Contains Spoilers for episodes 1-2
Jandi is a poor high school girl who works part-time at her parents' dry cleaning business and part-time at a porridge shop. She's a cheerful person with a can-do attitude, but her temper explodes when she is delivering dry cleaning to the exclusive Shinhwa High School and has to save a boy from jumping to his death to escape the bullying at school. It turns out that the bullying was instigated by F4, the Flower Four (really? seriously? that's what these teenage guys are allowing themselves to be called?), who are the handsomest, wealthiest, and most snobby of all the handsome wealthy snobs at Shinhwa.
Jandi is all but ready to murder JunPyo, the cold-hearted leader of F4, but she has to dial down her rage when she is accepted into Shinhwa as a publicity stunt to cover up for the almost-suicide on campus. Jandi hates JunPyo and loves his best friend JiHoo, but soon it becomes evident that super-meanie JunPyo might actually harbor warm fuzzy feelings for Jandi. A few kidnappings, makeovers, and returned long-lost loves later, and the plot really gets underway. Only 22 episodes left to go...
While watching this show, it's important to remember that Hana Yori Dango/Boys Over Flowers/Boys Before Flowers isn't just a TV show; it was a manga series that ran for ten years in Japan, then an anime film, a live-action film, a J-drama (Japanese), a C-drama (Chinese) then a K-drama, and there are other spinoffs as well. It's seriously like the Twilight of Asia, so when discussing BOF we're really discussing a phenomenon more than a story.
I didn't personally click with this show and I didn't want to watch the whole thing, but I did read recaps of all 24 episodes, just so I would know how the series ended. It seemed important to have some knowledge of this story that so many fans have fallen for. You can read a superbly detailed recap of Episode 1 over here at Dramabeans.
Things I Loved:
1. Jandi. I like her hardworking nature and the way she sticks up for the underprivileged and never actually sees herself as underprivileged. She is often a voice of reason in this really loopy world of rich people, and she stands up to JunPyo like a tough girl should. I'm also a big fan of the actress Goo Hye Sun, though I prefer her acting in other dramas to this one. Still, it's pretty impressive that she was 25 at the time of filming and easily passed for a 17-year-old without straining credulity in the slightest.
Our Heroine, Pedaling Her Laundry Bike.
2. JiHoo. I came to this drama ready to adore him, because I heard he was the good guy in the love triangle, in contrast to JunPyo's total jerk of a character. However, whether it was a result of the acting, directing, or script, JiHoo wasn't as awesome as I'd anticipated. Yes, he does wear a white suit and play a violin in the forest (so artsy-cool!), but I don't really get much emotion from the character. He falls flat, but even then I'm glad he's around, just so we have a quiet personality to balance out the explosive tempers of the rest of the cast.
Bland, but Sweet.
3. Jandi's nutty family. Her parents and kid brother are ecstatic to have her go to Shinhwa. While the average mom and dad might understand their daughter's reluctance to go to a place where the students are wealthy psychopaths, but Jandi's folks know that Jandi's status and theirs will be improved if she takes one for the team and attends the Academy of Evil.
An Intensely Practical Family.
Complaints: 1. JunPyo's hair. The actor Lee Minho is an attractive enough person, but the sideswept wave-curls don't make sense to me. But I suppose it's a testament to the bigger issues I have with the show if something as simple as an offbeat haircut can make me want to turn away from the screen.
Not His Best Look.
Although, considering the hairstyles in the original manga, I should probably be thankful for the lucky break:
2. The cartoony elements. The original manga story began in 1992, so that explains some of the overwhelming dramatic elements. Early-90's love stories, whether in America or overseas, tended to be a little more angsty and melodramatic than they are now, twenty years later. But even knowing that this show was an over-the-top story made in the style of the comics, I still felt stunned by the lack of realism. Jandi saves a falling guy who is twice her size (and who has already jumped off a building) just by grabbing his sweater? That's not an exaggerated moment made to suit the drama--that's more like cartoon physics.
Miraculously Rescued by the Strength of Jandi's Fingers.
3. F4's evilness/non-evilness. The guys never actually beat up another student, but when they decide to "red card" somebody, the rest of the school chips in to hit and humiliate that person until they leave Shinhwa. One targeted kid gets covered in blood from these fights and ends up trying to kill himself. And our heroes drove him to do this? But then they never truly seem like fully bad guys afterward, which is confusing. I don't mind anti-heroes in K-dramas, but this takes it to an all new level of cruelty, while still somehow keeping our main characters free of all guilt.
The obscenity of wealth: I don't know if all viewers feel like this, but every time I see F4 spending their money in extravagant ways, I shudder. Jandi sees the overkill and protests it, but the show still wants to provide us with lavish costumes, exciting locations, and cool leisure activities, so the abundance keeps rolling in.
Standing up for the oppressed: Jandi is inclined to do this, and though she's only sorta kinda sometimes rewarded for her efforts, I think the audience is still supposed to see the value of her actions. It's how we know she's a true heroine.
Hardcore college entrance exams: Normal citizens are angry that Shinhwa students automatically get into Shinhwa college without having to take the big, scary national exam along with everyone else.
New words: "Shinhwa" means "myth or "legend", which is appropriate because the high school is legendary.
Episode Evaluations: I didn't like it. I absolutely understand why BOF is popular and why other people love it, but unlike another ultra-hyped series, Secret Garden, I never caught the fire with this one. It's just not my style, what with all the kidnappings and past traumas, etc. I need something either more comedic or more realistic.