The Korean cast of the hit drama ``Boys Over Flowers.'' From left, Kim Jun, Kim Bum, Lee Min-ho, Ku Hye-sun and Kim Hyun-joong.
/ Courtesy of Group Eight
By Han Sang-hee
``Boys Over Flowers,'' a perfect fairy tale of a television drama, is taking local viewers by storm. Based on the comic series of the same name by Yoko Kamio, it has been made into a live TV series in Japan, Taiwan, and now, Korea. What is it about the local version that has the nation swooning? Four pretty boys dubbed F4, a plain girl, fabulous clothes, houses, cars and a love story may fit for an answer.
``Boys Over Flowers'' saw its big screen debut in 1995 and a 51-episode animation series the following year in Japan. In 1997, Japan came out with a full-length animated version for the big screen.
The plot then saw its first television debut in Taiwan in 2001 under the title ``Meteor Garden.'' The Taiwanese F4 members became a big hit locally and abroad, even creating a band of the same name.
``Boys Over Flowers'' finally returned to its original fan base in Japan and was made into a drama starring top stars Jun Matsumoto and Shun Oguri in 2005 and a movie with the same cast last year.
The Korean version, which airs Monday and Tuesday at 10 p.m., is believed to have brought the cast from the comic book right to the small screen, from hairstyles to school uniforms.
It stars Lee Min-ho as Goo Jun-pyo ― originally Tsukasa Domyoji ― and fellow actors Kim Hyun-joong, Kim Bum, Kim Jun and heroine Ku Hye-sun.
As every version is based on the same plot, the storyline is similar: a girl-next-door gets herself tangled up in a relationship with a rich and stubborn boy, and her life takes a turn as she gets involved with him and his friends, or F4.
There are nuanced difference, however, in appearances, small details in the story and budget.
The Korean F4s have the comic-book, pretty-boy good looks and were chosen by drama producers through auditions.
``I had to change a few details in the storyline because of the cultural differences between Japan and Korea, but I tried to bring as much originality as possible. One important feature was the characters. We tried to cast actors that looked almost exactly like the characters in the comic book,'' Jun Ki-sang, the producer of the drama, said during a press conference last December.
Lee, who had to show off curly hair as the main character, went through four perms to get the right look, while Kim Hyun-joong was chosen not only because of his overall image, but also his height, which matched original character Rui's.
Their similarity impressed even cartoonist Kamio, according to drama production company Group Eight. Kamio visited the Korean drama's cast before the first airing and showed his support, signing autographs and even drawing a sketch of the characters for the cast.
In terms of budget, the Japanese and Korean versions top the Taiwanese one, with airplanes, helicopters, a trip to New Caledonia and the luxurious wardrobes.
For fans who have enjoyed the cartoon, watching the new drama is more fun, as they aree able to compare it with the other versions.
``To be honest, the storyline is cheesy, perhaps mainly because it's based on a comic book, but it's still fun to watch. Other shows have heavier storylines with complicated relationships and business and marriage problems, and I think this is why women are attracted to the simple and pretty drama,'' Kim So-yeon, 20, told The Korea Times.
Some critical fans, however, appreciate the drama but still hope it takes things to the next level.
``The Japanese (drama) was more like the comic book and I can see that the Korean version has tried to be also. I enjoy watching it, but I still think that Ku is not fit for the role. The (heroine) is not supposed to be pretty, but Ku is very pretty! And the computer graphics need to be toned down for a more realistic approach. As for the Taiwanese drama, I think it was a bit difficult to relate to because of the cultural differences,'' Lee Hee-young, 24 and another fan, said.
With news that the Korean ``Flowers'' will start airing in Japan this coming July and a new Chinese version is starting production, expectations are high that the F4 boom will continue here and abroad.