Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Those Blooming Boys Next Door: FBND1

Amanda, Dong Hoon, and Jin Rak discuss episode one.

I’m still relatively new to watching dramas as they air. For most of my first year as a Kdrama zombie, I waited until shows were fully subbed and available online so I could marathon them as if they were giant movies. There’s something to be said for that approach—it’s immersive and makes it easier to follow the overarching plot. But watching a show as it airs in Korea has its charms, too.

Take Flower Boy Next Door, my current pick for watching live(ish). The Kdrama blogosphere is abuzz with discussion about this bright and funny new entry in tvN’s Oh Boy series, and it’s fun to follow along with other people’s commentary about each episode. Not being able to just hit “play” to watch the next show whenever I want also gives me time to really digest what I’ve seen.

So far, FBND has been a tasty confection—a sweet candy shell over a dark chocolate heart. Most of the dramas I’ve watched while they were airing haven’t been that great, but things are looking up: I can barely wait for this week’s episodes of to be subbed. (Which, of course, is exactly what I said at this point in Big’s run. We all know how that turned out.)

Here are some chaotic thoughts on an obviously well-ordered show.

Cacti on the sill
Most of Dok Mi’s plants are cactuses or other succulents, which works for her character in two ways: (1) This type of plant is notorious for not needing much water, and ergo would not drive up her water bill. (2) Succulents look prickly and strange on the outside, but on the inside they’re super efficient, just like our girl heroine.

The milk sticky
Naturally I can’t remember where I read this, but apparently in the original webtoon Dok Mi’s relationship with Jin Rak, her next door neighbor, begins via post-it notes. I’m wondering if that’s the significance of the sticky on her milk delivery, which is shown above. This note is mostly glossed over in the show, but it’s clearly not the first one Dok Mi has received: she peels the sticky from the milk carton and adds it to a stack of similar notes by the door.

This particular note’s contents are pretty interesting: it uses comic-style art to seemingly mimic the fall day Dok Mi first saw her across-the-way love, Han Tae Joon. While Dok Mi was scoping out Tae Joon, was Jin Rak setting his sights on her?

And on the topic of stickies, I wish someone would translate them. Most are in Korean, but at least one is in English. It seems to read something like this:

❤ The home office
whether you work from
home or simply want a
ceter (?)
and organize your
domestic life

Of details and devils
I love to see the attention to detail in Dok Mi’s apartment. She’s got all the trappings of editorial work: stacks of proof, sticky note reminders, red pencils galore, and everywhere neatly organized shelves full of books. (As Malaria Monsters has pointed out, the set design makes no bones about Dok Mi’s priorities: she spends money on nice bookshelves and fancy computers, but has clearly never bothered to paint her drab-to-grimy apartment or do much of anything to make it feel homey. Compare what Dok Mi’s apartment says about her with the vibe at Jin Rak’s place: He’s got almost as many books as she does, but they’re shoved haphazardly in cheap, industrial shelves that look like they’re straight from the hardware store. And instead of countless layers of clothes and jackets, he’s got a space heater and walks around in t-shirts in the dead of winter.)

As a total geek, though, my favorite detail is Dok Mi’s book stand, as shown in the screen grab above. Even I only discovered these handy tools a few years ago—they allow you to prop up a book or stack of paper at just the angle you want so you won’t hurt your back leaning over it. They also have little grabber things to keep books open to a particular page, which she’s clearly using here. (Want your own book stand? Here’s the model I have. Around the office it’s literally referred to as “Amanda’s boyfriend.”)

The one down side of all this attention to detail? These days, most (English-language) publishers want things proofread on screen. This would be a great innovation for Dok Mi—she could just e-mail the files back and forth and never go to the post office again—but a PDF sure isn’t as pretty to look at as a romantic garret filled with paper.

Enrique’s true colors
There are already a lot of things to love about this show, but one of my favorite moments is Enrique’s introduction. As the camera followed him out of first class, I literally cringed. Practically every other Kdrama male lead would have been mean to the little boy to get him to stop screaming, but Enrique has a heart of gold: he sees someone suffering (or in this case, lots of people suffering, as the crying is clearly interrupting everyone’s flight) and he does everything he can to help them feel better. The show even goes out of its way to make it clear that his motivation isn’t selfish: his headphones blocked out the ruckus just fine, so he could have ignored it and let everyone else listen to the tantrum for the rest of the trip.

Park Shin Hye as Dok Mi
In the hands of another actress, Dok Mi could come off as cold and distant. She barely has any lines in the drama’s first two episodes, after all, but even without words Park Shin Hye’s lovely, expressive face ensures that she’s is very much the heart of every scene she’s in. Long before we hear Dok Mi speak, Park Shin Hye has already told us everything we need to know about her loneliness and vulnerability.

And while Dok Mi’s seclusion is motivated by fear, I also see a flip side to this particular coin: strength. Her lifestyle might not be the healthiest thing ever, but Dok Mi can live that way because she’s utterly self-sufficient and relies on herself alone. If something needs doing she can and will do it herself. I admire that in a character. (And in a person, too.)

Seeing, not doing
A lot of Internet commentary about this show casts Dok Mi as a creepy stalker. I know this is technically true, but I have mixed feelings about it. She’s peeping into a bare window, after all—with buildings in such close proximity, doesn’t Tae Joon need to take some responsibility for his privacy?  I know this is perilously close to blaming the victim, but the man has drapes in his sterile, decor-by-Pottery-Barn apartment. Why doesn’t he ever use them?

One of the common themes we’re seeing in this show is how blurred the line is between public and private in the modern world: fans and paparazzi meet Enrique at the airport, Dong Hoon films Jin Rak at the protest, and lonely Dok Mi becomes a passive participant in the life the boy across the street. Presumably, this will be taken one step further by Jin Rak’s Flower Boy Next Door webtoon. What does it mean co-opt the life of someone you barely know for a piece of art, and to do it without their consent? How can you judge Dok Mi for doing the same thing everyone else in this show—in this world—is doing? In some ways even Dok Mi’s career as a proofreader is a form of surveillance; her livelihood comes from looking closely at things other people have created, but not creating anything herself. 

It’s clear that Dok Mi doesn’t see herself as a peeping tom; she’s so used to looking in from the outside that she’s totally desensitized to the real meaning of her actions. In episode one we see her disgusted response to a news story about a guy who hid a camera in his girlfriend’s bedroom. She’s so lacking in self-awareness that she doesn’t see the parallel to her own spying. 

The written word
A love for the written word is one of the things Flower Boy Next Door has in common with Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, the first of the Oh Boy series. This seems little surprising at first blush, as the shows are geared toward the kind of younger audience most people assume doesn’t read much. But on the other hand, our dependence on technology has given the written word a second (or third or thousandth) wind—as we become increasingly reliant on computers and phones, text moves to the center of our lives. We see writing everywhere in this show: floating above characters’ heads in the airport, hanging on their walls at home, billowing on banners in the street. And for someone who doesn’t speak or read Korean, it’s a special kind of torture to have no idea what it means. The webtoon editor—what was she protesting? What do Dok Mi’s sticky-note reminders say? What was written on the side of the van Han Tae Joon got into during episode 1? And what do all the many signs in the above picture mean?

Enrique as Dok Mi’s mirror
People have been talking about the cute telepathy scene between Dok Mi and Enrique in episode 2, but that’s not the first time common lines have been drawn between the two characters. When they first meet, for example, she’s kneeling in front of the closed apartment door of a stranger, worried about a dog she believes to be hurt. Instead of standing behind her and asking what the hell she’s doing, Enrique gets down on the floor next to her, mirroring her position and facial expression. It’s played for laughs, but it also says a lot about how compatible these characters are—they’re both deeply empathetic with the people (and animals) around them, and both feel the need to intervene when someone’s in pain.

Another commonality comes later in the first episode. Enrique immediately recognizes the potential inherent in looking directly into someone else’s apartment windows, and eventually plans to do some peeping himself. On the other hand, Tae Joon has lived across the street from Dok Mi for at least three years, yet still seems clueless about the person who regularly peeps into his living room. Lit up at night, her apartment must look just as much like a stage to Tae Joon as Tae Joon’s apartment does to Dok Mi. But apparently he’s too focused to see it, while both Enrique and Dok Mi are drawn to the world just beyond the glass.

Keyboarding for dummies
As a word geek, I love checking out the keyboards used by people who speak other languages. Here’s a great shot of a Korean version—it includes both English and Korean letters. To read more about the differences between typing in Korean and in English, check out this site.

Where we’re going
I love that this show is slowly revealing its mysteries and carefully setting up the central storyline, which I hope will involve lots of creative-person shenanigans. We have a video game designer, a webtoon author and illustrator, and a furtive writer of late-night prose, all of whom are on a collision course that’s both personal and professional. Jin Rak suddenly has two reasons for wanting to be around Dok Mi—he has a crush on her, and he also needs her to be his muse. Will his webtoon become successful? Will he have to hide it from Dok Mi?

I have my fingers crossed that this show’s finale won’t hinge solely on Dok Mi’s happy ending with Enrique—I want her to find her voice by getting involved in the creation of the webtoon, just as she should find her voice by getting involved in the creation of her own life.

Kiss me
Kissing in Korean dramas is all over the map—sometimes it’s closed-mouth cold, sometimes it’s hot, and sometimes it’s plain old silly. The Oh Boy series has set a pretty good precedent on this front—Flower Boy Ramyun Shop’s kissing was of the steamy variety. Me Too, Flower proved that Yoon Si Yoon is capable of great things on this front, but Park Shin Hye’s on-screen kisses have mostly been wooden (although this might be chalked up to her characters’ youth).

So what will the kissing be like in this show? I’ve already spent an embarrassing amount of time considering the issue, and it’s hard to imagine FBND’s lip-locks being anything but painfully tender and intimate. Both Dok Mi and Enrique have a childlike innocence about them that makes me think intense kissing is not the way to go, but I can’t wait to out how the director decides to play it. 

(P.S.: All these screen caps came from waystosmile.)

(P.S.: It’s just too hectic for me to write during the work week, so I always put together posts on the weekend. Normally this works just fine, but with a Monday/Tuesday drama I run the risk of new episodes totally refuting everything I’ve written. Sorry if this has happened here.)

(P.S.S.: Look what’s finally, finally fully subbed!)


  1. This is such a good review. I hadn't noticed half of the things you mentioned and it made me really enjoy the show so much more... Thanks!

    1. If you'd watched the show three times and scrolled through the screen cap folder, flip-book-style, you would have noticed these things, too =X

      I think I need a new hobby.

  2. Ahhh, now this sounds like a fun way to pass the time between episodes. *what has Amanda got to say about these eps???*

    I thoroughly enjoyed the first eps, even if its not yet come to love. At this point, I'm reserving my heart for just about every character in School. That leaves me emotionally drained by the time I get around to FBND. I am excited to see of this, especially the two leads. Yoon Shi Yoon has always been a bit of a fascination for me, since I watched Me Too, Flower. And oh boy, the kissing scenes of that show! I too watched them repeatedly. Wonder what this show will have for us!

    1. Is that a schoolboy I see in your icon, you pervy noona? I'm super excited to start watching that show, but will hold out until it finishes airing before I get started. Only one current show at a time, that's my motto ;)

      I don't always like this kind of romantic comedy, but when I fall, I fall hard. I never really liked Flower Boy Ramyun Shop that much, because it's tone wasn't quite right. It was too realistic to be goofy, and too goofy to be realistic. FBND, on the other hand, is pushing all my buttons as hard as can be.

      I actually think I might not want any Me-to-flower-esque tonsil hockey between Dok Mi and Enrique. That would be too weird, as both characters seem so sweet and innocent.

      Here's hoping this show stays good!

    2. I've been caught! And here I was thinking the icon too small to be noticeable ;) At least the actor is older than schoolboy age...

      I hear you. I actually liked watching Ramyun Shop, more than I anticipated. But it never really grabbed me in emotionally. I just happened to be in marathon mode, and it suited the purposes.

  3. Hmmmm, you make it sound like this is a pretty good one. I started watching Cheongdamdong Alice, but sadly, I'm just not so crazy about it so far. Maybe I will watch this instead...

    1. Alice took me a few episodes to get into (like 6), and even if it's not the best thing in the world - it has to be the most hilarious thing I've seen in recent history. Park Shi Hoo is literally insane.. it's amazing.

      BTW: Amanda, I just realized what that link for 'what's finally subbed' is!!!! *happy dance* Need to fit that into my drama schedule, asap!

    2. I'm looking forward to watching Alice... I guess one of the downsides of waiting until a show has completed its run is knowing from the beginning that it's not that great =X

      As for what's finally subbed, it looks as if we have to get a paid membership to watch. (Not that I won't do it, but what a hassle. I wish that Dramafever would pick it up, too.)

  4. I still wait for dramas to be complete before I dive in.. I like to be able to marathon it if I like it, plus waiting for the next episode after a great cliffhanger is such a daunting discipline :P It's been a long time since I've watched a drama as it was airing, and I'm trying to hold out on this one despite the universal love its getting.

    It's great to know that it's fun and interesting tho! Something nice to look forward to ;)

    1. It took me a long time to try watching some shows as they aired. It's a fun experiment, if you ever waver in your dedication to marathons—seeing the Internet community's reaction to a show makes for a whole different experience. Fangirling is best done in groups, after all ;)

  5. I just loved everything about this post! I didn't love the first ep, but likely due to the fact that I watched it without subs, and probably missed ~15% of the details (more, if you count all the writing!), which I just hate, and prevents me from enjoying a show fully. I became much more engaged after the 2nd ep - very curious where this show will go. Thanks for the great read! Looking forward to more from you on FBND!

  6. Great review Amanda, and wonderful attention to detail! I think you noticed things in the first episode that have become more apparent in later episodes.

    As far as the kissing goes, Park Shin Hye can actually kiss fairly decently (her kiss scene with Jang Geun Seuk in a CF they did together before YAB was fairly decent: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCHFHeVed6g&list=FLIHpachO_GjfaK5rGdRhvvg&index=8).

    And I love how you've managed to talk all about how all the types of writing will hopefully converge. (And I also wish that subbers would sub the text that floats around - perhaps more motivation to learn more Korean?)

  7. I finally must comment on one of your reviews because they're simply too awesome to overlook. I must confess that I really enjoy reading every article, I love your pretty writing and witty comments <3
    And about drama: it's getting better and better with every episode and I love when Yoon Si Yoon character goes into goofy-little-boy mode, he's so freaking adorable! Seems like I'm gonna have some really hard time waiting for next episodes...
    Great blog again! :)

    1. Thank you! Reading such kind works makes the insane amount of work I put into these posts seem worthwhile =X

      I can't wait to see more FbND, too. It's wonderful, as is the lovely Yoon Si Yoon. I wish I could put him in my pocket and carry him around with me all the time.

  8. I'm getting a little frustrated about the issue on sticky notes. I really hope someone translates them :(

  9. I figured out one of the sticky notes! The one above the pink note contains "Boracay ☆," "White beach" "Swimsuit" and "Puka Shell Beach." Haha! Dokmi wanted to got to the Philippines!

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