid and pours juice over his shirt, Jan Di yells out that everyone is crazy for letting them get away with this. Three girls who can only be described as “the ugly step sisters”, reminding me of Blair Waldorf’s minions, the classic group of popular followers, are shocked to see that she doesn’t know who the F4 is. They tell her she has a lot to learn but they are so disgusted with her lack of wealth that they choose to make fun of her rather than befriend her. Girls like this were the bane of my existence growing up, so I thoroughly enjoyed watching Jan-Di fight back with her unwavering confidence and courage.
Jan-Di is spunky and doesn’t get intimidated or easily swayed by what’s popular. She seems completely unfazed by what the “cool kids” think of her, and she also has zero problem standing up to them. Jan Di gets made fun of when she is seen bringing her own lunch, much to the disgust of the mean girl Trio who pay $50/meal for their school lunch. Jan Di also has terrible table manners, which doesn’t help her case at all.
She loses her cool and screams over the top of a building where Ji Hoo turns out to be resting. He’s always coming out of the shadows, adding to his mystery and unattainable air.
She goes to work at a porridge joint where her loyal friend, Kim So-eun, also works. We find out that Jan Di has protected her from bullies since kindergarten, and we learn that she has always gone against the grain.
Girls always scream when F4 walks in and crowds gather as they make their entrance, much to Jan Di’s dismay. She despises Gu Jun-pyo’s treatment of others, but it isn’t until he is nasty to her only school friend, asking her to lick the ice cream that she dropped on his shoe, that she confronts him. When he tells Jan Di to lick his shoe in place of her friend, she throws her ice cream in his face and sticks a Jan Di Cleaners sticker on his forehead, telling him to bring it to their shop if the stain doesn’t come out.
Now is when the real adventure begins...
Jan Di’s locker is marked with the F4 red slip. She starts getting terrorized at school. Nasty notes are written on her books and desk, eggs and flour are thrown at her, and all of this humiliation is recorded for social media. To make matters worse, the friend who she defended abandons her in her time of need.
Jan Di has a moment with Ji-Hoo where he helps clean her up. He’s still a bit rude, but we see that the bully has a heart, and we soon learn that he is pining over a love that he lost. Her horrible day ends with a stuffed animal and new clothes from her friend who apologizes for being a coward. Through the bad, Jan Di always finds hope and courage to carry on.
Jan Di loves to eat but her mom urges her to diet because she has a plain face and she’ll need a killer body to attract the rich boys at school. While this sounds hurtful, it’s easy for viewers to empathize with the mom, as she wishes for more for her daughter than a life of poverty.
The pool, her only solace, is trashed. One day, while leaving a pool session, Jan Di is jumped by three boys. She is about to be attacked when Ji-Hoo saves her. Jan Di takes it all in stride, but she finally reaches her limit when Gu Jun-pyo spreads a rumor that she is pregnant. Angered by his threat against her dignity, she kicks him in the face, telling him she won’t back down and that his days of bullying are over. The rest of the F4 is amused by her spunk, and although he won’t admit it, Gu Jun-pyo is a bit smitten.
The season is very long and the story takes many twists and turns along the way. By the end of the series, you feel like you have lived a decade in the lives of these characters. My favorite character is most definitely Min Seo Hyun. She is gorgeous, brilliant, and I love her style and her kindness.
One night, Jan Di is invited to a ball, and she comes dressed up as Wonder Woman, thinking it is a costume party. When the mean girls rip her coat off and laugh as she falls to the ground with food all over her outfit, Min comes to her aid, along with Ji Hoo. This is a big deal because Min Seo Hyun is a nationally recognized model who is considering attending law school, so these mean girls don’t hold a candle to her. She tells them,
“I know why you are like this.
But you’ve proven that not this girl,
but all of you are the ones who are as low as the ground.”
In pure Jane Austen fashion, the beautiful character with integrity proves that class comes from within. I felt most connected with Min Seo Hyun. She worked as a successful model who also studied law and was torn between two very different careers. I, too attended law school before I decided to devote myself completely to writing, and I, too work as a full-time model. Writing is my passion, one that I hope can turn into a full-time career, but modeling is how I make my living. I’ve been very fortunate that my success in the industry has been large enough to make it my career, but I strongly relate to Min Seo Hyun’s struggles as she juggles between what she is passionate about and what earns her the most money. Through it all, she remains just as kind as she is magnetic, solidifying herself as my favorite character in the series.
What I love most about “Boys Over Flowers” is how the show doesn’t tear down any of the characters, but rather, gives viewers more layers to understand them. When Min Seo Hyun is helping Jan-Di get dressed up for the ball, she tells her that Gu Jun-pyo is “hiding his loneliness through bullying others.” Similarly, while at first glance we see Ji Hoo as a boy who lazily sleeps all the time, eventually we learn that he tends to slip into bouts of depression, which explains his constant exhaustion. The show has a beautiful way of touching on life’s challenges with dignity.
As what typically defines many K dramas, the show is full of ethereal scenes full of snow, sunshine, echoes, and dreamy filters. A love triangle forms between Jan Di, Ji Hoo, and Gu Jun-pyo, but the way the show depicts each love story is truly romantic. Although at times it can be cheesy, there’s always a sense of mystery that keeps each love story from feeling overdone. You find yourself rooting for “your couple” for the entire series.
I found pure joy from watching Gu Jun-pyo’s mood change the closer he got to Jan-Di. I loved watching Jan-Di war with Gu Jun-pyo’s mom, the powerful, intimidating matriarch who oozes confidence just as much as she oozes beauty.
Decadent balls, elaborate feasts, and luxurious vacations serve as a delightful backdrop for a plot that goes through class war, beauty standards, family feuds, and friendships that grow stronger with time. The show’s depth is hypnotizing, and what stands out the most is that its protagonist, Jan-Di, makes it as far as her dreams will take her by being exactly who she is.
I have provided you with the gist of the series, but you have to watch it in its entirety to understand. You will find yourself engrossed by its soul, and just as you tell yourself the show is starting to get a bit slow, a spark, a moment, a flip of a character fading into K pop pulls you in for “just one more episode.”