Sunday, August 19, 2012

K-Drama Review: To the Beautiful You, Episodes 1-2

Read episode reviews for:

To The Beautiful You--Episodes 1-2
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 3-4
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 5-6
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 7-8
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 9-10
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 11-12
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 13-14
To The Beautiful You--Episodes 15-16

Contains Spoilers for Episodes 1-2

Star-studded Korean teen comedy? Yes, please.

Like Boys Over Flowers before it, To the Beautiful You is a K-Drama based on a J-Drama based on a Japanese manga (called Hana Kimi). It's your basic high school crossdressing heroine story (there are tons of these in Asian media...and in Shakespeare, oddly enough) with a girl who dresses like a boy to attend an all-boys high school and compete in athletic events. She falls in love with a boy who eventually figures out that she's a girl, and wacky hijinks ensue.

The Short One's the Girl.

Our show begins with high jumper Taejoon (played by Minho of the K-pop band SHINee) competing in some kind of teen Olympic event, and his hard work lands him the gold medal.

Behold the Intensity of Choi Minho--er--Kang Taejoon.

In America, a girl named Jaehee (Sulli of the K-pop band f(x)) watches Taejoon jump. His performance leads her to make the drastic decision to cut off her hair. Why? Well, we soon learn that she's not just cutting her hair for no reason; our little Jaehee is so in love with Taejoon that she is going to impersonate a boy so she can enroll in his all-male school and be near him.

Getting a Trim at the Crazypants Self-Barbershop.

And for the rest of the entire 16-episode show, I will pointedly ignore the stupidity of A.) Jaehee moving to a new country for a boy she hasn't even met B.) Jaehee deciding that the only way to get her man is by school-stalking him through C.) A thoroughly unconvincing crossdressing attempt.

*deep breath* This is our very, very odd premise, so I'm just going to roll with it. Let's proceed, shall we? Jaehee arrives in Korea.

Still Lookin' Like a Girl.

At her destination, a place called Genie (!) Athletic High School (??!!!?), a soccer player named Eungyul is shown to be so popular that he tweets pictures of himself after practices, and his female followers coo over every shot. As Jaehee walks up to the front gates of her new school, a mob of young ladies blocks the gate, hoping for a glimpse of superstar athlete Taejoon as his chauffeur drives him and his manager to school. A gym teacher literally uses a giant stick to peel the girls away from the bus.

Jaehee herself meets her high-jumping dreamboat when her suitcase falls open and Taejoon happens to retrieve her underwear. Jaehee panics that she'll be discovered, but it's clear that Taejoon doesn't care what weird stuff the newly transferred "boy" has packed away in his suitcase. Oh dear, is Taejoon going to be one of those painfully incurious heroes who takes forever to understand anything?

Hope She's Got Extra Patience.

Jaehee heads to her homeroom class to meet the guys she'll be spending the rest of the year with--they all seem like wild, crazy idiots just trying to act up and have fun. When she introduces herself, one guy throws a banana peel in her face. Soccer star Eungyul feels sorry for Jaehee and invites her to sit in the seat beside him. One of the other dudes, Jongmin (played by Kwanghee of the K-pop band ZE:A) isn't done messing with Jaehee, though, and he convinces her to try to steal a toy from a rabid dog being raised on campus. But! The dog loves Jaehee and happily clambers all over her.

Who's a Sweet Little Puppy Dog? You Are!

Taejoon also loves the dog, and Jaehee overhears him telling the dog that he's considering quitting high jumping, after his ankle injury. First I've heard of this injury. Didn't he just win an Olympic gold medal a week ago? Jaehee tells Taejoon that he must never, never quit his sport; he tells her to butt out of his business.

Jaehee gets into even more trouble when a bully picks a fight with her in the bathroom, which leads to her dueling him with a plunger. She's about to get truly beaten down when a nice upperclassmen, Seungri, intervenes and saves her. I would guess that this guy would be romantic triangle material, but we've already got our romantic lead (Taejoon) and our friendly, perky second lead (Eungyul) and a boy antagonist (Jongmin)...but in a story set in an all-boys' school, I guess it's natural that we're going to have an endless supply of dudes entering Jaehee's world.

Expect to See A Lot More of This.

Eungyul plays Mr. Exposition and explains to Jaehee that there are three dorms on campus, and each dorm is in a fierce competition against the others. I love this! Seems like it could be fodder for a lot of funny, enjoyable conflicts. Next, Eungyul leads Jaehee to her ridiculously spacious dorm room...seriously, this place is as big as my first three dorm rooms combined with my first two apartments. O_O Genie High really takes care of their freshmen!

And it's revealed that Jaehee's roommate in this decadent palace will be none other than Taejoon! Our Hijinks Potential just went through the roof. But Taejoon's subplot of the story is actually rather serious right now. He doesn't want to high jump ever again, but he's in danger of losing all his endorsement deals soon, and his bossy father wants to make him get back in the game.

Victim of Daddy's High Expectations.

Originally, I thought it was redundant for the much-worshipped Taejoon to have yet another fanatic worshipper in Jaehee, but now I see that Taejoon's really more of a loner at the center of a media storm he didn't want to create. Maybe Jaehee's adoration and support could be good for him.

Or it could be ridiculously annoying.

Taejoon wakes up in the morning to find that his much-despised roommate has left him a dozen cutesy notes of encouragement (not even trying to act like she has a Y chromosome, is she?). Jaehee even slept in the doghouse so that he wouldn't be upset by seeing her, first thing in the morning.

Simultaneously Sweet and Pathetic.

There's a small soccer match during PE, but antagonist Jongmin slams into Jaehee as she's about to score a goal. This gives her a concussion. Taejoon carries her off the field and deposits her in the infirmary before being compelled by his manager to go off and shoot a commercial. He blows the shoot by failing to clear the high jump bar they've set up for him.

Meanwhile at the infirmary, the school doctor asks Jaehee what a girl is doing at an all-boys school. 'Cause doctors are gifted at things like determining the gender of their patients, even when everybody else is flat-out blind.

He knooooows!

Jaehee solves her problem by running out of the infirmary, shouting, "I'm a guy!" Confrontation postponed (for all of a day, probably).

Taejoon sits quietly by himself after the borked photo shoot, but he tells his manager that he's okay. He didn't plan to high jump for the rest of his life anyways, and he's sort of glad it's all over. Taejoon's Dad appears, just to deliver a resounding slap to Taejoon's face and ask him why he's trying to fail. We've got some unexplained father/son tensions here because Taejoon just walks away, asking Dad to stay out of his son's business.

Back at the dorm room, Taejoon tells Jaehee that she can stay, but she's not to believe that they're equals because they share a room--he is the room's owner and she is nothing.

But She's Such an Adorable Nothing!

It says something about K-drama heroes (and Japanese manga heroes) that I barely even register this behavior as jerkish anymore. It's a standard Cold Prince attitude, and of a pretty low caliber at that.

A flashback shows why Taejoon and his Dad are at odds. Taejoon's mom died shortly after his Olympic win (which was clearly longer ago than just last week...this show's timeline is so confused), and it drove a wedge between them. Taejoon has a nightmare about his mom's funeral, and Jaehee walks closer to tuck in his covers. Still asleep, Taejoon grabs Jaehee's hand and holds it, dreaming that his mother is with him again. Jaehee holds his hand all night.

Which Makes for a Weird Morning.

What's even awkward-er is when Jaehee's buddy Eungyul wanders into her dorm room the next morning to use her bathroom while she's washing her face. Yep, they've skipped from hanging-out-together friends to let-me-pee-in-your-bathroom friends in just 24 hours. Gyah. And THEN Seungri, the dorm captain, comes into her bathroom also, but this time for number two. I really can't believe I just typed that. Poor Jaehee is in despair over their weird manners--she couldn't very well have known that in this televised universe, guys bond through bowel movements.

After that little detour into bathroom humor, we're back to the sports plot. Dorm captain Seungri reminds everyone that Dorm 2 is the reigning campus champion, and that soon they'll have to defend their title.

Cue the Showdown Music.

Bwa-ha-ha, and it turns out that all three dorms have been training all year to be the best, even going so far as attending boot camps to get more fit. Oh, this over the top competition is wonderful. This is hardcore funniness right here, in a way that nothing else has matched so far. From their childish thumb war game, to the fact that dorm 3's captain speaks Latin and insists on being called "Charles," the dorm captain scenes are comic gold.

Meanwhile, Taejoon has yet another stalker, named Hanna, but this one is as famous as he is. She's a rhythmic gymnast who has plenty of her own endorsement deals, but she'd be willing to quit it all if Taejoon would marry her. In high school. Yeah, she's one of those. (And she reminds me so much of cute, wealthy, bossy stalker Mari in Big!) She even goes so far as to deliver herself to Taejoon's room in a big box.

Fortunately, Jaehee Finds Her First.

I think the odds are 50/50 that Hanna will eventually fall for Jaehee, making this show more and more like Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. Jaehee=Viola, Taejoon=Duke Orsino, Hanna=Olivia. Except that in this case the male lead doesn't love the female rival, and Jaehee does not have a secret twin brother. Or does she?

In a practice race, Jongmin trips Jaehee yet again and she gets sent to the infirmary. Man. Jongmin doesn't mess around, does he? He's already tried to get Jaehee mauled by a dog, given her a concussion, and nearly made her sprain her ankle. On the upside, the visit to the infirmary gives Jaehee a chance to plead her case with the Doctor, who agrees not to rat her out for the time being.

This Ought to Buy Her a Minimum of 10 More Episodes Undetected.

The day of the dorm competition arrives! Dorm 2, home of Jaehee, Taejoon, Eungyul, Jongmin and Seungri, wins several events, but to win the whole thing, they have to succeed at the marathon. Jaehee volunteers for it and runs her little heart out. One guy trips Jaehee in the last stretch (everybody on campus is tripping Jaehee--we need to find some other mean thing for people to do to her), and she falls verrry close to the finish line. But she remembers Taejoon's televised words of wisdom: ""Miracle" is just another word for hard work," and she peels herself off the pavement and goes for the gold.

Best Moment in the Show, Thus Far.

This moment is just beautiful. I may not care whether Taejoon jumps again, and I may not care whether Jaehee gets her man or whether anyone discovers her secret, but by golly I was 100% invested in her finishing that exhausting race. All right, her determination has won me over. I'm Team Jaehee from here on out.

Dorm 2 wins and celebrates lavishly, with a live performance of K-pop band EXO performing "Mama". Heh, that's awesome, since the show is produced by SM Entertainment, the label that's home to EXO, plus the K-pop bands that our two leads belong to.

"Careless, Careless. Shoot Anonymous, Anonymous. Heartless, Mindless,
No One Who Care About Me."

Laugh all you want--those are the actual English lyrics to the song.

Jaehee is the guest of honor at the big party that night, and she finally feels like she's a real part of her new school. At the party, Taejoon downs a glass of the teachers' champagne, but a helpful bit of exposition from Seungri tells us that this is a bad thing. Why? Because Taejoon goes crazy from even one alcoholic drink and he always kisses the first person he sees afterward. Oooookay. That's a strangely specific and plot-convenient reaction to have to champagne. Can anyone guess where this is going?

If You Said "Jaehee's First Kiss," You Were Right.

Our hero and heroine have kissed, and it's only episode 2! Scandalous. How will Taejoon react when he comes out of the blinding haze caused by his unnaturally low tolerance for alcohol? We won't know until next week.

Things I Loved:

1. Kwanghee as villain. He's pretty funny, and I love the character tic that constantly makes him apply chapstick. It's so great to have him around, ruining things for no good reason just because that's how he rolls.

As Bumbling Villains Go, This One's a Keeper.

2. Sulli's acting. She radiates a purity of heart and intensity of purpose. Jaehee may make no sense at all as a character but doggone it, Sulli is so cute and irrepressible as Jaehee, I want to feed her cookies and carry her around with me.

She Shall Call Me Unnie.

3. The Three-Dorm Rivalry. ZOMG, I love sports stories and I love rivalry stories, so when you combine both for a within-the-school sports rivalry, I perk right up. Who doesn't love to pick sides and root for them, even in a fictional universe? It's like the House Cup wars between Gryffindor and Slytherin.

The Boys (and Girl) of Dorm 2, For the Win!


1. Minho's acting. If you love Minho you won't care, but it looks like he's thinking hard about every emotion he has to convey. He does eventually end up conveying that emotion, so he's not the worst actor I've seen, but it does seem like he's in this show for his visuals instead of his personality.

Okay. Could Be Worse.

2. The Slapstick. The physical humor here isn't usually amusing. Like when Jaehee falls into her big suitcase and slides dramatically down dozens of stair steps. It just falls flat. Also, in epsidode one we literally have a person tripping on a banana peel, which is such an old joke that it isn't even a joke anymore.


Celebrity Obsession: It's interesting that the fans in the first episode look so sad and ridiculous in comparison with our heroine, but although Jaehee is acting calm on the outside, she's even crazier than they are! They might be mobbing Taejoon's van and screaming like banshees, but she has made a full life-changing commitment just to be near him. Cree. Py.

Watch "To The Beautiful You" HERE on DramaFever.

Episode Evaluations:

I'm trying valiantly not to be weirded out by the fact that Taejoon's got a stalker living with him in his dorm room. It's such a violation of privacy and decency on all fronts. Can you really say it's all right to lie, sneak, and cheat to get close to your celebrity crush, since all you want is "what's best for them"? Oy. I'm stopping now--that's the last I'll ever mention it. Just noting that there are some behaviors that are a bit distressing and worrisome even in a romantic comedy that leans heavily toward fantasy.

The show itself? Supah-cute. Sulli is adorbs as Jaehee, and the cast of guys surrounding her are all cute and borderline interesting. The settings are bright and sparkly and eye-catchy. There's nothing deep or especially lovely about the story itself, but if you want cheek-pinching preciousness, To The Beautiful You is your best bet this season.


  1. Okay. Done. Done. Done. I'm watching. Thank you. Your reviews are amazing.
    I need to read your thoughts on I Do, I Do! :)


    ♥ Shanise @ Camisado Mind

    1. You're welcome! 안이예요.

      Okaaay, I'll try "I Do, I Do some time this week. Kim Sun Ah and cute shoes await me!

  2. Ahhhh! I want to watch this so BADLY! Haha, there have been several Kdramas I've had to suspend much disbelief over plot points in order to enjoy it, but once I do that, I'm good. I love, love, love that this is sounding more and more like 'Twelfth Night!' It's my favorite Shakespeare play. :)

    Seems to me it's about 50/50 so far with Kpop idol's acting skills. Some of them got it, some of them don't. Hopefully Minho will improve as the show goes on.

    Isn't it sad after you've watched a bunch of kdramas how the "jerky lead behavior" radar dies. Like, I've totally started comparing and being like, "well, Joon Pyo was SO much worse than this in the beginning, so he's not that bad." Lol.

    1. You've gotta see it! The show makes no sense, but I think it might be the latest crack drama, I really do. Yep, you have to check your logic at the door in K-dramas--how hard did we have to suspend our disbelief for Secret Garden? Very hard indeed.

      I honestly think that 민호 has a good chance of getting better as the series progresses. I already feel that by episode 2 he's getting more into character.

      Ha! I do the JunPyo thing, too! Him and JooWon. It's like, "On a scale of One to JooWon, how much of a jerk is the male lead?" By this point, the hero practically has to shoot the heroine's dog before we go, "Okay, that was mean". :-)

  3. I actually really like lee min ho's acting, at some points it might be stiff, but the thing is, that's how his character is. I've seen the japanese version and Sano has always been a stiff board in my opinion. As for Sulli, yes she is CUTE! i didn't think she'd pull it off in all honesty but she was amazing. As for the stalker living together thing, just try not to think about it too hard :P thats what manga/dramas are like.

    great review!
    Just saw eps 3 and 4 and the show just gets better and better! not as funny as Hana Kimi JP version, but still good in its own way! (so if you want awesome humor and laughs, check out the japanese version, one word: NAKATSU!)

    - Juhina @ Maji Bookshelf

    1. Good point about Sano--from what little I remember of the original manga, he was one very cool, aloof guy. It's probably a good thing that he's so unmoveable, considering how everyone else has so much comic potential.

      Yes, I'm trying to just enjoy the show and forget about the "real world" issues. This kind of story doesn't play by our rules! :-) Now, you've got me really anticipating finishing eps 3 and 4.

  4. Since I saw the JP version, I have a pretty good general idea of all the hows and whys. So far, as far as the comedy goes, Hana Kimi wins by miles! I also felt like I was at an advantage having watched it first b/c like you indirectly pointed out, the intro to the k-version was somewhat garbled. The reason she came to the boys school was actually not so much because she's a psycho stalker but because she knew he'd been injured and wanted to encourage him not to quit, b/c he had been her inspiration to succeed when she'd been down. Still extreme, but not quite so creepy, lol. Oh, and I had to laugh when you brought up the typical "jerk hero" thing, because it's so true! The first thing I thought about Taejoon's character after these eps was that he was so much nicer than his Japanese counterpart, lol. Geez, I feel like I'm being brain-washed into acceptance of mean male leads! ;P

    So far I'm trying really hard not to compare the 2 versions too much. Having a harder time with that than I usually do, for some reason. Maybe I subconciously had my expectations set too high, lol. In any case, I am enjoying it so far. I just hope the plot doesn't stay too predictable!

    1. The comedy isn't always there in this version, true. We have hijinks, but I'm not really giggling over them, let alone laughing outright.

      Ha! Yeah, isn't it awful when we think how sweet these jerks are in comparision to the even WORSE jerks we've seen in other shows? How far we've fallen. :-D

      Unfortunately, I think predictability is the name of the game with this least they're all pretty.