I have an opinion. Kpop is a richer musical experience than Jpop. Jdramas are more realistic than Kdrama which is mostly yummy cheese!
That’s the reason why the Kdrama I have watched and really enjoyed can be counted on my fingers, without having to bother my deformed toes!
Kdramas are visually appetizing and sometimes feature the artistic brilliance of the director involved, but you can never get enveloped in the story, there’s a whole chunk of important character buildup missing, for example.
So when To The Beautiful You was announced, my initial reaction was, “I’ve read/seen plenty of Hana Kimis to last me a lifetime so no thanks!” and found myself subconsciously downloading it anyway, because that’s just how drama addicts are.
First impressions were almost all negative:
“That is a girl! Any fool with partial vision can say, that she’s a girl for crying out loud!”
“Is that Nakatsu? What’s with his hair?”
“I don’t like that Shinee kid, he’s too moody!”
Ok, fine maybe moody but kinda hubba hubba, *stares at his firm jaws*
“Who the heck is he supposed to be?”
But despite all the negativity, I genuinely appreciated the brilliant filming which was consistent throughout the pilot episode. The scene where Jae Hee (the Korean Mizuki for those who haven’t watched it) sits on her luggage and slides down the stairs was funny and fresh when compared to the recent dramas I have seen, which tend to be more on the cheesy joke side, or no jokes at all.
Because the pace was slower and I was having high expectations it took me about seven episodes to really get into To The Beautiful You. I was forever comparing it to the very first Japanese take on the manga starring our beloved Shun Oguri, Toma Ikuta and Maki Horikita and constantly telling myself these kids got nothing on them. I mean, let’s face it, even if the premise was completely obsolete, putting Shun, Toma, Maki, Hiro Mizushima and Yusuke Yamamoto in any drama today will attract viewers by the hoards, they were that good, and as far as I was concerned, they were canon. Period.
[WARNING: Beyond this be spoilery]
The first four episodes of TTBY were a drag. There was nothing much happening other than Jae Hee whining around behind Kang Tae Joon (Korean Sano) who didn’t give two hoots about her at one time, and seemed bizarrely protective of her in others. It didn’t help that I knew the storyline by heart and could probably recite it backwards so whenever some action picked the pace up, I’d dismiss it saying, “Oh, here’s that part! I think Shun was better in this!”
Another prejudice I had against TTBY was:
I firmly believe no one can top this epic pinnacle of drama comedy humour, probably for another decade or five.
Tae Joon and Eun Gyeol (Nakatsu) were getting on my nerves, Eun Gyeol less so because I have to admit that his gradual realization of his feelings for Jae Hee was so slow and tender it was cute. It must have helped, as Korean drama have more than fifteen episodes so a story need not be rushed, and character development can be eased in a way it goes unnoticed, but smells exceedingly realistic.
Tae Joon meanwhile, was all “Get out of my room, vermin, here’s your luggage!” at one point and suddenly is cycling, falling and cycling to save the annoying, little dude who shares a room with him from being raped by the quintessential pervert. It would have been fine for me if he’d known Jae Hee was a girl, but Tae Joon didn’t. He grabs her after that and hugs her bones to powder and I’m like, “What’s with that?”
I can’t say where exactly in the drama my feelings towards it began to change. But it was definitely after Jae Hee’s Oppa arrives. Yay for them actually casting a foreigner as a foreigner! It annoyed me that in both Japanese versions, Mizuki’s BFF Julia turned out to be whatever blonde chick AKB48 could spare for a shooting.
And Oppa speaks kickass Korean!
The relationship between Jae Hee and Daniel was much more thoroughly explored than it was in the previous versions where the brother was treated as an element in the plot arrived to a.) Take his sister home or b.) Scream that she’s a girl so the hero must accidently hear it.
Daniel being a doctor is also an important part of the story as Jae Hee’s brother and the other story arc where he interacts with the school Doc. (Who’s not gay?)
Speaking of Julia, the To The Beautiful You’s take gender-benders Mizuki’s foreign friend who comes to visit by making Julia, Johnny. As Johnny turns out to be a photographer who looks the model himself that helped Jae Hee forge all her school documents, his arrival at the school creates quite a rift in the Tae Joon/Jae Hee affair. A brilliant and strong love triangle issue. Applauding the authors of that!
This prominence given to the rest of the characters allows the story an organic field and makes it appear real. Although Sekime, Noe and Kayashima are not there, and you genuinely wish they were, the story has been wonderfully divided among Seung Ri sunbae, Hyeon Jae and Jong Min – who is incidentally Nakao the beauty queen! In my defense, I didn’t recognize him because he’s way too macho to be playing a girly guy.
The Korean version must be applauded. They have taken a wonderful premise and done wonderful things with it, that even if you were born and raised in the Hana Kimi universe, you can’t help but become captivated. Like the realism behind the reason why Jae Hee decides to pull a Shojo Manga move and come to an all boys school across the ocean. Why Tae Joon really is her miracle, because he gives her a reason to believe in herself and come to accept herself for who she is. That truly was beautiful.
First, there is a girl’s school obsessed with our heroes’ school, but there is no Hibari Fooouuuurrr!!! Instead, there is the whiny, yet solidly built female lead (minus Jae Hee of course) the national gymnastics fairy, Seol Ha Na, who does a great job providing the feminism required, though who’s a fangirl to complain of too many boys on screen?
As she is Tae Joon’s childhood friend and signed with the same manager, you can understand the connection between them. Ha Na genuinely adores him and looks up to him and has this childish vision of her being his destined one. It gives her more motive to appear as a strong, love rival to Jae Hee.
Seung Ri sunbae is fantastic. Here I think Hiro Mizushima is everyone’s Nanba-senpai, as he is mine, but I found myself wishing Seung Ri sunbae was my sunbae. He’s a rock, a great leader and I love the way he’s so childishly competitive and at the same time, Dorm #2’s beloved big brother. He also has a serious side that is very cool, like when he captains the athletic team, or sticks his neck out for Jae Hee. Both scenes are smack out of the very first Japanese Hana Kimi where Hiro Mizushima’s Nanba senpai dazzles us all, but I’d say Seung Ri sunbae, is my second favorite.
I love what they did with the character of Min Hyeon Jae. To be honest, Yu Shirota as Kagurazaka – I’m not sure how I felt about that. There was no real chemistry between him and Sano as it should be between bitter rivals, and he just walks on and off screen and is probably my least favorite character in Hana Kimi, so much so, I can’t even remember what the 2011 character looked like.
Making Tae Joon’s rival someone from the same school, who has a genuine reason to despise Tae Joon other than professional envy, who is the roommate of Eun Gyeol, really impressed me. It was a brilliant bit of characterization. Hyeon Jae starts out obnoxious, attention-seeking and jealous and blossoms out into a human being in the final episodes with such beauty it makes you wanna cry. His rivalry with Tae Joon seems genuine and both boys have great chemistry.
I started out planning to write a small blog entry and it looks like I’m in short story lengths now, so even though there is more to talk about I’ll wrap it up.
Finally, what else is there to praise?
Oh yeah, Genie High School (I keep imagining dancing Girl’s Generation here) is actually an athletics school and not an ikemen school. Well done directors and writers! That was a great decision. Incorporating a soccer-playing Eun Gyeol who dreams of playing national and Kang Tae Joon, Mr. Miracle Man high-jumper for whose sake a girl ran across the Pacific Ocean into a school for good-looking guys was a bit much. It’s easier to believe when it’s a prestigious athletics school whose canteen haunts my hunger-infused nightmares!
Jong Min, the Nakao character, liking Eun Gyeol in a kind of man-crush was a fresh take on the overdone Nanba-Nakao storyline. The original Japanese one was great but the 2011 version made me sick of it.
Sulli from f(x) who plays Jae Hee may look like a total girl, but she’s bizarrely tall and fits in pretty well with the guys. Then again, Maki’s Mizuki and Atsuko Maeda’s Mizuki were great with the guys as well. The real boyish Mizuki was of course the Taiwanese Rui Xi! Girl living unnoticed by boys, yep, I’d believe that!
See what I mean?
Ah, I’m rambling I need to stop!
I said I had an opinion, well that has changed. TTBY is possibly the best drama I’ve watched this season, yes, even better than Rich Man, Poor Woman! (Sorry Shun!) I’m not very fond of Shinee, but Minho really grew on me. He has such a cute smile and I love his flustered expressions when he has ‘encounters’ with Jae Hee.
Eun Gyeol is no Toma Ikuta.
But his take on Nakatsu was great and refreshing. I despise that they had Shohei Miura also do the ‘Nakatsu’s Monologue.’ It was an Emmy winning performance when Toma did it, but it does get stale a second time. Eun Gyeol is an even more heart-breaking character because he doesn’t have the humour to make us feel better. But his actor’s performance was shining in both his confusion at his feelings, him overcoming them and the hurt he feels when he realizes he has been betrayed. It angered me why Nakatsu was so loyal, even when Mizuki lied to him. But Eun Gyeol reacts as a boy should, asking Jae Hee why she played with him. It was such a sad scene.
I’m pretty much fraternized with the entire clan now and can’t help missing them now it’s over. Even Sangchu-yah the world’s awesomest dog!
The ending was epic. Watch it, I don’t have words to describe, it just felt much better than the other versions and I would swear Tae Joon and Jae Hee would now live happily ever after. It’s the first time I felt like crying at the ending of a drama.
I will now listen sorrowfully to the soundtrack and swig a beer, if I can smuggle one upstairs without my parents’ knowledge.
All gifs borrowed from the dear angels over at Tumblr. I’m sorry, I can’t thank each one, but thank you for a brilliant creation.