Saturday, December 31, 2011

Drama Throwdown: Boys before Flowers vs. Flower Boy Ramen Shop

Most Korean dramas seem to be made Frankenstein-style: they’re patched together from bits and pieces of other shows, recycling character traits, plot twists, and central conflicts with wild abandon. And although this magpie approach to drama creation can get old, it also has a lot to offer—after all, there’s nothing cozier than putting on your favorite sweater, however ratty and ancient it may be. 

Sometimes, though, all the borrowing can get a bit egregious—which brings me to the topic at hand: Boys before Flowers versus Flower Boy Ramen Shop. These two shows were both drawn from the Cinderella-meets-chaebol filing cabinet at Drama Overlord Central, but their similarities don’t end there.

Boys before Flowers (2007) is a coming-of-age love story saddled with mediocre production, writing, and acting. And yet, its pleasures are undeniable and the show is widely believed to be more addictive than any other substance known to man.

Flower Boy Ramen Shop (2011) is a bighearted comedy it’s hard not to love, but it’s also a drama composed almost entirely of pieces of other shows—it’s part Hello, My Teacher and part Boys before Flowers, with a healthy dose of food-porny shows like Coffee Prince thrown in for good measure.

The Throwdown
The common raw materials used to build Boys before Flowers and Flower Boy Ramen Shop are especially evident, even if the resulting shows are not created equal.

1. Female lead
—an athlete (BbF = swimmer/FBRS = volleyball player)
—the new girl at school, struggling to fit in (student/student teacher)
—a little ashamed of her blue-collar, working-class dad (dad is a dry cleaner/dad owns a run-down snack bar)

Winner: Flower Boy Ramen Shop by a mile. You know there’s trouble when a drama’s female lead aspires to the Olympics, yet nearly drowns every time a body of water larger than a teaspoon appears on screen. Jan Di has her finer points, but the wish fulfillment factor of continually being rescued by dreamy, filthy rich babes can only carry a show so far. This is why Eun Bi—gangster that she may be—is such a breath of fresh air. She doesn’t let anyone push her around and, plunger in hand, saves the day not only for herself but also for her boyfriend.

2. Male lead
* a chaebol (grandson of Shin Hwa/son of Cha Sung)
* bratty (demands shoe-licking/tricks a woman into taking him home and sheltering him)

Winner: Boys before Flowers. Jun Pyo may start off as a mean, bullying butthead, but he ends up a responsible, loving, and supportive captain of industry. Chi Soo is handsome and all, but it’s unclear what he has to offer the female lead, or how his character has improved throughout the course of the show—even in the military he’s still dodging hard work and haircuts, so what was the point of the past 16 episodes?


3. Second male lead
* falls asleep in random places (outdoor staircase/everywhere)

Winner: Tie. Either would have been a better choice than the male lead—each loves the female lead like I love cake, and would have been an excellent life partner for her, to boot.

4. Supporting cast
* Three flowery boys (Ji Hoo, Yi Jung, Woo Bin/Kang Hyuk, Hyun Woo, Ba Wool)
* A female best friend (Ga Eul/Dong Joo)

Winner: Boys before Flowers (even in spite of the magnificent "Crazy Chicken")BbF’s length allowed everyone involved a lot more screen time, but the show also gets bonus points for tidiness by developing a secondary romance between the female lead’s best friend and a member of the F4. RBFS doesn’t bother, instead creating a separate, entirely sidelined romance for the best friend that feels both unresolved and unrelated to the show’s main narrative.

5. Plot
* boy woos unwilling girl using his family's power and money (laser leg hair removal [!!!]/unwelcome grief money)
* an uncanny but suspect prediction (“She’ll give you a family”/you’ll hear bells ringing when you kiss the one you’re meant to be with)
* a parent tries to break up the main couple with a bribe; when that fails, he/she renovates real estate (Madam Kang/President Cha)

Winner: Boys before Flowers. This truly epic love story trumps FBRS's cute romance in every way.

A fire-alarm-enabled shopping spree and an all-expenses-paid trip to New Caledonia (wherever the heck that is)? Does it get better than that? Certainly not in Flower Boy Ramen Shop, where a fancy restaurant is the best a girl can hope for, no matter how rich her boyfriend may be.

Plus I literally got goose bumps when the monk made his prediction to Ji Hoo, and the show should get extra points for its clever(ish) twisting of the ambiguous prophecy. Jan Di gave him a family, all right, it was just of the grandfather variety rather than the pitter-patter-of-little-feet variety.

And then there’s Madam Kang—one of the greatest characters I've met in Kdrama. She’s a disinterested tiger mom who ultimately wants what she thinks is best for her son, but goes about getting it in exactly the wrong way. (I was disappointed in her finale, though. It’s as if the writers felt it was necessary to punish her for being a strong, independent woman so they saddled her with an invalid husband to put her in her place—the kitchen, not the boardroom.) President Cha’s hot tub and manboob combination was certainly one for the ages, but never carried the same weight as the ever-looming villainy of Madam Kang.

6. Resolution
*female lead studies (to be a doctor/to be a teacher)

Winner: Boys before Flowers. Both shows feature open-ended resolutions, perhaps intended to lay the ground for a second season. This category would have been a tie, if not for Kang Hyuk’s complete non-ending: He disappears to become an itinerant ramen chef? Really? Boys before Flowers may have dropped a lot of balls toward the end of its run, but at least it provided some degree of closure for its main characters. 

The Victor
To paraphrase another Korean drama, if I had met you first, Flower Boy Ramen Shop, I might have loved you. If for no reason other than showcasing a heroine capable of rescuing herself (and her man!), you are a worthy and valuable addition to the world. On the other hand, your Cliffs Notes-style, good-bits-only plotting downplays depth, texture, and character development (i.e., all the best bits of Kdrama, as far as I’m concerned).

And Boys over Flowers? You will always be my cracktastic love (of dubious objective quality). Nobody does delicious, over-the-top, smile-until-it-hurts like you do.


  1. While I haven't watched FBRS (just read recaps), I agree with a lot of your points. Jun Pyo and Eun Bi would make a better couple. The character description of Cha Chi Soo made me reluctant to watch FBRS, on the other hand, Jandi was unbearable to watch she made me want to pull my hair out.

  2. Because Boys over Flowers was my first Kdrama ever, the show itself was too much of a marvel for me to realize how incredibly annoying Jandi was. Which I'm actually kind of glad about—sometimes ignorance really is bliss, when it comes to quality ;)

  3. I found this post really entertaining. And your comment, "Either would have been a better choice than the male lead—each loves the female lead like I love cake, and would have been an excellent life partner for her, to boot." spot on (for BBF. I haven't seen FBRS.)

    BBF was my second kdrama (after My Princess--one I really love). The truth is, I hated it. I was just so heartbroken that they put JanDi with JunPyo instead of the Angel-Face JiHoo that it bothered me for days. (And created in me a ridiculously unhealthy crush on Kim Hyun Joong.) Also, BBF seems to be more angsty than others I've watched after that (Playful Kiss, Pasta) or My Princess. Coupled witth my complete love for JiHoo in the his first scene, the end was, well, devestating.

    I guess it's true that tastes are just that...tastes. I find it fascinating how people can see different things in the same show. I also am fascinated by my fascination of kdrama. Like you discuss in another post, I too am disturbed by the sexism (wrist grabbing, name calling) in these shows. Yet I can't stay away from them. Case in point, Pasta (the drama I just finished) is the worst offender of sexism of the shows I watched but by the end I found it so darn charming!

    1. I was so incredibly on Ji Hoo's side throughout BBF. It was clear from the get go that he belonged with Jan Di, and that Jun Pyo was a way better fit with the girl he was actually engaged to. She could have kept that jerk in line!

      I couldn't agree more about how our personal tastes impact our drama viewing. Shows that I've totally loved have been hated by people I really like and respect, and the opposite is true, too.

      And I know just what you mean about Pasta, which I loved. The male lead was such a jerk (firing all the women?!? Is that even legal?), but he and the female lead were too cute to be denied.

    2. Well, I'm impressed that you still enjoyed the show even though character of JiHoo was so horribly misused. (And can I find someone like that in my life, please?) For me, it ruined the entire thing. Actually, I woke up thinking about it (I can't leave it alone for some reason) and realized that in addition to JanDi's questionable taste in men and the amount of angst in BBF, the show also depicts a staggering amount of cruelty (in the first few eps). I detest cruelty (especially the type teenagers inflict) almost more than anything, so it's really not surprising that I was so attracted to the one character that was kind rather than cruel. Knowing me and my tastes, I probably didn't stand a chance.

      BTW, don't take this as my saying, "here's why you should dislike BBF." I am fascinated by why one thing speaks to someone and not to someone else. So I guess I'm processing why BBF was so traumatic to me when other people love it. (The Twilight saga was also really traumatic but that's a discussion for a different blog.)

      I'm glad I wasn't alone in my rooting for JiHoo. It seems to be the natural position to take, but a lot of people disagree. Last night I was reading recaps of the BBF episodes and people's comments about Kim Hyun Joong's acting really surprised me. I thought he was great in it, though I tend to get attracted to actors when I'm first attracted to a character they portray. So maybe his acting isn't wonderful, but he was pretty convincing to me as a quiet, sweet guy. And I thought his unspoken love for JanDi was always evident. Maybe my reaction to him was because I watched BBF without knowing the story or knowing who KHJ is, so maybe my opinions differ because I have such a different frame of reference. Who know. I've probably way overthunk it all anyway. :)

  4. I've never been able to watch Boys Before Flowers. The reasoning? (Besides Jun Pyo's absolutely hideous eye-sore they call a perm) I watched Hana Yori Dango first. (The Japanese version.) Which is understandable, as I got into Japanese Dramas first from my unhealthy obsession with manga and it's anime adaptions so I guess it's kind of obvious I would fall in love with the "real life" adaptions, too. Hana Yori Dango was fabulously cracktastic (just like you said about BbF) and I'm too scared that they will have ruined a show I was so obsessed with I watched season one, season two AND the movie. Just like how I'm terrified of watching You're Beautiful's Japanese remake: Ikemen Desu Ne.

    YB was my first Korean drama ever and I thought it was amazing. I was also only 14 when I watched it soo... It's innocence (and the fact that the female lead was Nun) was not lost on me. It was everything I wanted from a show, really. A break away from American television where sex seems to be the underlying theme for everything that has a PG-13 rating or above. Being young and uninterested in something that, in my youthful mind, was kissing on steroids, I liked this view of romance that was actually shown in a romantic light. For me then, kissing = yuck. So, yes, the wide-eyed, stiff-as-a-board kisses were relatable to me. She's a Nun for goodness sake. 'Nuff said.

    But, like you said in a comment about, maybe ignorance really is bliss. Not a lot of people I've "met" that have watched YB really really liked it. Some thought it was cute, but.. not a lot else. Finding you're blog, and finding out you kind of didn't like Go My Nyeo (Go Mi Nam to me. Their name differences were lost on me. It took me half the drama to figure out that their first names were actually their family names.) made me think a little bit about it. And having quite a few more dramas under my belt has made me realized: She was a total ditz. An I-can't-help-but-love ditz, but still a ditz none-the-less. (But but! She was a NUN! That gives her some credit right? 'Cause if I was raised in a monastery, I know for sure I'd be pretty clueless about everything romance related, and I'm already a dork that barely knows what flirting is.)


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