“Boys Over Flowers” (꽃보다 남자)

By Jae-Ha Kim
jaehakim.com
May 8, 2017

Gu Jun-Pyo (played by Lee Min-Ho)
Geum Jan-Di (played by Ku Hye-Sun)
Yoon Ji-Hoo (played by Kim Hyun-Joong )

I had a difficult time reconciling myself with the fact that I enjoyed “Boys Over Flowers,” while being disgusted that the showrunners never addressed how cruel the main characters were to kids outside of their circle.

The series starts off with a high school student being beaten and terrorized by his rich classmates, because he has been targeted by the F4 — the most powerful and popular boys on campus. As he is about to commit suicide, Jan-Di — who is there making a dry cleaning delivery — saves his life.

In order to drum up some good publicity for the school, the administrators offer her free tuition to the elite academy. In a show of extreme stinginess, the school doesn’t offer her other things that students there will need, such as an expensive uniform that her parents can’t afford and access to the school’s fancy lunches. Instead, she brings meals from home, which only draws more attention to her lack of wealth.

This is about as far as I got when I tried to watch the series last year. It just made me too angry to keep going. But, after friends convinced me otherwise, I binge-watched the series recently.

The drama often gives you the feels and is really good at manipulating your feelings. You will feel sorry for the boys, who each faced challenges early on in their lives. But then you remember that this sadistic quartet had no qualms targeting poor, unpopular students and driving them out of the school. Nice.

No amount of platitudes about how they had to overcome so much in their own childhoods makes up for the fact that this group of handsome, pampered young men seem to enjoy making other people’s lives miserable.

Are we to forgive them, simply because they welcome poor little Jan-Di into their fold?

Early on, Jun-Pyo terrorizes Jan-Di, because she won’t kowtow to him. He orders his minions to attack her in the girls locker in an unsettling sequence that gets awfully close to rape. She appears helpless and is rescued by Ji-Hoo. But then just a few minutes later, she is doing a turning roundhouse kick to Jun-Pyo’s face, knocking him down.

So which is it? Can she defend herself or is she helpless?

This was the same problem showcased in “Cinderella and the Four Knights,” where a martial arts expert can beat up a group of grown men, but she can’t defend herself from high school Mean Girls who slap her around. Jan-Di can knock a man out with her flying back spin, but cowers when confronted by her high school classmates (and later, two pervy photographers). And another female character, who is supposedly a black belt in taekwondo, will have no problem disarming a thief threatening her with a knife — but she won’t be able to get away from Jun-Pyo’s Korean Arm Grab.

When poor little rich boy, Jun-Pyo, gets it into his curly-haired head that Jan-Di must secretly like him, he has his bodyguards kidnap her and knock her out with chloroform. HE DRUGS HER! When she comes to, she is being waxed, made up, getting extensions applied to her hair and is dolled up in a dress and heels… and then is brought to see Jun-Pyo again. What. The. Actual. Hell?! She’s irritated by him, but doesn’t think that being kidnapped is worth reporting to the police.

When she later meets a brilliant attorney who’s also a top fashion model — whatever — the latter tells her that Jun-Pyo’s parents aren’t involved in his life and that he bullies for attention. She says this in a sympathetic way. Like that’s supposed to make it OK that he does all the horrendous things that he does.

Jan-Di’s parents aren’t too concerned, either. She’s supposed to be about 16 years old. But her parents are so delighted that a rich family’s son like her — and that he buys them expensive gifts — that they are more than happy to let him do anything he wants with her, including jetting her away to New Caledonia without any adult supervision.

Despite all of these flaws, I found myself hooked. The writers do a damned good job of making this series engaging and almost making you forget that the boys did some shitty things. I would’ve preferred if the characters showed remorse and made restitution to the children whose lives they made miserable.

Airdates:

The 25-episode series aired from January 5 to March 31, 2009 on KBS2.

Heirs:

Four years later, Lee Min-Ho would go on to star as Kim Tan in “Heirs,” which also followed a group of rich students who bullied and beat their poor classmates. His role was much more sympathetic. I’m not sure if this was a nod to his role in “Boys Over Flowers,” but Tan worriedly asked almost every person he met, “Did I bully you in school?”

Scandal:

Jang Ja-yeon, who played one of the Mean Girls, committed suicide shortly after the series aired. She left a suicide note that detailed all the prominent men who had abused her sexually and physically throughout her career.

Spoilers:

Jun-Pyo’s mother was a horrible parent. She appears to have little issue with a F4 member’s family having ties to the mob — probably because they are filthy rich. But, she does all that she can to destroy Jan-Di’s life, because her parents are poor. So what better recourse than to literally take away their livelihood? Grrrrr. But, for all intents and purposes, she is a good businesswoman. It was disappointing to see that when her husband recovered and presumably went back to work, she was relegated back to being a housewife — a role she never wanted.

@2017 Jae-Ha Kim | All Rights Reserved

Comments (11)

  1. Steven says:

    This is my girlfriend’s alltime favorite Korean series. I’m going to forward her this article to get her thoughts.

  2. Cindy says:

    Sorry not sorry but I loved Boys Over Flowers. If you think too much about any series you won’t enjoy it. That’s just my opinion.

    • Alice says:

      I don’t think that asking for consistency in a drama is too much to ask for. Also I don’t think that viewers should be expected to just let things go for entertainment sake.

  3. Lee Jongsuk says:

    I wonder how the series would have been interpreted if they used average looking actors who behaved as horribly as these guys did. I don’t think the audience would be as forgiving then.

  4. Alice says:

    I had the same problems with this drama as you, Jae. I saw this when it first came out in Korea and watched it weekly and didn’t notice the social implications as much. But when I recently watched it one episode after another in just a few sittings, it just didn’t feel right.

  5. Kim Hyewon says:

    Bullying is a huge problem in Korea, as it is in the United States. I think the drama did a good job of showing how the poor are bullied by the rich. Koreans are sick of the special treatment that the rich get. I am sure it is not dissimilar to how the poor in the U.S. feel.

  6. Ester Matwell says:

    I sometimes wonder if the writers forget the characters’ backstories. Why would they have a girl be proficient at martial arts and then suddenly she forgets how to defend herself. That said, I don’t blame any girl for not fighting back when attacked if that’s what she thinks will save her from a difficult situation. But like you pointed out, there is no reason she can’t fight back against two sleazy photographers who look pretty weak.

  7. Jennifer says:

    I loved that show (Boys over Flowers), although I never got to finish it 🙁

  8. Kathy Hewett Tsudama says:

    True-the leading female character had to show them it wasn’t okay to bully since they obviously missed getting this type of guidance at home due to entitlement. It seems to me that some of the newer drama writers are addressing more relevant social issues lately (Five Enough). I can’t believe this drama is already eight years old!

  9. Lena Galstad says:

    I LOVE THE SHOW SO MUCH!!!😍😍

  10. Anna Tzanova says:

    Despite its flaws it is a classic that made many fall in love with the genre, including myself, since this was the first Korean drama I watched ☺️ Present day series have evolved tremendously in themes, plot and character development, camera work, acting. Still, as a first love, it will always have a place in my heart ❤️

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