First Impressions: Flower Boy Ramyun Shop

Girls trying to achieve their dreams

should steer clear of cocky teenagers.

After several full reviews, it’s about time I checked out something new. Thanks to my sister’s insistence (say that three times fast) it turned out to be the first episode of a recent-ish Kdrama. And that Kdrama is called Flower Boy Ramyun Shop.

Eun Bi, trying her best to prove that geeky girls can have it all.

Yang Eun Bi is hard at work studying for final exams with the dream of becoming a high school teacher. She’s twenty-five, a go-getter, and believes she has everything together. She has a boyfriend in the army, and she knows that her life will be perfect once she becomes a respectable teacher like her roommate (who is already quite successful in both dating and employment). However, that boyfriend turns out to be less than faithful. Luckily Eun Bi has a tarot reading in which the fortune teller predicts that she will meet the one she is meant to be with this year, and when she does bells will ring. By sheer coincidence, Eun Bi has a run-in with handsome Cha Chi Soo in a public restroom just as bells ring.

Enter Chi Soo, aka Mr. Cool.

Chi Soo is arrogant and on the run from his rich father and the many guards sent to retrieve him. He’s just returning to Korea from New York, and his main goal is avoiding both his father as well as all responsibility. While trying to escape one day he hides in the ladies’ bathroom and meets Eun Bi. She thinks he’s a pervert until he almost kisses her, then smirks and walks away. After that incident Eun Bi keeps running into Chi Soo, and once she finds out her army boyfriend is worthless, her popular roommate gives her advice on how to date. Eun Bi tries this advice out on Chi Soo, but he laughs at her and joins his friends. At this point Eun Bi spies Chi Soo’s school uniform jacket and realizes that she’s been hitting on a teenager!

Is a pervert still a pervert if he’s kinda dreamy? Probably.

This episode was gosh darn adorable, and brought to mind one of my most addictive shoujo Kdrama favs, Boys Over Flowers. Eun Bi comes off as a slightly dorkier JanDi, which makes her a very likable protagonist. It’s difficult not to feel a kinship with her when she’s wishing she was as popular as her roommate or discovering that the guy she’s been pining over for two years is a complete jerk. Chi Soo has all the good looks and arrogance of the F4 and then some, but you know that a transformation is in the works for this cocky rich boy. Overall I was delighted with the initial episode and greatly look forward to watching even more Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, especially if the rest of the series is as funny and sweet as the first episode turned out to be.

Foxy Lady: My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho

He freed her heart and soul.

Even mythological creatures need love.

I didn’t fly through this week’s romantic Kdrama as fast as I did with previous series such as Boys Over Flowers or Lie To Me. To be honest, I wasn’t drawn in for the first several episodes. However, like the characters in the story, I grew and evolved to the point where this series became very dear to me, and now I might even go so far as to call it my favourite Kdrama yet.

This is Dae-Woong’s “thinking” face.

The story gets set up pretty well in episode one, but the overall gist is this: Cha Dae-Woong is an aspiring actor who is rather selfish and spoiled by his aunt and grandfather. One day he runs away from his family and ends up in a temple outside of Seoul. There he hears a voice command him to draw nine tails on a painting of a fox. He does so out of fear, then runs away. What he doesn’t realize is that he has freed a five-hundred-year-old gumiho, aka a nine-tailed fox spirit. The gumiho follows Dae-Woong and discovers that he’s fallen down a cliff and severely injured. She gives him her energy bead, which will allow him to stay alive and heal without pain. However, because of this she has to stay near him so she won’t lose her bead. When Dae-Woong comes to and hears her story, he assumes that the girl following him around is crazy and tells her so. She becomes angry and warns him that she will find him, make him believe in her, then take back her bead, which will kill him.

Mi-Ho’s cuteness is as infectious as her love of meat. Seriously, I’m a pescetarian, and even I wanted to eat beef after I watched this series.

The strange girl’s words haunt Dae-Woong as he rides the bus back to Seoul. Sure enough, later on that night the gumiho appears, showing her nine glowing tails in the moonlight. She begins to take back her bead, then has a change of heart both because Dae-Woong freed her and because she liked him from the moment she saw him at the temple. Now that Dae-Woong believes her and realizes he needs her bead until he recovers from his fall, he promises to take care of her bead in exchange for housing the gumiho and feeding her. He introduces her to his friends as Gu Mi-Ho, and now has to deal with her constant demands for meat. Enter the antagonist, a super smokin’ hot guy named Park Dong-Joo, who also happens to be some sort of mythological creature (though we never find out exactly what kind). He has come to put Mi-Ho back in the painting, but when he finds out that her desire is to become human, he changes his mind and instead helps her. Dong-Joo explains that if Mi-Ho drinks some of his blood and leaves her bead in Dae-Woong for one hundred days, then takes back the bead full of human energy, she’ll become a human. What he neglects to tell her is that when she takes the bead back, Dae-Woong will die. Mi-Ho, excited at the prospect of becoming human, goes back to Dae-Woong and strikes a deal with him: he can keep the bead, which is healing his injuries (thus allowing him to pursue his stunt acting career) for one hundred days. In the meantime, in order to explain her constant presence, Mi-Ho will pose as Dae-Woong’s girlfriend. Thus begins a whole new chapter of shenanigans as Mi-Ho tries to learn how to act like a human, and Dae-Woong learns how to grow up as well as open his heart.

Ironically, Dong-Joo’s hotness makes *my* eyes fill with tears.

There are tons of other side stories, from the bitchy girl who likes Dae-Woong and suspects that Mi-Ho is not what she seems, to the fact that Mi-Ho resembles someone from Dong-Joo’s past, to Dae-Woong’s aunt finding romance, but the main story is about the developing relationship between Mi-Ho and Dae-Woong. Part of what made this series difficult to get into was the fact that Dae-Woong is so very spoiled and bratty in the first few episodes. Luckily Mi-Ho is adorable pretty much from the get-go, so she was able to carry the series on her own merit until Dae-Woong evolves a bit. And boy does he ever! It’s incredible how a character that started out as such a conceited jerk can become so responsible, romantic, and endearing in only sixteen episodes. Also, having the gorgeous Dong-Joo as a foil helped fill in the eye candy quotient that I was missing. I was slightly peeved that he remained such an enigma throughout and that we never find out much more than his name and occupation, but I can also see how his background wasn’t that relevant to the main story. It probably just annoyed me so much because of my crush on him.

Nothing like gettin’ a little tail! (Yes, I made that joke with Spice and Wolf, too. Still works here, imho.)

The story is great, very emotional and involving, but in subtle ways. I was often surprised by how caught up I was in the lives of the characters and their emotions. Only one little side story about a false pregnancy seemed superfluous, but luckily it resolved itself in just one episode. The music is fantastic, a great blend of sexy Kpop (for Dong-Joo’s theme) as well as upbeat and dancey Kpop (for Dae-Woong’s theme). And the love theme, “Fox Rain,” by Lee Sun Hee, is my favourite Kdrama love theme ever. It’s soft and sweet without becoming cloying or cheesy (as so many Kdrama love themes are wont to do). Every time I hear it, I get a little catch in my throat because it’s so lovely and filled with longing. The actors are all excellent and really played their parts well. I’ll especially keep my eyes peeled for more from Shin Mi Na, the adorable girl who played Mi-Ho, as well as the smoldering No Min Woo (Park Dong-Joo). My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho is a very funny comedy, as well as a great drama with loads of folklore and supernatural elements, but at its heart it’s a pure romance, and one of the best, in my opinion. You can’t go wrong with this Kdrama, as this Gumiho has a tail that appeals to everyone.

Mi-Ho stakes her claim on Dae-Woong. Beware of crossing a gumiho!

Rating: ★★★★★ Watch it, buy it, watch it again. And again and again and again.

First Impressions: My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho

She’s no ordinary foxy lady.

This girl might love or kill you.

Yup, another first impression post this week. I’m at the point where a bunch of series have almost ended, at which time there will be a flood of full reviews. Until then, time to start lots of new series, wheee! Today’s first impression is another Kdrama, and one that I’ve actually wanted to check out for quite some time: My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho. I adore folklore, fairy tales, and cultural tidbits from all over the globe, so a comedy about a girl who is actually a nine-tailed fox is something I couldn’t miss.

Meet Dae-Woong, our everyman hero. You can tell that he’s “of the people” by his flannel and Dark Knight t-shirt.

In episode one we meet Cha Dae-Woong, a student and aspiring actor who survives on the money that he begs, borrows, and steals from his wealthy grandfather. Since he’s an orphan, he’s been raised by said grandfather and his aunt, both of whom spoil him to a degree but also try to push him in the direction of growing up to become a respectable person. However, when he uses his tuition money to secretly buy a motorcycle, his grandfather has had the last straw, so he forces Dae-Woong into the car and tries to make him go to boarding school. Dae-Woong fakes needing to use the bathroom and manages to escape in the back of a produce truck. After he sneaks out of the truck at a gas station, he manages to hitch a ride with a passing monk who takes him to the temple where he lives. Dae-Woong borrows the monk’s cellphone and tries to remember his aunt’s phone number, but the reception is bad so he makes his way down to a secluded part of the temple that’s devoted to the Goddess of Childbirth. While there the phone dies, but he hears a voice that commands him to go inside and draw nine tails on a fox sitting in a painting with the Goddess. Understandably he’s freaked out, but Dae-Woong does what the voice tells him to, then bolts out of the temple and into the woods…where he soon falls off of a cliff.

See my nine tails? That’s the last thing you’ll ever see if you mess with me, pretty boy!

The fox disappears from the painting, and a pretty girl comes across Dae-Woong’s body. Her nine tails swish in the moonlight, and she blows an energy bead into Dae-Woong’s mouth. The next morning Dae-Woong wakes up and isn’t even hurt, and the pretty girl explains that she’s a gumiho (a nine-tailed fox spirit) who gave him her energy bead which prevented him from dying. Dae-Woong thinks that she’s crazy, and demands to see her tails. She says that she can only show them to him in the moonlight. At that Dae-Woong keeps trying to lose her (first in the forest, then later on in a nearby town) but the gumiho keeps finding him, saying that she has to stay with him because he has her bead. Finally Dae-Woong yells at her, telling the girl that he doesn’t believe what she says. The girl becomes serious and says that she’ll find him again, make him believe, and then he’ll die. This actually gets under his skin, and he keeps thinking about the girl as he rides the bus back to Seoul.

If you guessed that this guy is our villain by his villainous haircut, you’d be correct. Angled haircuts are to Kdrama villains as black hats are to bad guys in old Westerns.

Meanwhile, a man who seems to be a vet visits the temple where the painting resides in order to check on the monk’s dog. When the monk explains that the fox is no longer in the painting, the vet gets a strange look on his face. When he leaves, he tells his cohort that they’ll be hunting a new kind of creature, a mutant of sorts, but one that’s adorable. When Dae-Woong arrives back at his school he talks to his friends and learns that his aunt wants him to stay away until she can smooth things over with his grandfather. One of his friends notices sever bruises on Dae-Woong’s back, and he wonders why he doesn’t feel pain. Dae-Woong begins to slowly believe what the girl in the woods said. The other friend says that he can stay in the room above the gym that they’re in, then Dae-Woong is left alone. After playing basketball by himself for a time, the gumiho shows up. She unfurls her tails in the moonlight, then tells him that she’s going to take back her energy bead, which means that his previous injury will kill him. She leans in and begins sucking the bead out of his body…and that’s where the episode ends!

Oh, well, if you’re sure you’re fine, I’ll just take this old thing back. Thanks!

I enjoyed this episode, though I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It’s been more of a straight-up comedy than a romance, the latter of which is usually what has been the basis of the Kdramas I’ve seen thus far, but I’m enjoying it. One scene involving the aunt farting in an elevator had me laughing uproariously. (What can I say? Fart jokes are universal.) I like all of the actors, and the two leads are cute but not too precious. So far they’re both selling the story well. The music is typical K-pop, bouncy and fun. I really enjoy the folklore of the story, and I hope that more legends are explored or shared further in. There are some cheesy effects, but also some really nice ones, most notably a scene that looks as though wood carvings have come to life (very reminiscent of the exquisite video game Okami). And the temple of the Goddess of Childbirth looks like it’s borrowed straight from Faerie Tale Theatre, which I adore. Overall, My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho isn’t quite as romantic as I expected, but whether it keeps barreling down a path of pure comedy or if it blooms into a slow-building romance, I can’t wait to watch more. In fact, I think I’ll do so right now!

Kdrama Fights Back: City Hunter

A twisted fate leads one man to fight crime,

but the truth will change his world.

Well, it took me a little while, but I finally finished watching the Kdrama version of City Hunter this week. (Truth be told, two months is nothing compared to the endless weeks it takes me to complete an On Demand anime series, but I digress.) It was quality viewing throughout, but I didn’t become super addicted until halfway through.

Crappy faux dads don't use bottles to raise stolen babies, they use guns.

The initial episode, which I wrote about in great detail in my First Impressions post, is the most important when it comes to plot, but I’ll summarize it again briefly. In 1983 twenty-one South Korean soldiers were sent on a secret mission to kill officials in North Korea as a revenge tactic after a bombing. However, during the mission the five men who organized the whole thing realized that what they did would ignite a political landmine, so they sent in a sniper to kill all of the soldiers as they were returning to the submarine that was supposed to take them home. Only one soldier survived, Lee Jin-pyo, and he had the brilliant idea to steal his now-dead best friend’s infant son and raise him on a drug compound in Thailand. The boy, Yoon-sung, learns how to fight and wield a gun, but it isn’t until his faux father gets injured that he finds out the reason for his unconventional upbringing. Jin-pyo explains that Yoon-sung’s real father was killed just after he was born, and now it is up to the boy to exact vengeance on the five men who sent those twenty-one soldiers to die.

Kim Young-joo tries to think of ways to win against Yoon-sung in the upcoming Blue House wet t-shirt contest.

Yoon-sung takes this news surprisingly well, and after spending a few years in the US earning a fancy MIT degree, he returns to Korea for the first time since he was a baby in order to take a job on the Blue House’s IT team. (The Blue House is the Korean version of the American White House.) From there he sets out to bring the five corrupt politicians to justice by exposing their lies to the public and delivering them to a young prosecutor named Kim Young-joo. The trouble starts when his blood-thirsty fake dad shows up in Korea as well. Jin-pyo doesn’t just want the five in jail and politically ruined, he wants them dead, but Yoon-sung doesn’t want to create anymore orphans. Throughout the rest of the series the two men come into conflict as they work to bring justice to the fallen soldiers using different methods, but it’s Yoon-sung’s Batman-like approach to bringing the truth to light that earns him the moniker of “City Hunter.” Kim Young-joo provides plenty of trouble of his own in his fervent quest to discover the real identity of the City Hunter. Then there’s Yoon-sung’s mother, Lee Kyung-hee, who has never given up hope of seeing her son again. However, Yoon-sung was told that he was abandoned by her as an infant, so even when he finds her his anger prevents him from revealing who he really is. And last but not least is Kim Nana, the Blue House guard who keeps having run-ins first with Yoon-sung, then the City Hunter. She has a full backstory filled with drama all her own, and when she and Yoon-sung meet sparks fly. But the City Hunter can’t fall in love, because love is a liability when you’re in the business of bringing justice to the world…

Surprise, there's romance hidden inside this action drama, too!

Whoo, boy, where to begin on this one? I must say, City Hunter really puts the drama in Kdrama. There are a billion twists and turns in this series, enough to make an American soap opera blush with envy. Just when you think you have one part figured out, three new riddles spring forth. Some of the answers I guessed in advance, and some completely took me by surprise. Overall, though, it was very enjoyable to watch this tale unfold. I must admit that it took me several episodes to really get into it. Up until now all of my Kdramas have been romantic comedies, which are easier for me to become immersed in than stories filled with fight scenes and warfare. (What can I say, I’m a lover and a dreamer, not a fighter.) Even with the über delicious Lee Min Ho at the helm I still wasn’t dying to watch an episode marathon until halfway through. By that point we have established likable characters and I was invested enough to crave knowing what comes next. The cliffhanger endings only helped fuel the fire. The end of the series wasn’t as tidy as previous series such as Boys Over Flowers and Lie To Me, but it answered the main questions, which is good enough. I would have liked a few more details about what happens after the finale, but considering how many storylines they had to tie up, it worked out pretty well.

The modern-day crime fighter: much more unobtrusive, though just as stylish as a Batsuit.

The acting in City Hunter is top-notch. I expect nothing less from Lee Min Ho, but I was happy to see that his excellent supporting cast kept pace with him every step of the way. The music was really good: the opening title song is badass and bombastic, the love theme is sweet without getting too saccharine, and the score is dramatic and fitting. Not to mention there’s a good smattering of fun and bouncy K-pop for the fans. Many songs were used over and over again throughout the series, as I’ve noticed is the norm in Kdramas, but this soundtrack had a large quantity of songs to draw on, which meant that I wasn’t sick of hearing them by episode twenty. The action scenes were very cool and choreographed well, the dramatic scenes became less cheesy the more involved you become with the characters, and there’s also plenty of funny parts as well as romance to keep this series well-rounded. I rooted for all of the “good” characters, despised all of the “bad” characters, and generally enjoyed getting lost in this winding and intricate drama. I read a bit about the manga that this series was based on, and I’m glad that the Kdrama version deviates from the source material. I’m completely bored with leading male characters who are misogynistic playboys, but I can definitely get behind a lead character who only pretends to be a playboy in order to keep his identity a secret. (Hence another reason why I’ve always been a Batman kind of girl.) The scenery of Seoul is stunning and definitely fuels my fire to visit Korea for myself. I would certainly recommend City Hunter to anyone new to Kdrama, or even long-time fans of the genre. With such a great cast and engaging story, there really is something for everyone here.

Rating: ★★★★✰ It took a few episodes to get into it, but once you’re in, you’re completely hooked.

First Impressions: City Hunter

Nothing quite proves

a boy’s devotion to his dead father

like revenge.

My sisters have been trying for months, and at last they have finally succeeded in getting me addicted to Kdrama, though I’ve only watched romances thus far. For something different I decided to try an action series. Enter today’s first impression, City Hunter, which is the recent Kdrama version of Tsukasa Hojo’s manga. (It’s also an anime series and a live-action film starring Jackie Chan.)

I could add pictures of action scenes from the show, but since Lee Min Ho is the reason for the season, let's just stick with the good stuff.

All I knew from the outset was that it starred Lee Min Ho, the adorable lead from Boys Over Flowers, and really, that’s all I needed. Unfortunately, it took half the episode to get to him. Yes, yes, backstory is important, but so is eye candy! Anyway, on to the premise: Lee Min Ho plays Lee Yoon-Sung, a boy born just as his father heads out on a top-secret government mission for revenge on North Korea for a local bombing. Unfortunately for the twenty-one men on the team, the government officials change their minds about the whole thing because any retaliation would dissolve their US nuclear protection. (Yay, everyone loves us for our… guns.) What’s the best way to cover the whole political mess up? Why, kill everyone they sent in! And that’s just what they do, save for one man who escapes: Lee Jin-Pyo, Yoon-Sung’s dad’s best friend. And he is pissed. Lee Jin-Pyo tries to kill one of the government officials in charge of the whole affair but gets interrupted and leaves.

There's the Lee Min Ho I remember so fondly from Boys Over Flowers, stuffing his face. Goo Joon Pyo would be proud.

In one of the worst revenge plans in history, he steals his fallen comrade’s newborn baby from his fallen comrade’s widow and takes him to Southeast Asia. There he raises the boy on a militant compound, harshly teaching him how to shoot guns and engage in hand-to-hand combat. (So your revenge on your government is to totally f**k up the lives of your best friend’s entire family? Awesome plan.) Finally, Lee Min Ho shows up as the now-grown Yoon-Sung, has a zany adventure in the nearby village rescuing a guy who has “nutty sidekick” written all over him, swaggers around the compound (as only Lee Min Ho can do) with his new bestie, and eats voraciously. He also spies a picture of a pretty girl among the sidekick’s things. Yoon-Sung finds out her name, but that’s all. The thugs from town show up, there’s a giant melodramatic fight involving Yoon-Sung’s idiot nanny getting shot, he chases the thugs for revenge, steps on a land mine, and his fake dad ends up getting in an explosion trying to save him. Jin-Pyo is severely injured, but not so badly that he can’t explain how he stole baby Yoon-Sung to raise him as a weapon of vengeance. Surprisingly, after this revelation Yoon-Sung is still upset about his fake dad’s injury and vows to take care of business. The episode ends with Lee Min Ho in pink pants strutting through downtown Seoul with the pretty girl from the sidekick’s picture standing unknowingly just behind him.

Shooting a gun accurately: impressive. Shooting a gun with a face full of Bieber bangs: outstanding.

As for what I think of this episode… wow, where to begin. Y’know, I thought that Boys Over Flowers was the measuring stick for melodrama, but I now have a whole new standard. City Hunter really takes the melodrama cake. While I found those moments to be more laughable than anything, this episode remained very enjoyable throughout. The story was intriguing and had nary a dull moment, which is quite a feat for an episode that’s more than an hour long. The opening theme was great and very action-y, and the effects, even in the most melodramatic scenes, were quite good. The characters were very personable and made the story really come to life, so much so that I wasn’t just biding my time until the star showed up. Of course once he did, the episode just went up a level. It’s not that he’s handsome (which he is) but Lee Min Ho has, in my opinion, an effervescent quality to him. He lights up the screen and makes you want to keep watching. And I, for one, certainly will keep watching City Hunter.

Policy Of Truth: Lie To Me

Living well is the best revenge.

If you’re not quite there yet, why not lie?

Last weekend I ended up watching my second Korean drama, a cute romance called Lie To Me. Since I watched the entire series all in one go, I didn’t even have a chance to write a First Impressions post for it! Hence you get a full-on review.

Hello, quirky/awkward heroine!

Kong Ah-Jung is a single gal with a good career as a civil servant. She lives with her widowed father and overall seems to be happy with her lot in life as well as good at her job. However, like so many of us ladies past the age of twenty-five, Ah-Jung keeps getting badgered about marriage. Worst of all, the badgering comes from the former best friend who stole her first love when they were all still in school! To add salt to the wound, the two of them ended up getting married while Ah-Jung remained single. One day, out of sheer annoyance and lingering heartbreak, she lies and claims to be married. Later on she’s seen in the company of handsome CEO Hyun Ki-Joon, and is mistaken for his wife. She tries to clear up the confusion, but that darn frienemy shows up again, and Ah-Jung only ends up making the lie worse.

And this is her leading man. Welcome to the fantasy.

Like so many romantic Kdramas, there are miscommunications flying left and right as well as a healthy heaping dose of chance meetings. Adding chaos to the mix are Ki-Joon’s first love, his wayward brother with his own interest in Ah-Jung, his proper and stoic aunt, and the various politicians and businessmen that hear the lie, not to mention Ah-Jung’s own former flame, concerned father, and wacky co-workers. Every time they try to make things better, the lie gets worse, until both Ah-Jung and Ki-Joon end up so entangled that the lie begins to feel more like truth than the actual facts.

As this is only my second Kdrama, the only other show I have to base this series on is Boys Over Flowers. While both are romances, this one has some distinct differences. First of all, and most notable, this is a story about adults, not high schoolers, which, as an adult around the age of the main characters, I find very appealing indeed. Who doesn’t like to see stories about people your own age every once in a while?

Ki-Joon, flashbacking with his first love. Because everyone wears glasses when they're a few years younger..?

Everything about this series felt just a bit more mature, and less like a guilty pleasure. Having said that, the romance in Lie To Me isn’t as ostentatious and lavish as it is in Boys Over Flowers. Ah-Jung doesn’t get swept away to island locales and ski resorts and bedecked in jewels and new clothes like JanDi is, and even if she does get the occasional fancy dress or vacation, she almost always pays for it herself. I liked the independence of it, but a small part of me missed the ultimate fantasy that’s so all-encompassing in Boys Over Flowers. On the plus side, Ah-Jung’s pride wasn’t the cause of every problem in this series, which I found very refreshing. It annoyed me to no end that JanDi insisted on making everything harder on herself out of pride (ie: to create more drama). Not so with Ah-Jung. While it could be argued that she did indeed create many of her problems with her lies, overall I found her actions to be very relatable and not based on something as moralistic as pride. Who hasn’t wanted to rub an enemy’s face in something at one point or another?

So refreshing to see a love story for adults that isn't smutty. We don't all live a Sex & the City life!

I really enjoyed all of the characters, from the super cute leads to the bitchy frienemies to the fun group who seemingly lives at the Twosome Place cafe. One character even sings the answer to every question while strumming her guitar. While that could potentially be annoying, it actually came off as awesome. Speaking of which, I really liked the fun pop music on this show even better than the poppy soundtrack to Boys Over Flowers, although both seriously overuse their love themes. As I mentioned earlier, this is only my second Kdrama, but even so I couldn’t really choose a favourite. Boys Over Flowers is much more of an escapist fantasy, but Lie To Me seems like it could possibly happen in real life (it would be a stretch, but still). And as much as I enjoy being swept away in a romantic story, I feel more emotionally connected to the characters, settings, and story of Lie To Me. Everything from the problems to the passionate kisses (which put the teens of F4 to shame) feels more realistic, which draws me in even more. You can’t go wrong with either of these excellent Kdramas, but if you’re well past your own years of teenage angst and enjoy a good romance, I can’t recommend Lie To Me enough.

Stay cool, Ki-Joon!

Mo Money, Mo Problems: Boys Over Flowers

Shoujo love: if you think you know this story,

you may yet be surprised.

Happy new year, otakus! In February I’ll have been blogging about anime for an entire year, which I can hardly believe. I’m working on a few fun changes for Otaku Haiku, and of course there’s the awesome anniversary special to look forward to, but for today let’s start the new year off right with my review of a most excellent shoujo series: Boys Over Flowers.

JanDi encounters the F4 as well as the disdain of the rich, which smells like aftershave and dollar bills.

I wrote about the setting in detail in my First Impressions post, so I’ll just sum it up briefly here: Geum JanDi is cute, spunky, and comes from a very kooky, but very poor, family of dry cleaners. By being a good Samaritan she is given a full scholarship to ShinHwa, a very ritzy, private school for the super-rich. Once there she encounters the F4, a group of four of the wealthiest and cutest guys around. They can also be a**holes. Everyone at ShinHwa either admires them or fears them too much to do anything about their evil ways, but not JanDi. Soon she begins having encounters with the group, and the leader, Goo JunPyo, gets more and more upset about this poor upstart until he gets it into his head that she must have a crush on him. After that turning point (which is very early on in the show) he begins wooing her in his blunt and aggressive way. The problems arise one after another, from JanDi’s initial hatred of JunPyo to jealous schoolmates to the big bad of the entire series, JunPyo’s evil mother, who hates the hold that JanDi has on her son.

Sorry my friends had you beaten up. They can be dicks. How about ice cream and a living statue to make up for it?

Yet for every bad thing that comes JanDi’s way, something equally good works in her favor: she has a low-key job at a porridge shop with her best friend, and thanks to her earnest and caring nature she gains powerful friends such as a famous model, JunPyo’s sister, and the rest of F4. Most notable on her friend roster is JiHoo, the quiet, musical member of F4. He starts out viewing her with detached fascination, but soon their friendship grows to be the strongest on the show. Perhaps there’s even more than friendship on their minds… but what about Goo JunPyo, who began courting JanDi in earnest and seems to have true feelings for her? And how will the rest of F4 react? And don’t forget JunPyo’s evil mother, who seems intent on destroying JanDi…

Even JanDi's bestie gets a side story with a member of F4! This show has layers, man!

That’s just the tip of the iceberg in this shoujo Kdrama. There’s romance in spades, as well as heart-wrenching drama and action. Sometimes it gets to be too much, and the situations become melodramatic to the point of being laughable, but even so I never stopped enjoying this immersive series for a second. The episodes seemed long at first, but the more that I watched, the more surprised I would be when the closing credits flashed onscreen. The white subtitles bothered me less as well because I was so eager to continue the story and find out what happens next. Speaking of which, the show is excellent about ending on cliffhangers, constantly drawing you back for more and more. There were many sleepless nights as I drank caffeine so that I could watch “just one more episode!” However, the series as a whole came to a definite conclusion, which is an aspect that I enjoy and find refreshing (especially after watching so many open-ended anime series).

Every smile on this show means that a heartache is just around the next corner...

The cast is adorable. JanDi is genuine and sweet, and though she makes some questionable decisions (especially based on her own sense of pride) she was never stupid, which made her identifiable and the sort of girl you’d want to be friends with in real life. The boys of F4 are indeed super cute, and each plays his part perfectly, especially Minho Lee as the blustering and prideful, but at times sweetly innocent Goo JunPyo. The story was originally a Japanese manga called Hana Yori Dango, and it’s currently the best-selling shoujo manga of all time. As such, it was turned into an anime as well as a live-action television drama in Japan, Taiwan, and Korea. While the Kdrama is the only one that I’ve seen thus far, I can’t imagine loving another version as much as this one. Everything from the setting to the characters came to life beautifully and drew me in completely. If you love shoujo like I do, you really can’t afford to miss Boys Over Flowers in any form, but especially the excellent and enthralling Kdrama.

Rating: ★★★★★ There may be better Kdramas out there, but I’ve yet to find one as addicting and indulgent in romantic fantasy as this one.

First Impressions: Boys Over Flowers

Live-action shojo!

Cute rich boys! A spunky girl!

It’s kind of awesome.

My sisters have been bugging me for a while to watch their latest obsession, Kdrama, (the “K” is for “Korean,” fyi) and Boys Over Flowers was recommended to me yons ago in an Ouran High School Host Club forum. So watching the first episode got two birds with one stone! (Rather violent saying, but I can’t think of a better phrase to convey the same meaning at present.) I figured I’d review it here since it’s based on a Japanese shojo manga. Besides, we’re all about expanding our horizons and embracing all types of Asian culture here at Otaku Haiku. (And by “we” I mean me, ’cause Miss Pink is the only clown at this rodeo.)

Meet JanDi, our lumberjack protagonist.

ShinHwa is a school for the super rich that garners a lot of attention one day when a teenage girl making a dry cleaning delivery saves a tormented student from jumping off of the roof. After this event is broadcast far and wide thanks to the cluster of cellphones in the hands of the other students watching, ShinHwa School has some majorly bad press to deal with. As a way to combat the growing (and growling) negative public opinion, the dry clean delivery girl, Geum JanDi, is offered a full scholarship. She doesn’t want to attend some snooty school for the rich, but her kooky family pressures her into going with the promise that she can take up swimming again.

Meet the evil(?) pretty boys: at first I thought the "F" in "F4" stood for "F**kface."

Once at school she encounters, yup, you guessed it, snooty rich kids. But even worse is a group of four super rich, super handsome guys known as “F4” (the “F” stands for flower, because they’re sooo pretty). JanDi watches them maintain the admiration of the entire school while simultaneously tormenting one student after another just for kicks. She finally has to intervene when the leader of the group, JunPyo, has a run-in with her one and only friend at the school. In sticking up for her friend, JanDi becomes JunPyo’s arch rival. However, she’s also had random encounters with another member of F4, the quiet, dreamy, blond violinist JiHoo, who seems to get a kick out of her and indeed admires her spirit. JunPyo can’t get JanDi’s rebellious attitude out of his mind (it’s obvious no one has ever questioned his authority before) so he keeps escalating his revenge in an attempt to get under her skin. JanDi takes it all in stride (at least as much stride as any tormented teenager can be expected to have) until one day when a group of boys jumps her after swim practice. And that cliffhanger is where episode one ends!

JanDi's signature face. In the US that face = "I smell something bad." In Kdrama that face = "I'm independent and lovably cute!"

It’s a bit strange to watch a classic shojo story as live action instead of animation. For one thing, the episode, while interesting throughout, seemed kind of long, but that’s to be expected. A single episode clocks in at one hour and nine minutes, which is quite a stretch when you’re used to anime episodes that span a mere twenty-five minutes (shorter if it’s, say, Hetalia). Then there’s the acting, which is slightly cheesy and overly dramatic. I don’t know if that’s the Kdrama style, like the over-exaggerated pantomime acting in silent films, or if it’s just this particular series, but it was jarring at times. For some reason I can more easily accept an animated girl yelling ridiculous things in an open stairwell than a real life girl doing the exact same thing. However, just as with a silent movie marathon, I’m sure I’ll get used to the acting style after a few more episodes. The absolute worst thing about this episode is the subtitles. Those white subtitles were killing me!!! They were all wide and pushed to the edges of the screen for some reason on both a regular TV as well as a wide-screen, which was bad enough. But the white colour made them nearly impossible to read in some scenes. I wish to gods that those subtitles were the universally easy-to-read standard-issue yellow, but hopefully, just as with the acting, I’ll get used to it with time.

JiHoo, inventor of the Bieber-mullet. You're welcome, ladies.

Those points aside, the overall episode was great. The story is classic shojo fare complete with a spunky, stubborn heroine and rich, pretty boys. (Disclaimer: I rescind that statement about the boys being pretty should any of the actors prove to be under eighteen years of age. Man, it’s tricky when you’re dealing with real people!) The characters are fun to watch and identifiable. I was genuinely excited by both JanDi’s ice cream rebellion as well as the burgeoning love story unfolding. Her family is a little cuckoo, but thus far their scenes are relatively short. I’m dying to find out more about the F4 and what makes them such bastards, and I can’t wait to see JanDi’s inevitable winning-over of the group. Plus I’ve gotta watch another episode to find out how that cliffhanger resolves itself! From what I’ve seen in episode one of Boys Over Flowers, this shojo will be worth the eyestrain for any fans of bittersweet tsundere stories.

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