I completely forgot about this Korean drama when it first aired in early January, despite me having anticipating it all of last year ever since the news about its production was announced. I was a huge fan of the original manga Hana Yori Dango (HYD) by Kamio Yoko, which was actually one of the first manga I’ve read when I got obsessed with Japanese comics and anime once upon a time during my college days. I remembered ordering the anime version of it on E-bay. Not a huge fan of the anime though. The cartoon was not as pretty as the drawings in the manga. No offense, but in truth, the earlier volumes of the manga also presented pretty ugly drawings, which was inconsistent with the description of flower boys a.k.a pretty boys. Thinking back, I wonder what made me pick up the comic, or even more, what made me continue reading it because usually, I read only comics with beautiful drawings. I might miss out on all the good stories out there because of the not-so-appealing art, but that was simply my preference then: beautiful arts to look at. The story itself was secondary. And HYD changed that about me.
I guess, I’m just like any other normal girl; while the art may not be appealing, the story itself is a timeless classic, a love story between a spunky poor girl (Tsukushi Makino) and a rich, arrogant boy (Domyouji Tsukasa). Throw in the plotlines of silly yet innocent courtships, misunderstandings, double standards, cruel rich mom, love triangle (or squarepants?), sacrifices, memory loss, more misunderstandings, insecurities, and so on and so on (think of all the clichés in the old days love story and you might be on the dot of what the contents of HYD is), but don’t you love it when in the end, love conquers all? Don’t you just love to see a guy who can have (almost) everything in this world yet all he truly wants is a poor girl’ heart? And don’t you just admire a girl who may be poor, and plain, yet has strong personality and kick ass? Most of all, don’t you envy (or rather jealous) of her for having not only one, or two, but four handsome and rich boys (known as F4, which stands for Flower Four – cheesy, isn’t it? LOL) looking after her and falling for her (to varying degrees), plus the not so handsome and not so rich boys who got crushes on her (to varying degrees), and even girls who think she’s one cool gal! So what is it about this girl, really? There’s Something About Mary, er… Makino. I don’t know what it is, but I’m sure they are some of us out there who wish to be in her shoes. Hana Yori Dango may present some things that are too good to be true, unreal, sometimes too ideal, and yet that what seem to be the appeal: an escape from reality.
The romantic plot aside, I enjoy the manga because the mangaka really knows how to tell her story. She really nails the funny and over the top situations that are common in comic books. The main characters are lovable, innocent (to a certain degree haha). Makino and Tsukasa are such a cute, funny, adorkabe couple). The storytelling itself is sometimes silly, heartwarming, hilarious, whichever way made me enjoy reading through. And despite me saying it to be an escapism, it relates to real emotion pretty well. Reading it was a rollercoaster ride for me. Emotions going up and down. And kudos to the mangaka, because I truly feel that she grows with her work. The arts improved tremendously by the end of the story (a total of 36 volumes) and I may not know her, but am very proud of her on this aspect.
Live Actions, Adaptations
Meteor Garden (2001), a famous Taiwanese series, is an adaptation of the Hana Yori Dango. I love the series, at least the earlier episodes, before things get draggy. At that time, the manga was still ongoing. And then came Meteor Garden 2 (2003) that made it even worse. MG2 spun its own tale, which dedicated to the memory loss part in the manga, but took it through a long winding road, which was not nice at all. I don’t recall if I ever finish the sequel. The casts of F4 for Meteor Garden were newbies, thus acting was so-so to satisfactory (but I suppose they improved towards the end?). I don’t really consider them good looking as per F4 description, but maybe the one who played Domyouji is (according to many people, which I’m not really sure about that myself).
The Japanese made their own adaptation in 2005 with the same name as the manga (Hana Yori Dango), with Season 2 in 2007. The F4 casts were less intimidating in terms of size as compared to their Taiwanese counterparts. But they have this F4 charisma which makes them the better F4 in my regard. Plus, the acting, overall, is much better. And the story itself, with only 9 episodes (Season 1) was fast-paced yet still conveyed the important elements of the original manga, but I felt that it was a little bit on a shaky ground. Season 2 was more solid in terms of story progression, acting-wise, and overall production. I love the actress who played Makino. She was a newbie then, but her performance was really good. And she has sharp, shining eyes that give a strong aura for her character. Hanazawa Rui, one of the F4, was carried out by Oguri Shun, who take the character to a whole new level. I don’t consider him good looking, but he certainly has his charm, and it’s hard not to fall in love with his portrayal, even though I was never once considered the possibility of Rui and Makino in the infamous love triangle with Tsukasa. I was rooting for the stupid (regardless) Tsukasa and Makino all the way.
The Japanese Hana Yori Dango released its movie last year (2008) called Hana Yori Dango Final, though I’m not sure about the ‘final’ part, given the ending was a little bit open-ended for the Hanazawa Rui character. Regardless, I enjoyed the movie very much. Some say the movie was pointless, even though the scenes towards the end pretty much redeemed its value. I, personally, disregard the logic and the sense and the over the topness of the movie, and thought it was highly entertaining. The advice is to just sit back and enjoy the silliness. It’s good as a stress-reliever.
There was actually an earlier movie adaptation (Japanese) in 1995 starring Yuki Uchida. I believe this is the first ever adaptation of the manga. I might be wrong. The actor (Fujiki Naohito) who played Hanazawa Rui in this earlier adaptation, also played a cameo role in the 2008 movie.
Boys Before Flowers
Third time’s a charm, was the tagline when it was announced that Korea was going to do its own adaptation of Hana Yori Dango. The Korean title, Kkotboda Namja, loosely translated as Boys Over Flowers or Boys Before Flowers (I personally prefer the latter) is the third adaptation of the manga into a drama series. The casting took quite some time, with some ‘drama’ here and there. Kim Hyun Joong of the popular boyband SS501 was the first rumored to be joining the cast (which turned out to be true. He plays YOON Jihoo or Hanazawa Rui in the manga). Another singer, Kim Joon from the trio T-max was casted as the character Akira in the manga. The Korean name is SONG Woobin. The other two F4 characters, namely GOO Junpyo (Domyouji Tsukasa) and SO Yijung (Nishikado Soujiro) are being played by relatively new actors, Lee Minho and Kim Bum, the latter of which has given a riveting performance in MBC East of Eden. Lee Minho as Goo Junpyo was received with mixed feelings and skepticism at first by many, as he was totally under the radar. But I enjoyed his past performances i.e Mackarel, Run and I Am Sam (even though the two series were not very popular) and believe that this is one actor to look out for. He has great potential, and he proved it in the first episode of Kkotboda Namja aired 5th January 2009. And in the subsequent episodes, it seems like the Goo Junpyo character is made for him. His lover in the drama, Geum Jandi (Makino Tsukushi) is played by Gu Hye Sun, an up and rising actress of commendable performance through her dramas such as Pure 19 and The King and I.
As guided by personal taste and preference, I think the Korean F4 is by far the best fit of the original description of pretty boys. They are good looking, and the best part is, they resemble their manga counterparts, to a certain high degree, which really is a bonus for a fan of the manga like me. Acting-wise, Lee Minho steals the show with his effortless portrayal of a mean, domineering jerk with some childlike quality, and Gu Hyesun is totally adorable (some people thinks she’s over the top sometimes but I honestly don’t mind at all coz she’s so darn cute even when being exaggerated and loud). Kim Joon, despite his drama debut, proves to be a natural. Kim Bum may not reach his potential yet, given the side line role he has to play. But even with that limited space to spread his wings, I think he does a pretty good job. Kim Hyun Joong is one that’s hard for me to figure out. Often time, I just can’t tell whether he is bad acting it, or if that’s how his character is supposed to be. But there are moments where he shines and nails the scenes to perfection. It’s just that sometimes it such a shame that an important scene is ruined by bad acting. But if I were to look past that and see the bigger picture, which is the drama as a whole, despite the flaws in not only some of the acting, but also directing and editing, I can say that the Boys Before Flowers is one enjoyable drama. And the BBF mania that’s going on right now is totally understandable.