Saturday, February 11, 2012

K-Drama Review: Shut Up, Flower Boy Band, Episodes 1-2

Read episode reviews for:
Shut Up, Flower Boy Band, Episodes 3-4
Shut Up, Flower Boy Band, Episodes 5-6
Shut Up, Flower Boy Band, Episodes 7-8
Shut Up, Flower Boy Band, Episodes 9-10
Shut Up, Flower Boy Band, Episodes 11-12
Shut Up, Flower Boy Band, Episodes 13-14
Shut Up, Flower Boy Band, Episodes 15-16

Contains Major Spoilers for Episodes 1-2

This show? It is awesome. Shockingly so. I'm glad I gave it a chance because I had already decided that I wasn't going to watch Shut Up, Flower Boy Band, and I had a couple of very good reasons: 1. It's a teen show and while I enjoy YA books, it's been years since I've liked a TV show centered around and marketed to teens. Veronica Mars was probably the last one I liked, and that was half a decade ago. 2. Just from the posters, I figured the show would be about pretty people posing in pretty ways while holding guitars. Like a music video stretched out over 16 hours. Not exactly riveting television, correct?

But boy, was I wrong! Just with the first two episodes, SUFBB proves it's a show with real heart, and it's not afraid to let a little sad realism slip into its world of attractive teenage musicians. It's an approachable and friendly-type show, and it kind of winks at the audience and says, yes, we know we're being a little bombastic and over-the-top. Just bear with us; it'll be worth the trip.

Byunghee is the leader of a band called Angujeonghwa (most people are translating it as "Eye Candy"). He and his best friend Ji-hyuk and their four other bandmates are super-cool in their neighborhood and are all but worshipped by the local teen crowds, but that's just part of the story. In reality, the guys are all incredibly poor and they come from broken or dysfunctional families, so their time together as a band is the one place where they can pretend to be totally fine and normal, and be regular kids with a chance at pursuing their dreams of success. But when their school shuts down and they all get transferred to a snobby prep school, it becomes clear that the guys will never be regarded as anything but trash by the "haves" at their academy. And when Byunghee gets obsessed with having a particular girl be his songwriting muse, it just complicates matters further.

Things I Loved:

1. Byunghee. He's such a perfect example of a rock band leader. He has delusions of grandeur, but he's charismatic enough that people want to follow him. They may refer to him as "our wacko leader," but the guys really do look to Byunghee as an indicator of whether everything's going to be all right. And since he's so buoyant, they always have some reassurance that things will go their way. Even if they won't.

Beloved By All. Has Only a Tenuous Grip On Reality.

2. Fights. There are a lot of fights and near-fights in SUFBB, and they seem very accurate and boy-like. In romantic K-dramas, most guys fight only over the heart of the heroine, because that's what the audience wants to see. Here, we get a few major fistfights in the first two episodes, and they're over territorial issues, or just because people got mad. That's very dude-like, fighting because of insecurity, aggression, and pent-up frustrations with life. We'll probably gets fights over the girl later on, but for now I'm glad the dirt and grit of this show comes from the guys' own economic and social issues.

There's Even a Brief Fight With a Teacher.

3. Decent Music. We don't hear Eye Candy play all that much, but when they do play, they actually sound like a band you'd want to go and hear. In their first scene, they're doing a nice cover of "Not In Love" by Canadian electronica band Crystal Castles (which itself was a cover of 80's new wave group Platinum Blonde. Layers within musical layers...), which sounds slightly like Coldplay but less sleepy. If you went to their concert, you'd have a fun time if you were at all into rock/pop.

4. A not-quite-a-villain. Seung-hoon is the default bad guy for this story, but he's not really evil and not really even "bad". He's just Eye Candy's main opposition. He's the prince of Jungsang high school and he resents the new crop of delinquents coming in to mess up the place, but you get the sense that Seung-hoon would be a decent person if he weren't trying to live up to his own reputation for being above everyone else. He genuinely worries about Suah--she's not just a trophy to him, she's a real friend. He just doesn't know how to connect with her or ask her what's going wrong in her life.

A Thoroughly Sympathetic Semi-Villain.


1. Too Many Names. This is an inherent difficulty in watching any major ensemble cast drama, but it took me a very long time to keep the names and faces of the main cast straight. In an average K-drama, there are about four leads you have to remember, but in this show there are at least eight main characters--the six guys in Eye Candy, then Suah and Seung-hoon. It took me the full two episodes to keep everyone's names and personalities straight.


Family Troubles: No one has good family relationships, here. Byunghee's dad is abusive, Ji-hyuk's mom and stepdad are...I don't know what they are, but he lives by himself and there's talk of them legally disowning him. Do-Il avoids going home for reasons we don't yet know, Hyunsoo's parents are badgered and brow-beaten, and Suah's dad is in trouble with some loansharks.

Rock Muses: We see some foreshadowing of future plot points (I think) in the big discussions of muses. The guys in the band don't actually know what a "muse" is supposed to do or who might qualify as a muse. Byunghee knows it's a pretty girl who makes you want to write music, and the rest of the band eventually remembers that Eric Clapton wrote the song "Layla" for his muse and won her away from George Harrison.

Suah, Unintentional Rock Muse.

Childlike Attitudes: Most of the guys have had to grow up too fast, but despite making some grown-up decisions, you get the sense that they're still kids in a lot of ways. Byunghee is especially childlike. He's never 100% creepy, overbearing, or abrasive because he so often shows a genuine soft-hearted delight in the simplest of things. He bounces back after every setback, and is surprisingly non-emo about it.

Finances=Persomal Value: Seung-hoon unknowingly wounds Suah when he says that the poor kids are nothing like them and will never be their equals. He's trying to hint to Suah that she shouldn't fall for a street rat, but what he actually does is hurt her feelings by making her feel worthless. The problem of basing personal value on wealth is that wealth changes. If the street rats hit it big, they'll be valuable and if Suah's dad loses money, she's suddenly an untouchable. I see this financial problem nudging Suah closer to Eye Candy, who are more on her new "level".

Cultural Observances:

Band members=Oppas: Before the Eye Candy concert, both teen girls and tiny little middle school girls refer to the band members as "oppas," which means big brothers. Korean girls/women get to use this term for older guy friends as well as blood relatives, and the term seems to be applied a lot to famous guys. So long as they look up to a guy, they get to call him oppa, even if he's a distant actor or singer.

Noraebang: In episode 1, the guys go hang out in a karaoke room, but only two of them are actually having fun and singing. Everyone else is depressed.

New words: "Eodi" is "where". "Eodi-ah" seems to be "where are you?"

Episode Evaluations: This show is easily ten times better than I was expecting. There's a bit of depth here, but the show isn't trying to be deep. There's no voiceover talking about the larger meanings of life; you just see them played out in these kids' everyday struggles. I plan to keep watching and reviewing this one--it may just be a keeper.

You can watch an English subtitled version of episode 1 HERE at Dramafever.

Further discussion of the MAJOR SPOILER death scene, because I just can't let it go:

My favorite character! Is killed off! In episode two! *uncomprehending blink* If I had done my research prior to watching, I would have known that Byunghee's actor was only doing a short cameo in this show and was never intended to be part of the full cast, but I don't like to read plot descriptions or press releases about K-dramas before I watch them--it's like reading the last chapter of a book first. So I was blindsided by the death of Byunghee, but after I calmed down I realized that this plot choice is really going to do great things for the show. Ji-hyuk was never going to step into the spotlight with Byunghee stealing every scene, and this loss should propel the characters to grow and change. I think I was mainly shocked because I feel that in American dramas, the best friend characters either die early on in episode one, or they die in the season finale--never in between. The timing was shocking! Don't let the smiley, pink-infused posters fool you--this show will suckerpunch you with its sadness at times.


  1. I was completely taken by surprise by Byung-hee's death. I thought he would end up in the hospital only to show in a nick of a time to perform in the battle with the preppy band. I expected something of a love quadrangle with Ji-Hyuk, Byung-hee and the preppy kid all vying for Su-Ah's affections; extra drama for best friends turned enemies but clearly I was mistaken.

    I loved the prep kid's accent when speaking Japanese, it was cute and not all that bad either.

    1. Poor Byunghee! I give this show major points for surprising me with that death, because like you say, the average K-drama car accident results in a hospital stay and an attractively scratched face. Or maybe a coma...

      You know Japanese? I couldn't tell if Seung-hoon was speaking well or not, but from the context of the scene, I figured his Japanese was supposed to be pretty good.

      Episodes 3 and 4 are amazing! Hang in there. :-)

    2. Oh yes, those comas. Car accident induced comas are very popular, aren't they.
      The death scene is all the more shocking and impressive due to its execution. Normally the cars don't even seem to actually hit anyone (which may explain how it all ends with a few minors scratches more often than not) but in this case the car actually connects with its victim, it literally mows him down!

      Yes, I understand Japanese. Enough to carry a conversation. I also know some Korean (I actually began learning Korean earlier as a teen but I forgot most of it by now) and weirdly enough can still read Korean (albeit with difficulty).
      I enjoy catching Korean words that remind me of their Japanese counterparts; there are actually quite a few of them.

      Looking forward to episode 3 and 4 now.