Sunday, February 5, 2012

first impression: Shut Up Flower Boy Band (Korean)

Before I start into the series itself, I've discovered something that has crossed my mind a few times in the past week. When a series is hyped up and promoted to death, as well as anticipated like crazy by the fans, it carries a disadvantage, both for the viewer as well as the series itself. For the series, if it doesn't live up to the grandness that we as viewers expect, then we become disappointed too quickly; for the viewers, we anticipate too much and forget to watch the series as a separate, individual entity apart from its predecessors. To add onto that, as a personal issue that I have: When I'm anticipating a series AND blogging about it at the same time, it occurred to me that I get flustered because I want to make sure I don't miss important aspects, while at the same time I'm hoping dearly that the series doesn't flop. And thus, this is one of the reasons why it takes a long time for me to start up a series I'd been anticipating for so long.

Shut Up Flower Boy Band is certainly riding on the coattails of its "Big Brother Ramyun Shop's" popularity as the second installation of cable channel tvN's Oh! Boy project of drama series. I'm going to say that there will be some comparisons, but unlike Dream High 2, the comparisons will be few. For one, Shut Up Flower Boy Band is obviously a whole separate entity from Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, and possibly nothing in either of those fictional universes will connect (or at least, if they do, it won't make a difference). Unfortunately for Dream High 2, the series has already garnered a lot of criticisms from netizens around (myself included) being compared and contrasted to the first in its franchise.

But anyway, back to Shut Up Flower Boy Band and how my opinions played out during the viewing of the first two episodes.

We start off with a rather cutesie introductory of all our band members, cameo by Lee Min Ki as Joo Byung Hee included. It is a self-shot documentary that band leader is putting together about his "beloved friends." We are introduced off the bat to each person in the rock band called (loosely translated by netizens as) Eye Candy. Lee Min Ki, of course, is the lead of the band followed by his best friend and "right-hand man" (who really just seems to be a same-aged guardian) Kwon Ji Hyuk played by Sung Joon. The rest of the band include L as Lee Hyun Soo, the second guitarist; Lee Hyun Jae as Jang Do Il, the drummer; Yoo Min Kyu as Kim Ha Jin, the bassist; and Kim Min Seok as Seo Kyung Jong, the keyboardist.

All introductions complete, we immediately catapult into a live performance by Eye Candy in a club wherein a ticket girl Woo Kyung (whom we later learns has a mega-sized crush on Ji Hyuk) is trying to get the girls aligned for the performance while taking care of all other back-stage aspects as well (e.g. lights, audio, etc.). And what should happen but the music get too loud, heard in the streets by passers-by who call the police and the performance gets shut down. By the end of this scene, we get to see the first of Byung Hee's craziness as he and Ji Hyuk get trapped above the crowd and decide to jump in order to escape being arrested. They are minors, after all, mere high school students (in much more believable appearance than Jung Il Woo when he was a high school boy in Ramyun Shop) and so being caught in a club was probably going to create some trouble.

Not soon after this debacle, we get introduced to the boys' first story arc conflict wherein they are transferring from their dump of Dong Nae High School, to the more prestigious, rich person paradise, Jung Sang High School (which really DOES look more like a fancy three-tiered mall rather than a high school). In this case, our central conflict is already brought into the limelight as we can clearly see where the rift will occur. It's going to be a classic case of rich versus poor, high class versus thugs, model student versus delinquents, and so on and so forth. And as we start to see between both Episodes One and Two, there is that obvious delineation of how the rich and the lower class segregate themselves. While Byung Hee and his little band of raucous kids are simply free-spirited band members who want to do what they like to do, the rest of the rich seem to have already drawn their opinions about them being worthless, uneducated thugs.

With the introduction of Jung Eui Chul's almost perfect Prince character role, Yoo Seung Hoon, we've got a great Underdog story presenting itself piece-by-piece. Yoo Seung Hoon is the static asshole of a rich boy if there ever was one. He's got that nobleman's mentality wherein since he's able to obtain anything that he wants and since he's wealthy and powerful, then he's pretty much made as a god-like figure for everyone else to worship. He's bored of his usual activities and he's of the mindset that no one crosses him in anyway at all; he pretty much owns the world.

The rich, of course, are depicted as the typical ignorant rich who look down upon those who are (for the lack of better expression) less fortunate. Our main boys are all the delinquent type because of their own individual family problems pertaining to lack of care and lack of finances. And of course, because of this, our rich society, from students to teachers, all believe that these kids will not be able to do anything with their futures and will never be good enough to do anything with their lives. So instead of helping these kids find a better place for themselves, the teachers condemn our boys without even trying to help them or understand where they're coming from. Like I said, ignorant, arrogant rich-folk.

And so it's quite nice to see that our main lead as well as his neighborhood and his friends are actually on the opposite end of the spectrum as opposed to being a rich chaebol or tycoon's spoiled brat son. And to top it off, these boys are polished in a way that, despite their flaws or even their misfortunes, we readily side with them and relate with them. Because, in one a sense, they are created ever so realistically.

What's making Flower Boy Band so successful already, within these first two episodes, are a combination of things put together.

First of all, I really love just watching the six band mates hanging together, whether they're just talking, or planning their next move for rock band success, or simply doing ridiculous things such as sitting on the street in freezing weather to await Byung Hee's muse. There is already an awesome sense of chemistry comprising the bromance and friendship between the six of them that you sometimes forget that these kids are mostly newbie actors and entertainers. Sung Joon really gets the chance to shine in this series as the leading man, much improved from his supporting, almost insignificant role as Hyun Sang Hee in last year's Lie To Me (which really wasn't his fault since the character pretty much got written into the shadows midway into the story line).

The mutual bromance between Ji Hyuk and Byung Hee is squeal worthy ("Wait, I like being in the band to be with you -- are you telling me I was in a one-sided love"). Even the rest of the boys are interacting with each other as if they're even closer than they could be with family (which I'm sure is a fact with them). That said, there is something just purely awesome about watching a series that can rely on human interaction with one another, presented very naturally at that, that exists within a makeshift group of friends or family or the like.

Secondly, the story line is totally keeping great pace with direction. We aren't being introduced to too many things at once and so we know exactly what conflicts are arising just by some simple flitting scenes. Despite there being an immense number of characters to follow along with (each seeming to have their own family conflicts in hindsight), the series doesn't overwhelm by trying to cram each and every little necessary back story into the progression. There is plenty of time along the way to give us snippets of each boy's background and individual conflict, and so it's a breath of relieve that we don't have to be confused by six different sets of conflicts all at once. Instead, we focus solely on the central conflict (Underdogs versus Rich Snobs) as well as a simpler, smaller conflict (Su Ah's family financial problems) which will soon tie in with the main love line as well.

We get to see a glimpse of other little conflicts as well, such as Ji Hyuk's family issues with Mom, Hyun Soo's possible dilemma with his parents which can go in any direction, as well as Do Il's troubles with family life. It almost seems like we've got some sort of pattern happening here between the six friends in that family issues are pretty prominent. This would probably explain the lack of parental interference in their rock band pursuits as well as school transfer and uniform buying problems. For the most part, I'm not too fond of the fact that every school delinquent on television from a dingy, trashy school has family problems up the wazoo. But then again, it's the reality of the situation that makes me completely sold on this aspect of Flower Boy Band -- not everyone's lives are pitch perfect like the standard K-drama Prince Charming. At the very least, these are a bunch of kids with more realistic problems in contrast to moody chaebol brats who are just angry at their parents for trying to control their lives. And for the most part, these are kids who probably all came together in support of each other BECAUSE of that mutual factor -- and so it's an awesome set-up for all of the boys.

The final factor about Flower Boy Band is simply a combination of little details that makes this series so addictive, only two episodes in. The moody atmosphere, shot in an almost noir inspiration film-like way really impressed me; the camera angles are incredible and the music score is spot on. It's not all pretty and chic like most rom-coms try to be, and it's also a completely different atmosphere than what Ramyun Shop had presented. Instead of being the over-the-top comedic manga-like hilarity that Ramyun Shop had given us chock full of symbolism and attention to detail, we get all of that symbolism and attention-to-detail packaged in a different type of setting. It's got a subtle humor to it, with some parts that are almost darker (in a twisted dark comedy type of way) than you would have expected, and by the end of Episode Two we even unfold a shocking tragedy that I'm sure no one had expected at all.

Finally, there's Jo Boa, who is actually doing a lot better than I had expected. She's natural enough and cute enough and she quietly fits right into her standard girl-next-door character as Su Ah quite well. But in this case, Su Ah (aside from actually living next door to Ji Hyuk) isn't at all such a simple girl-next-door figure. Her family's financial problems have lead her to renting out a rooftop room to live in, miles away from the rich Powerplex district where every other rich child lives off of Daddy's money. But Su Ah doesn't carry herself like a spoiled brat daughter who only knows how to spend her parents money or have people waiting on her hand and foot. She quietly accepts her fate, she knows that she's no longer part of wealth, she rents her apartment and even does her own chores from laundry to cooking. And as much as this is too cliched, she seems to be a very realistic Mary Sue of sorts. She's extremely congenial (even to the "Wacko" Byung Hee who's been taking advantage of her passive personality to cop some hugs and kisses) and doesn't seem to lose her temper or get all high and mighty when faced with the resident delinquent transfer students.

I would even go as far as to say that she's a little flattered to be getting so much attention from Byung Hee. If she really resented by dragged around by him, I'm sure it wouldn't have taken much to chase him off with some standard "rich chaebol daughter attitude". And she also seems to take offense that Ji Hyuk keeps assuming she's a snooty, materialistic rich girl who has no idea about the realities of life. While she's quite friendly in some aspects, I'm glad that at least one person riles her up, even IF it's because he won't succumb to her beauty or grace like every other boy does and ends up actually being openly tart with her.

And for this strange, simple reason, she becomes a rather relatable girl, easy to like and easy to follow with. You don't always have to be crazy spoiled or domestically challenged to be a rich man's daughter. And it's a breath of refreshing change that our main female lead isn't a bumbling idiot (despite having grown up in a wealthy atmosphere and being a highly sought after high school pretty girl). And it's also nice that she doesn't fall into the standard reverse harem category of female lead wherein every boy falls in love with her immediately (since we can clearly see that Ji Hyuk is anything BUT kind to her). Of course, since these two are the main couple in the love line, it'll only be a matter of time before he DOES start falling for her; it'll just be fun to see how his 180 happens.

Finally, she just doesn't seem to have any arrogant airs about her -- in the long run, this type of personality could either be a good thing or a bad thing. But as this series has set up such a great two episode introduction already, I'm leaning more towards the fact that there has to be much more about Su Ah than meets the eye. At the very least, she isn't a crying mess of "I've lost everything" and rather than trying to win sympathy points, she just resignedly gets her life on track however she can, in the most discreet way possible.

If we were to give her a flaw, it would be the fact that, indeed, she cares too much about how other people see her. And in this aspect, she even admits as much when she indifferently asks Ji Hyuk to keep the secret that she lives in the same district that he does. She doesn't want to lose her friends if they find out that she's no longer wealthy, which is a conflict that preys heavily on her pride as well as her own self-conscious need to remain in her own comfortable rich-girl setting without complications. To those of us who didn't grow up with money on silver platters, it's a rather superficial flaw, but if we keep in mind that Su Ah seems to be a fairly sheltered girl who grew up in a superficial world, one can't blame her for feeling so insecure.

As for the obvious love line (outside of the Byung Hee-Ji Hyuk one, of course), Flower Boy Band is already throwing in one "destined" meeting after another between Ji Hyuk and Su Ah. Even being the first person to find out that she is no longer the rich chaebol's daughter everyone else believes her to be will play a main factor on how their relationship turns out in later episodes. As is dictated in rom-com universe, having a mutual secret is the first step to the romantic turn out. Their chemistry as perfect strangers is pretty tame, but they seem to naturally talk to each other like friends (or bicker with each other like misunderstood enemies), so one can only imagine what it'll end up as when their love line begins to develop. For this, the hopeless romantic inside of me is starting to get her giddy fangirl squeals in line.

For the most part, I'm really just digging the character interactions and the central conflict more than anything else. While I DO find the boys quite pretty to look at (as in, yes, they are handsome), I'm not a huge fan of the rocker look. It's a personal preference really, and I'm the type who either prefers the clean cut look, or the roguish sexy-man look. But the rocker style really bugs me -- and I can't help but admit that the only part of Ji Hyuk that I DON'T like is his hair; aside from that, I really love his sass and his sarcastic comebacks. The same goes for Lee Min Ki -- I find him attractive and hot, but his guy-liner really is a tad on the heavy side (of which I'm glad we get some teasing jabs at it by the rest of the boys too). At the very least, it really IS the character's personalities that are drawing me to the series -- while there doesn't seem to be much emphasis right now, each boy DOES have his own distinct personality even if the show hasn't touched upon much of it yet.

Of course, I will admit that the rest of the boys look a bit less outrageous. L as Hyun Soo is quite the cute and pretty little thing (and my favorite Pretty to look at so far). Lee Hyun Jae as Do Il could pass for a girl anytime, and the other two have their cute charms as well.

There was a true reason why I'd been dreading and anticipating Shut Up Flower Boy Band for a while (as stated with the reasons on my post opening). I was hyped up about the series and the project, in general, but I had my misgivings about how well Sung Joon will be able to manage leading male status in the wake of Jung Il Woo's crack-wreck of Cha Chi Soo from Ramyun Shop whom I fell in love with. And then I was worried that all the hype was really just glamor with no substance (like what Dream High 2 is currently giving me).

Ultimately, I'm just glad that Flower Boy Band proved to me that there IS no need to make any comparisons at all. We are setting up a different type of story line, in a different type of atmosphere, with completely different types of Flower Boys. My worries were unfounded and now I can gleefully continue my addiction to this series as I had done so with Ramyun Shop. If everything else in the rest of the series continues in the same fashion as this introductory set-up, then we're Golden!

On an end note, I do feel a bit depressed that Lee Min Ki is only an extended cameo (and even the surprising tragedy in the end hurt a bit). Joo Byung Hee is an astonishingly strange and intriguing character in this series and I loved his heck-care personality. Back at Dong Nae, Byung Hee had somehow managed to slip his girl's dress (a result of having crashed at a female friend's room for the night) onto a different school gang leader's minion. Upon being questioned about it, Byung Hee is just so nonchalant that it's hilarious in a very twisted way. "Did you do this to him?" "Yep." Commence angry threat of "Do you want to die?" And Byung Hee just simply shrugs without missing a beat, "Yep." And that pretty much shuts the other guy up.

Or even the scene where the boys are watching Su Ah cross the road wherein she trips over the curb in true rom-com female lead fashion, and predictably lands in Ji Hyuk's arms. Byung Hee's short moment wherein he stares at his own open arms that are empty and mutters, "She was supposed to fall over here." And for some odd reason, between the timing of his reaction and the expression on his face, that short, simple little moment was just pure ingenious hilarity. I have to admit, I laughed and I totally loved Lee Min Ki's presence for both episodes.

And so I'm a bit reluctant to let go of the character of Byung Hee, but we've known that he wasn't staying with Flower Boy Band for the long run anyway and we knew that he had to leave soon. Of course, I hadn't been expecting him to leave the series in such a shocking way, but his end really DOES set up a bigger, more ambitious fire in the rest of the Eye Candy band members' hearts to succeed where Byung Hee won't be able to go. It was a bitter end that I hope isn't a wasted beginning for the rest of our boys, because while it was sad, it also sets up a nice stage for our boys to fight for for the sake of their fallen comrade. And so now I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of the boys get their chances to shine, especially Ji Hyuk, because I'm digging his personality, which is just as free-spirited as Byung Hee and just as indifferent, but he's got a calmer, quieter expression. Now if only I can get passed his bird's nest of hair then I'm sure I'd love him just as much as I loved Cha Chi Soo (pending later episodes and character progression, of course).

Finally, one last comment: The boys and girls in this series, you'll have to admit, aren't the only Pretty factors. Living on a rooftop apartment, the view is admittedly gorgeous even if the lodging itself looks a little shabby. The camera angles and the natural lighting and the effects are wonderful!


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