Heirs is a worthy successor to Boys Over Flowers as the ultimate “rich kid” Kdrama. It takes the theme of romance across class lines from Boys Over Flowers to whole new levels.
It’s (Still) a Chaebol World!
Heirs shares the context of the chaebol world with Boys Over Flowers. Both are stories about romance that crosses class lines within Korean society. It’s not just that Jun Pyo and Kim Tan‘s families are wealthy; they are wealthy Koreans. Korean business and family dynamics drives so much of these Kdramas. It’s the reason why Jun Pyo can only defy his mother so much, and why Kim Tan can only give his father so much sass.
It’s even more so the case in Heirs because it affects so many of the relationships. The tension between Kim Tan and Kim Won coms from the way their father introduced Kim Tan into their household. The loathing that Jung Ji Sook has for Han Ki Ae, Kim Tan’s mom, is directly related to their position within the chaebol family. Ji Sook knows that Ki Ae’s position is precarious because she is not an official member of the family. For most of the Kdrama, people don’t even know she is Kim Tan’s mom.
Like Boys Over Flowers, Heirs does a good job of flaunting the wealth of the chaebol family and showing class disparities. There’s no school bus for these kids! Kim Tan goes to school in a car driven by a chauffeur. He lives is a house so big that you could not see other people who also live in the house for days. Despite the size of the house, Eun Sang and her mom are reduced to living in a room that charitably could be called a closet. Their circumstances are even more dire because of Park Hee Nam‘s disability. Wardrobe also plays a large role. Kim Tan’s “fabulous” sweaters aside, we know the upper class are the upper class because of what they wear. Heirs is even more global with the “exotic locations.” While the guys in Boys Over Flowers play in Venetian Macau, Kim Tan stays in the Hollywood hills in huge house with a pool overlooking Los Angeles
Heirs extends the upper-class snarkiness we find in Boys Over Flowers. While Boys Over Flowers focuses on the antics of Jan Di and F4 in a school setting, Heirs gives us a tour of class arrogance. Because the characters are aware of their class position all the time, we get to see its impact. The kids each have their own issues and insecurities. As a viewer, you despise their behavior but also see the pressures that cause that behavior. Rachel’s obsession with Kim Tan is probably related to how her mother treated her father (and herself as an object to be used in business negotiations). Young Do‘s bad treatment of others comes from the loss of his mother. Being the heir to a hotel conglomerate and having everything does nothing for that sense of loss. Ye Sol can be one of the mean girls, but worries (rightly so) about her reputation, as she is the daughter of a hostess. Lee Hyo Shin cannot convince his parents, even with a suicide attempt, to let him opt out of being a lawyer.
In Boys Over Flowers, we rarely venture beyond the world of Jan Di and F4. Kim Bum‘s errant father makes rare appearances, Ji Hoo is an effective orphan (despite his grandfather) and who knows what’s going on with Woo Bin‘s family. In Heirs, the adults are key to the class dysfunction experienced by their children. The relationships in Kim Tan’s house, the dynamic between Rachel and her mother and the dynamics between Secretary Yoon and Rachel’s mother, shows that the snotty apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. With more characters and more characters whose stories intersect, we get a deeper view of the upper class. It’s not one we want to join.
The relationships between guys is central to both Boys Over Flowers and Heirs. The tension between Jun Pyo and Ji Hoo drives the plot of Boys Over Flowers. They may compete with each other and get angry at each other, but in the end, they rely on their friendship. You also care about the dynamic between the other members of F4, like Yi Jung and Woo Bin, which deserved more attention. Remember who got Woo Bin to stop walking on the edge of that bridge!
Heirs complicates this male camaraderie. On one hand, the blood-related brothers, Kim Tan and Kim Won, have a cold relationship. Kim Tan constantly expresses his affection for his brother, while Kim Won gives him the cold shoulder. Kim Tan is the emotional brother who takes courage to defy their father, while Kim Won gives up on his happiness. As the Kdrama goes on, you want them to reconcile. You want Kim Won to give Kim Tan just a little bit of recognition, and he routinely just keeps you hanging.
On the other hand, the hyungs, Kim Tan and Young Do, have a complex, love-hate relationship. They do real harm to each other, but they also help each other out when the chips are down. It’s really interesting the way that they do not reconcile either. Kim Tan notes in the final episode that they were not strangers, but they also were not man enough to reconcile.
At the center of both Boys Over Flowers and Heirs is the relationship between the “rich guy” and the “poor girl.” Jun Pyo has a long way to go to learn how to treat Jan Di properly, but he eventually gets there. However, for reasons that aren’t exactly clear, Jan Di becomes less likeable as part of that couple. She loses all of her spunkiness and becomes a shadow of her former self. She doesn’t participate in the relationship, and doesn’t grow as a character. This is in contrast to her side kick Ga Eul, who becomes more interesting because she is willing to pursue her dreams and take chances.
The relationship between Kim Tan and Eun Sang has a different dynamic. It’s Kim Tan who has to overcome his background and a grouchy and vindictive father to have a relationship with Eun Sang. When he leaves the United States, his mind is set. We don’t have to endure a process where he has to decide to like Eun Sang. For her part, Eun Sang has more important things to worry about than Kim Tan, and she is understandably wary of his attention. But I like how she navigates Kim Tan’s attention, Young Do’s “attention,” the mean girl dynamics at school and the dysfunctional Kim family antics at home. She doesn’t always win. She endures some nasty behavior. She sometimes takes too long to appreciate what Kim Tan is doing for her, but she does an impressive job of standing up to the mean kids at school. Her relationship with her mother is a great addition to her backstory. When both Kim Tan and Eun Sang end up on the apartment floor crying, you feel for both of them. You are rooting for both of them.
In many ways, Heirs is Boys Over Flowers 2.0, taking the themes of class-defying romance and building on them.