July 18, 2013
What You Should Be Watching: Boys Over Flowers
I wish I had a better explanation for the Boys Over Flowers thing. A friend mentioned it to me last June while we were walking around New York: there's this weird Korean soap opera I've been watching that I think you might like. She talked about the characters and their antics about how ridiculous and over-the-top it was and I smiled politely and said I would watch it without any intention of doing any such thing. But then, as these things happen: a month or or so later when I was hungover and lazing around, trying to figure out what I could watch without overtaxing my brain, I remembered her enthusiasm and thought I might give it a try. (The show is available in its entirety on Netflix.) I spent the rest of the week evangelizing about it with what I now recognize was a slightly insane fervor. I'd go out to dinner or meet someone for coffee and they'd ask me how I was and I would smile very widely and say "I'm great! Have you ever heard of Boys Over Flowers?"
There's something about this show. I mean, the number of versions of the story that exist attest to its weird enchanting power: Boys Over Flowers was originally a Japanese manga, and has since been adapted into various movies and television series in Japan, China, Taiwan and South Korea. The Korean version is the most famous one; it's the one I watched, and I think it's justifiably known. It's just... I don't know, man, it's just great.
It's ostensibly the story of a lower class girl named Guem Jan-di, the daughter of a dry cleaner, who, through a series of mishaps, ends up a student at Seoul's most exclusive private school. There she catches the eyes and the ire of a group of popular boys who call themselves F4, the sons and heirs of the most important corporations in the country. It's a lot of fantasy wish fulfillment-- and a lot of montage makeover scenes-- replete with lavish vacations and luxurious parties. There are dramaticly evil villains and a lot of really intense emotions. It's definitely cartoony-- you can see its roots as manga all over the place.
What saves it from being cheesy is that it's just so weird. And weird without trying, I think, surreal because it cares so much more about creating story and heightening dramatic tension than it does about any kind of realism or believeability. There's no point (and, more importantly no fun) in trying to watch the show on any terms but its own: it demands that you just believe in it, full stop. It's fantasy without being fantasy, a world almost like our own and then not just, not quite. One of the boys of F4 helps Jan-di's best friend get revenge on a nasty ex by playing a song on the saxaphone for her. At a dance club. He's the only one of the boys who's not an heir; he's rich and famous because he makes beautiful pottery, pottery so good, apparently, that it makes women swoon. The show is earnest in its outrageousness. It plays its surrealism incredibly straight. There's none of the self-consciousness or snark that American shows sometimes try to leverage into lighter fare-- Boys Over Flowers makes no apologies for what it is and what it's doing. I love it for that. Perhaps, um, unsurprisingly, given my taste for the genre.