Every time I see articles about young Asian actors leaving behind their “flower boy” roles for more “manly” characters, I feel some kind of way. Such articles act like attractiveness and masculinity cannot go hand it hand. They might if their authors were watching what I watch.
The tantalizing goodness of Korean dramas don’t just come from romantic angst, historical intrigue and heart-stopping action. The emotional highs and lows would not mean as much without an Original Sound Track, also known as the Official Sound Track, or OST.
OSTs can come from any genre, and often features artists performing in styles that differ from their usual ones. OSTs can feature collaborations as well as solo performances by individuals in groups. They may feature vocals or exist solely as instrumentals.Everyone has their favorites, but here are a few examples to show how K-dramas make effective use of music in different ways.
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.
Most of us who watch Kdramas are used to their titles, but sometimes the titles of Kdramas do not do them justice. That’s when I start making up new titles that I feel are far more descriptive of what is actually going on.
Here are some examples:
God of War, or Delusional Women of Goryeo (He Doesn’t Want You)
This is a gripping tale (so far). You have serious themes like slavery and corruption. You follow the story of a monk torn from his contemplative life and thrust into a politically-motivated world as a slave. However, sometimes I get distracted by the women. Song Yi is a love-interest (in her own mind). Few who are watching this Kdrama like her. One viewer says she “should be strung up,” and another hopes “that she gets killed off.” Chun Shim is her servant, and she’s no better, shamelessly chasing after a man who has made it clear he’s “just not that into her.”
While they are separated by class, they both share the annoying trait of chasing men who show absolutely no interest in them whatsoever. The less attention the men show them, the more determined these women get. Veteran Kdrama watchers are used to the shenanigans of female characters, but neither of these women are sympathetic. You’re actually glad when the men go to the frontier.
Chuno, or Chosun-Era Parkour
I get it: they are slave catchers. This involves chasing and running. But has anyone else noticed the parkour-like acrobatics the leads engage in? In slow motion? It’s like: gotta go to the market to get some supplies. Watch me jump off this wall! In slow motion. And do this flip. It’s an innovative way to show how even slave-catching is work and hard labor.
Kingdom of the Winds, or Jumong Jr.
I really think that the makers of Jumong just weren’t done, even with 81 episodes under their belt. Hey, I love a sequel too. For Kingdom of the Winds, they just picked up the members of the cast of Jumong and plopped them down a few decades later. Hey, who’d notice? These characters are apparently beloved by the audience.
I haven’t seen the mother of all historical Kdramas yet, but how surprised was I to find that Song Il Gook, who portrays Jumong, also plays his grandson in Kingdom of the Winds? I was completely convinced he was Jumong’s grandson. He hasn’t aged a day!
Don’t worry, you get the same political and palace intrigue to boot! Plus, there are lots of references to good ol’ Jumong. Once I finish with Kingdom of the Winds, I suppose I’ll have to watch Jumong to see how this all got started. What’s really funny is, no one ever tells Muhyul that he looks exactly like his grandfather!
Baker King Kim Tak Goo, or Evil, Down to the Bitter End
You know, I have a really strong moral compass. I think that if you do good things, good things will happen to you. However, if you are evil, you will reap what you sow. This applies so much more in the world of Kdramas. I mean, why else would you endure episode after episode, if not to see the villain get his or her just due? There are times when Ma Jun has me completely fooled. I begin to think that he is a real human being, with feelings. But then he just returns to his evil ways, again and again and again.
But he pales in comparison to his mother, Seo In Sook! She just can’t stop! She’s spend her life messing up the lives of others, all to assure her son a successful life. For a minute, I thought about calling this Kdrama No One is Interested in Your Flunky Son. She condones kidnapping, eviction, termination from employment, lying and I even think attempted murder at one point. Even when her relationships with her children and her husband are at stake, she just can’t help being evil!
Boys Over Flowers, or I Don’t Like That Chick
Oh Jan Di. She is the reason why this Kdrama is called Boys Over Flowers. She starts off very plucky. You like her. You even try to give her the benefit of the doubt when two really attractive guys begin to show interest in her. Oh the dilemma! She also seems to be a good influence on those bratty, rich boys. She stands her ground, defends her friends. And then something goes horribly, horribly wrong. She becomes as passive as a rock. She can’t make a decision to save her life. I find the dynamics among F4 far more compelling: they fight and make up and fight again. Jan Di just stands there and does nothing.
All my good feelings get transferred to her friend, Ga Eul! She’s in a similar situation as Jan Di: they work in the same noodle shop. They are both outsiders to the swanky world of F4. She’s not content to just wait around for these boys to get it together. When she falls for one of F4, she’s on a mission to get him. Or at least show that he’s not nearly as much of a player as he thinks he is.
City Hunter, or No Socks, No Shoes, No Service
Look, if you are going to be a vigilante/security expert, you gotta play the role. That means being athletic, having the right hair, the right clothes, the right shoes, and, apparently, no socks. That’s what Lee Min Ho is teaching me. Cool heroes fight for justice with no socks on. I haven’t figured out exactly how this contributes to his hero status. It surely doesn’t do anything for his aerodynamics as he’s jumping off of buildings. Perhaps this mystery is solved in the final five episodes, which I refuse to watch until I get some new Lee Min Ho on tap in the upcoming Kdrama, Faith.
So, as long as they keep making Kdramas, I’ll keep making up alternative titles. In my head.
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Clothes may seem like mere accessories to the romantic triangles and tensions in a Kdrama, but often they are characters in and of themselves. Some Kdramas use clothing to enhance the presentation of the characters and the story.
I don’t watch Kdramas for the realism. I don’t need them to reflect tendency for things not to turn out well, as is so often the case in real life. I’m not watching them for the reality factor. And yet, in what seems to be an effort to remind me that life isn’t fair, some Kdramas lure you in, only to sucker-punch you with an ending that you never asked for. And yet, I keep coming back.
Oh my! I think this episode does a lot for character development and interaction.
So, I love the interplay between Jun Pyo and Jan Di (I’m not totally against her….yet…she still has her moments). You can tell that when he calls her a punk and a gangster that it is done from a place of LOVE. He’s so cheeky, that Jun Pyo. He was completely enjoying getting his life saved! Jan Di has a positive effect on him, he smiles much more, even if he still hasn’t gotten down the correct way to share his feelings of affection. Did you see how tickled he was when he put the ducks in the swimming pool? I thought he was going to fall out of his chair from cackling so much. He clearly cares about her, but he also relates to her in a completely different way than Ji Hoo. He’s kinda real with his. He insults her, and she gives it right back to him. For some reason, I enjoy this back and forth. Whereas Jan Di’s interaction with Ji Hoo is weird (girl, get off your knees! you could have totally bandaged his finger standing up!)
Ji Hoo and his emotional state, now that’s a different story. I know you think I’m always on Ji Hoo’s side because of his fabulous wardrobe choices, but this time I think that while Ji Hoo is a man responsible for his own choices, I wonder if his association with Min isn’t entirely healthy. I know we briefly mentioned this last time, but I’m with Ji Hoo, “Exactly who are you to him?” Are you the motherly figure, are you a potential girlfriend? Have you been playing Ji Hoo all these years, feeding your own narcissism to have an incredibly rich and attractive man at your beck and call? Min can’t be all, I’m a little jealous of Jan Di, but then continue to STRING JI HOO ALONG!!!! Ji Hoo is a MAN, with MAN feelings, you gotta treat him like a man. So her own kind of vagueness doesn’t help. Is she dumping Ji Hoo on Jan Di? Is she now supposed to fulfill this mother/girlfriend freaky role for him? I’m not really buying that Min is all that torn up about leaving Ji Hoo. C’mon! You know how emotionally fragile that man is!
This is also the episode where I get more interested in the interplay among the boys. Jun Pyo clearly knows that Ji Hoo has a thing for Jan Di, even if Ji Ho doesn’t, so he’s taking every opportunity to throw his ‘relationship’ in his face. Look, I’ve got my arm around Jan Di! Look, Jan Di’s in my room! Yet, they all rush over when there is an emergency, and that emergency is JUN PYO’S WITCH OF A MOTHER!!! You need to prepare yourself, there is a reason why they are all afraid of her. You know it’s bad when Yi Jung can barely pull of his charming wiles. SHE. IS. BAD. Although it tickles me that Jun Pyo refers to her as “the hag,” you notice he doesn’t do it to her face. She is a piece of work. Even when things are rocky, they rally to each other’s side, and this is why the Boys become more interesting to me than Jan Di.
I also find the class dynamics getting more pronounced: Jan Di is a dry cleaner’s daughter with a ‘commoner’s pride.’ They talk about her like she’s an alien. And yet Jun Pyo is cool with crossing that class barrier. Interesting. I wonder if Jan Di’s inability to be feminine is supposed to be yet another marker of her class origins. Do you notice just how uncomfortable she is when they dress her up (and yes, I realize that it is problematic that she is getting dressed, Pygmalion-style, by these boys who try to transform her)? You would think Jan Di never wore a dress in her entire life. What, working-class girls have no femininity? In her drunken state, we do get some insight into her low self-esteem. She really doesn’t think she is smart, pretty or has any redeeming qualities whatsoever. But I also think that she can be stubborn when it comes to her pride.
Jun Pyo, working on getting into Jan Di’s heart. Did you notice how closely she held those goggles? She just doesn’t know it yet….the problem is, even when she knows it, she will act the same way!
SUCH a good episode! I noticed that they played SHINee’s musical contribution to the soundtrack a lot during this one (which I thoroughly approve of!), so much so that I may have to go and get it. “Whether I’m making you smile…”
Alright, let’s get to business. There’s a LOT in this episode that I liked, and believe it or not I think that this was a very “good” episode for Jun Pyo! Here’s why: the first thing that needs to be addressed is the issue of whether or not he told the “Locker Room Punks” to rape Jan Di, because that’s definitely what they were going for. To me, and my interpretation of his reprimand to them, he did NOT tell them to rape her specifically, but he absolutely wanted them to scare her very, very badly. Um, so since I’ve called them the Locker Room Punks….which locker room are they in, exactly? If it’s a women’s locker room, then what the heck is Ji Hoo doing in there? If it’s a men’s locker room, what’s Jan Di doing there? And I definitely don’t think that “co-ed” locker rooms exist in this high school (or any high school, for that matter).
Second thing to address is Jan Di’s Super Totally Awesome Roundhouse Kick TO THE FACE! Yes, I LOVED this part, both because it’s a definite wake-up call to Jun Pyo but it also means that Jan Di has some fire in her blood! I love that she PHYSICALLY fought back this time! Of course, this is in the beginning stages with the whole discourse of Jun Pyo thinking that, since women say the opposite of what they mean, she is totally in love with him. What that means, in Jun Pyo-speak, is that he’s finally realized that he likes her in some way, shape, or form, but since he can’t consciously realize this he’s letting his “affections” out in other ways. Like kidnapping her and dressing her up. Honestly, that’d really freak me out, too, as soon as I was awake from my chloroform-sleep I’d be running, fancy house be damned!
At first, I was unsure about the “bee attack” that followed Jan Di leaving his house, but I think I have it figured out: I think that little scene is showing what his actions and speech are like after he’s been embarrassed – he both hides his embarrassment behind arrogance and takes it out on the people around him who have “embarrassed” him. I think this is supposed to explain his more violent tendencies, and it’s echoed by Min (I can’t remember the rest of her name!!) at the end of this episode when she says it’s also because he’s lonely. Moving on, another moment of his that I loved was just before the bee attack, when he’s upset and throwing the clothes and shoes on the ground. As Almighty Key has shown us in SHINee’s Hello Baby, bribing people for love with gifts does. not. work. But Jun Pyo is SO UPSET that it didn’t work, that he decides to take his anger out on Jan Di’s shoes. It’s such a beautiful, awkward love moment – you show that shirt who’s boss! The last moment that really caught me for him was his attempt to comfort Jan Di after she gets smacked in the face with the volleyball. Really, I loved that entire scene, but specifically when he says “Don’t cry, it doesn’t suit you.” He LIKES her fiery attitude! He wants her to keep being feisty and spirited! Then she says “I would rather die in blood than be indebted to you” and the look on his face just about killed me. That’s really all I could hear in my thoughts during that moment: “Awwww, BUT LOOK AT THAT FACE! Jan Di, why are you so mean?!” I know why she’s so “mean” at this point, but, as you can tell, Jun Pyo is my man in this show.
Which brings us to Ji Hoo. Of course Ji Hoo would ride around on a cool motorbike and give Jan Di his HUMONGOUS sports shoes to wear, which she would then thoroughly scrub down. Of course. Um, remember back in episode 1 how I was saying that I couldn’t forget what Ji Hoo is like in the manga? I would like to quote, since it happens in this episode, emphasis added: “THEN HE RETREATED INTO AUTISM.” Yes, Ji Hoo is autistic. Or, since he’s so high functioning, has Asperger’s Sydrome. Which I think he still exhibits. Which is why he drives me CRAZY. But apparently he went even deeper into a more extreme autism when his parents died, and somehow Min was able to pull him out of it. Which I don’t think works, because autism definitely is NOT temporary, but then again who’s really taking the time to look into the medical details of Ji Hoo’s past? “She’s his first love, girlfriend, and mother.” Weird.
The last thing I’ll put on here is my Random Question/Observation of the Day: Why……..why is there a mirror directly beneath the showerhead while Jun Pyo is taking a shower after Rugby Practice (a.k.a. Anger Releasing Time)? It’s so weird, I think that’s the third time I’ve seen some show have a mirror in the shower, underneath the showerhead. Is this common in East Asia? Note that I’m totally not mad that it showed him showering. I can appreciate that.
Okay CeeFu, how’s that for my first official post?
You know, some things never get old. Like pimptastic, overindulged Korean privileged boys entering their high school backlight with a halo of light, as they stroll in in suits and ascots. Oh, yeah, I guess I should say something about Jan Di first.
Yes, she’s plucky (kinda), I know as the audience we are supposed to side with her and her “positive” attitude. But her habit of being ambivalent isn’t attractive. F4 treats her badly, like they treat everyone badly in the beginning, but somehow that doesn’t make me like her more. She’s all for the underdog, but do you see the way she screams at her parents? You know THAT ain’t going down in the average Korean household.
One thing I forgot is that Jan Di also declares war on F4, this is after she finds out they are affluent, and before the real abuse from Jun Pyo really starts. She’s no innocent. And I also forgot how the rest of F4 laughs at Jun Pyo. I think they know he’s got issues, and secretly want Jan Di to beat him down. I also remember thinking, “Jan Di is too trusting of people she shouldn’t trust, and can’t bring herself to trust the people she should.” She calls herself a loner, and so this must explain her utter inability to deal with people in a sane way. Oops, I’m getting ahead of myself.
Nolan Nabi, what you got?
I know, I know, I talked about Boys Over Flowers before, but it warrants a revisit, and what better way to do it than with a friend! I have enlisted Nolan Nabi to rewatch the whole pimptastic kdrama again with me, and we will be discussing our thoughts on the good (the pretty boys), the bad (Jun Pyo’s psychotic mother) and the ugly (the completely unsympathetic Jan Di). Stay tuned!
Dedicated to my Kdrama Kousin, Emily!
Welcome to the inaugural post for the new category on High Yellow, the Kdrama Kafe! Spoilers ahead (like you haven’t seen it!)
Now, Boys Over Flowers is not my first kdrama, but I can see why it is much beloved. And like many, I like it for the Boys! But let’s dispense with the girls first. I can’t figure out if I’m not enamored with the actress who plays Jan Di, or Jan Di herself. She starts out great: fiesty, sassy, and violent. But as the series wears on, I can’t believe how passive-passive she gets. Even her sidekick-friend Ga Eul has more character growth than she does. But to her credit, she still wants to make her own way. She could be nicer to Gu Jun Pyo.
Speaking of the men…..I know that this is based on a Japanese manga, Hana Yori Dango, which spawned a Japanese drama and a Taiwanese drama, but the Koreans showed why they OWN the drama. Just for my own edification, I decided to watch the first episode of the other two, particularly the introduction of F4, to test a theory. In Hana Yori Dango, the female progatonist seems more anti-F4, but F4 themselves do not strike me as particularly enviable. In Meteor Shower, the Taiwanese version, the creators do a slightly better job of making you think these are privelged sons of industry (or in Woo Bin’s case, illegitimate industry). But the introduction of F4 in Boys Over Flowers convinced me that F4 was every bit as priveleged and snotty as they are supposed to be, at least in the beginning. They roll into school with that halo of light behind them with expressions that imply, “What?”
So why do I like them? Because whoever styled them deserves a medal, hence the theme of this post! These guys are dressed, I mean DRESSED. Who sports white suits, canes and fur to go to school? They are pimptastic! For real, it takes a special man to rock eyelet (yes, I’m talking to you Kim Bum!). Now, some may argue that I am objectifying these young men, not allow them to be fully realized human beings with thoughts and feelings. Hey, I’m all ears to hear whatever they got to say. Hit me up on the blog! 🙂
But I think there is another way to read this. Way back in the day, intentional clothes mattered. They were emblems of personal style and expression. When people dressed for dinner. You know you’ve caught yourself watching some old movie from Hollywood’s glamour period. I can remember my mom talking about how they looked forward to dressing up on the weekend to go dancing (not even trying to put my mom in Hollywood’s golden age; she would kill me for putting her age on blast on the internet). You don’t even have to go back that far. F4 reminds me of the New Romantics of the 80s. Clothes may not give us world peace, but there is a tradition of intentional dressing, significant to communities the world over. It means something. And that’s what I like about the Boys in Boys Over Flowers. THEY’RE SO PRETTY! And I say that with much love and affection!
So to close out the post in an appropriate manner, here’s a little video! Gentlemen of the world, remember, women love a well dressed man! Shout out to SS501, who make that sneaky cameo in Boys Over Flowers! Oh, and one question: where does one find a Lincoln Continental in Korea?