Boys Over Flowers

Overall Rating: A (can you possibly give this classic a different grade?)
Subtitles: I watched this on Netflix and I had no problem with the subtitles, but this was before I really got into watching things on Viki and discovered Viki’s more accurate and helpful subtitles so I can’t speak to the comparison in this case. I can say any English speaker could watch and follow easily on Netflix.
Brief Synopsis: Spunky poor girl gets into a rich high school and is targeted by the school’s playboy jerk posse but the leader ends up falling for her. Queue shenanigans, kidnappings, forced engagements, and all the other delights of daytime soap operas brought to you in wonderful K Drama format. Watch on Viki here or on Netflix here.

**Full show spoilers below the image. If you do not wish to be spoiled, do not proceed**

Ending Type: Don’t worry friends, you get your warm and fuzzies.
Characters: There are so many characters, good and bad, in the twenty four (twenty five?) episodes of this masterpiece (I use this term both ironically and seriously), that I cannot possibly talk about them all here. So I’ll stick to the main five, throw in our main crc’s bff for kicks and giggles, and mention our Big Bad.
At the helm of this ship is Guem Jan Di (Ku Hye Sun), a plucky high school girl who is the daughter of a poor household and ends up at a school for Korea’s elite due to a series of unusual circumstances. She catches the attention of the school’s lead gang, F4, by defying them and eventually becomes the object of their leader’s obsession due to her refusal to back down. She’s a wonderfully spunky character but is terribly inconsistent since, if she were spunky at all times, she would not need to be constantly saved by the members of F4 and her role as a damsel in distress is super key to this narrative. You really have to go with it because if you want to be critical of a show and of gender roles in TV you will hate this show, and I don’t want you to hate this show. This is a classic and a deeply enjoyable foray into dramatic crack and one must accept it for what it is in order to love it the way it deserves to be loved.
Jan Di’s foil and main love interest is Gu Jun Pyo (Lee Min Ho), an obscenely wealthy brat with a bad attitude and no real world experience who is The Worst but will absolutely steal your heart and make you feel all the things. This role propelled Lee Min Ho to superstardom for a reason–you will never in your life see a character that is such a selfish jerk that also has such depth of character that you can feel everything he feels and you want him to have everything in the world he could ever want. Mostly and especially Jan Di.
Jan Di’s secondary love interest, and the most classic example of “second male lead” syndrome, is Yoon Ji Hoo (Kim Hyun Joong), the sensitive, often aloof member of F4 who is the first to be kind of Jan Di and is the character who consistently takes care of her and is there for her throughout the show. He’s so sweet and genuine that you have to love him, even when it seems like he’s constantly getting between Jan Di and Jun Pyo. (Even when it seems like he should because he sure is a better choice for a partner and potential husband BUT AIN’T NOBODY GONNA STOP JUN PYO FROM GETTING HIS WOMAN OK!)
Rounding out the F4 we have So Lee Jong (Kim Beom) and Song Woo Bin (Kim Jun), two playboys who have a lot of fun laughing at Gu Jun Pyo as he is thwarted by, then falls for, Jan Di, but who are also faithful and endlessly loyal to both their not-so-fearless leader as well as Jan Di. Lee Jong gets his own sub plot dealing with his messed up family and his own issues but Woo Bin pretty much exists to be there for his dudes and save the day when it needs saving and we love him for that.
In this rare K Drama Jan Di gets a best gal pal who is actually a character and staunchly there for her until the very end. Choo Ga Eul (Kim So Eun) is generally just a lovely human, a fantastic friend, and more than Lee Jong deserves. But happily this is a show that is all about happy endings so she gets her man in the end anyway.
Shoutout also to our big bad, Momma Kang (Lee Hye Young), who will go to any length to separate her precious son from the girl she has decided is absolutely not suitable for him. Ladies and Gentlemen we are talking kidnap, buying and demolishing buildings, destroying careers, faking her own husband’s death, and so much more. Momma Kang comes and comes hard in order to get her way and it’s dark af.
Relationships: Let’s start with F4 (F5?), the central relationship of the show. Ah, friendship. What is presented at first as a posse of four god-like rich boys who can’t be bothered to interact with mere humans picks up depth really quickly as you learn how their status has naturally ostracized them for their entire lives and it is only their relationship with each other that has kept them going. While figures like Momma Kang see their friendship as frivolous and disposable, these boys know they will be there for each other until the end and can always be counted on to come through for each other. Many of the strongest plot points of the show were the moments when the boys were at odds with each other (usually related to Jan Di and Ji Hoo daring to have feelings for each other) and how much of an issue that was for all of their lives. Making sure our boys were doing well with each other often felt more important than letting Jan Di and Jun Pyo finally be together (OK maybe not but… close). When Jan Di gets officially brought into the fold and F4 becomes basically the Jan Di protection squad it’s a beautiful thing.
Jan Di and Ji Hoo is a painful but sweet secondary romance. At first it seems like they will just be friends, as Jan Di helps Ji Hoo get together with his first love and Jan Di and Jun Pyo move towards a relationship. But just as things seem to be going well for Jun Pyo and Jan Di, Ji Hoo slides in to take advantage of Jan Di’s crush and cause ALL THE PROBLEMS by confessing his feelings and giving her a kiss that Jun Pyo naturally witnesses. From that point forward Ji Hoo is the kind and caring person who is there for Jan Di at all times and deeply in love with her but puts her happiness before anything else.
But look, Ji Hoo, you can be perfect all you want. You will never be Jun Pyo. Jun Pyo is the stereotypical problematic lead, like name a characteristic in a leading male that’s considered toxic and you’ve described Jun Pyo. But he is still the best ever and if you even try to argue with me you can fight me and you will lose. Jun Pyo is the best. The end. And his feelings for Jan Di, which he initially does not understand or know how to express, are straight on hysterical and adorable and so pure. All he wants is to be able to love her and for her to like him back and even if he goes about it in the worst way it’s the most endearing thing. Like look, Jun Pyo is our big, lovable jerk baby and the lengths that he goes to for his woman over the rather intense duration of the show are nothing to sniff at. This boy even overcomes his life-defining, deep seeded fear of water and learns to swim specifically so he can be there to protect her if she’s ever in danger near water. Come on, just try not to cry when that’s revealed. Honestly the interplay between Jun Pyo and Jan Di is amazing, and the growth of their relationship from a constant fight back and forth to a fight to try to be together to learning they each have their own path to follow and choosing to wait for the right moment to be with each other is just peak Feelings. It’s easy to laugh about how ridiculous this show is and how steeped in tropes it is and how it’s a guilty pleasure crack drama but the feelings you will get from the epic story of how Jun Pyo and Jan Di finally find a way to be with each other are no joke. So. Many. Feelings. And because of how much they put you through as a viewer of this whole saga, the payoff when they get their happy ending is, thus far, unmatched by any other show I’ve seen.
High Points: Literally the whole show. This is a classic and is considered a gateway drug to K Dramas for a reason.
Low Points: This was an early 2000s K Drama so it’s about the same quality as 90’s shows in the US. Don’t expect high production value.
Final comments: Just watch it and love it and allow yourself to love it. This show is a true delight with incredible emotional payoff. I’ve never seen a “Top 10” K Drama list that doesn’t include Boys Over Flowers because you can’t in good conscience make one. F4 (F5?) forever.

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