Because I’m the queen of procrastination, I’ll just give my two cents worth about the recently-concluded Hana Kimi-remake To the Beautiful You, which stars SM idols Minho and Sulli as the two leads. I had such high hopes and was hoping for a cute, breezy watch if nothing else, but this is a Korean drama that’s just unbelievably underwhelming from start to finish. It wasn’t terrible per se, but it wasn’t exactly great either. Everything was just so-so, although there were admittedly a couple of highlights for me, that were mainly to do with the supporting characters.
I know we’re supposed to look at TTBY as a drama and judge on its merits but I can’t help it – I’ll be comparing with some of the earlier versions, particularly the 2011 Japanese remake because it’s the only one I’ve watched to the end. And ~unpopular opinion time~ I actually adored it to pieces. So let’s get into it, shall we? Starting with the good…
What I liked
1. Eun Gyeol
I had a little trouble adjusting to Lee Hyun Woo‘s portrayal of the Nakatsu character just because I was expecting this loud, boisterous and downright ridiculous character that was seen in basically all the other versions of Hana Kimi that have been done. In Korean drama sense, I could definitely see Nakatsu as someone more like You’re Beautiful‘s Jeremy. While Hyun Woo’s Eun Gyeol isn’t my favourite version (in fact, he may actually be my least if I had to rank them all), once I’ve come to accept this somewhat more subdued portrayal, I actually start to appreciate the gentleness and adorableness that Eun Gyeol embodies. I think he may have won me over with the sheer power of his eye smile alone though. That, and his famous selca time.
Hyun Woo isn’t just cute to look at though, I think he’s probably the strongest actor out of the bunch and in those quiet moments where he’s not being his usual bubbly self, you can really feel the emotions he’s conveying. But I wish we spent more time on his hurt – the guy was struggling with his homosexuality for a better part of the series and when he finds out he was lied to, we basically brush over it in a matter of minutes? Not okay.
This character had so much potential and I’m not sure the writers fully maximised it because Hyun Woo definitely has the capabilities of showing a whole range of emotions that we didn’t necessarily get to see here. It’s apparent this boy can do more than just cute, and I hope his next project is something a little less fluffy, since he’s definitely leading man worthy (though his age and cherubic face may hinder him quite a bit).
2. Hyun Jae
I really didn’t expect to love his character as much as I did. Okay, he is really good-looking, and he does like to take his shirt off quite a bit, but I like that unlike other versions, his character here gets fleshed out a lot more, and even better, he’s actually a student in the same school as his rival. At first, he’s a kind of a hateful character who’s so consumed with this almost one-sided rivalry with Tae Joon that it’s hard to root for him.
But then outside the competitive nature of high jumping, he’s simply just another teenage guy who hangs out with friends and is generally quite likeable. Then Episode 14 happened and we finally get a glimpse of his motivations behind his desperation to succeed. And how adorable was he with his little sister?
Even though he did some things that some may see as unforgivable (like potentially inflicting injury on someone else), I like that he faced up to these consequences like a man and apologised for them. That counts for something, right? Also, it’s incredible how in one episode, we get more character development than we have from the leads throughout the drama.
A.k.a the cutest, fluffiest drama dog ever. I swear everytime this gorgeous little canine superstar is on screen, my smile threatens to split my face in two – I just want to reach through my screen and ruffle its adorable head.
4. Jong Min
I’ll admit I couldn’t stand Jong Min and his lipbalm-applying ways initially, especially at the start when he was causing so much trouble for our leading lady. But something happened midway, and Jong Min just suddenly became this absolutely hilarious character with his over-the-top mannerisms and exaggerated expressions which surprisingly enough, come across as quite believable (like when he got rice spat all over him in one scene lmao). Although I have to say that he does bear a lot of similarity to what Kwanghee seems to be in real life. One question though, whatever happened to his character at the end though? Hmm… Busy filming We Got Married, perhaps?
What I didn’t
1. Jae Hee
Honestly, she just isn’t very likeable. I would compare her character to Jung So Min‘s in Playful Kiss, whereby they’re both infatuated (though Jae Hee doesn’t see it as lurve initially) with a boy, and would do pretty much anything for them. Yes, this often descends into secondhand embarrassment-inducing stalker territory, but it’s a reality we’ve come to accept for Korean dramas, but Jae Hee simply lacks the spunk and the spark that characterised Jung So Min’s Hani.
She’s also sadly quite a two-dimensional character and we don’t see beyond this character who’s disguising herself as a boy in order to register into a boys’ school and support her crush. It’s a premise that’s a little far-fetched and silly to begin with, so it takes a little work to convince the viewer to root for her character, something I find Sulli didn’t quite manage to do. It’s a wonder how Tae Joon didn’t realise she was a girl sooner because it’s almost like she doesn’t even try to hide the fact sometimes.
I like Sulli and her acting just fine, and I do find that she’s particularly convincing in her crying scenes, but it’s just a little hard to relate to her character, who sometimes verges on, for the lack of a better word, stupid. The bicycle scene has probably been brought up more than once, but did she have to get on it in order for Tae Joon to not get injured? She couldn’t have just told him that someone may have tampered with the brakes? I don’t get it.
And I didn’t want to bring this up… but who in the world would believe that Sulli was a boy? I thought she’d be able to pull off this tomboyish role at first, but she’s simply too pretty and feminine in her mannerisms. But giving her the benefit of the doubt, I guess her character’s not supposed to be naturally boyish, but rather acting that way in order to fit into the school.
His acting leaves a lot to be desired. It’s not a particularly difficult role to act since he’s supposed to be pretty stoic most of the time, but he can’t even do that convincingly. He’s really stiff when delivering most of his lines, but I have to admit that the scenes where I find Minho a joy to watch are the ones where Tae Joon unwittingly loses his cool. Like when he kissed her and stuttered an excuse or when he fell through while trying to eavesdrop on Jae Hee and Eun Gyeol’s bathroom conversation. Hilarious. The athletic scenes are also convincing since Minho himself is quite the sportsman. The “yes!” he does whenever he accomplishes a high jump, accompanied with a fist pump, is just so inherently Minho, it’s like I’m not even watching Tae Joon anymore.
3. Lack of chemistry between leads
They’ve mentioned that they’re like brother and sister, and although I don’t really get a sense of that, the chemistry between the two is still very awkward. They’re not very believable as a couple, and I do feel that Sulli seems to vibe off Hyun Woo a little better. And don’t get me started on the kissing scenes… We do get quite a few of those but I’m always left feeling quite indifferent after each one. It’s really the typical lip-frozen-on-lip kind of pecks that are completely unromantic, though I understand that perhaps SM doesn’t want to cause an outroar amongst fangirls and was probably trying to reach a compromise of sorts.
Ahh… The typical annoying second female lead – essentially the character type I detest the most. Why is there always a need for such a character to stir up unnecessary drama? She has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and doesn’t really seem to add to the story in any way. The previous versions didn’t have the need for this character, and I don’t see why we need one here. It says a lot though, that even though they decided to use her to inject some drama to the show, it still remained largely blase. With that said, I do enjoy Kim Jiwon‘s previous work (particularly in What’s Up?) and think she did do her best with the kind of character that has been given to her here.
5. Lack of prominence of dorm heads
This bugs me a lot. I wish the drama had stayed a little truer to the source material when it came to the different personalities of the three dorms. I loved the fact that in the original Hana Kimi, each dorm head has a very distinct personality – the flamboyant artsy one, the gruff karate one and the more mixed sporty one. Here though, they’re all quite similar and moreover, we don’t get enough scenes of them so we can’t get a good grip of their different personalities, and they sort of end up blending into one entity (doesn’t help that they’re always shown together).
We’re shown Seungri the most since he’s the head for Dorm 2, the one where most of our leads are from. And I do like how he’s such a loveable character who’s a bit of a goof but ultimately protects his guys. But I would have preferred if he was more of ladies’ man though (like in the original), because I think that would have made for a more interesting character since we have a few others filling up the cute, loveable quotient already. His potentially romantic storyline with Hanna is a bit unexpected, but I think they’re cute together, and really, anything to get Hanna’s paws off of Tae Joon.
And it’s such a waste to not fully make use of the fact that there are three different dorms who are constantly competing with one another pettily because what I’ve always enjoyed about Hana Kimi is this very rivalry, as well as the exciting athletic competitions that the different dorms always participate in. In Hana Kimi 2011, I really loved how the intense rivalry between the three is establised from the start but when they had a bigger obstacle to face (the closing down of their beloved school), they were all able to put aside their differences and band together to overcome it. This kind of heartwarming plot totally gets to me. Too bad we get none of that here.
And coming off of Shut Up Flower Boy Band, I had sky-high hopes for Yoo Min Kyu who was really impressive there. Here, he’s relegated to an almost calefare-like role, which is just such a massive waste of talent for an up-and-coming actor like him. Let’s hope the guy picks better projects next time.
6. Unspectacular writing
Like I mentioned, the story puts too much focus on the two leads and their supposed love story (that is lukewarm at best), and ironically, ends up lacking what it needs the most to capture the audience’s attention – heart. Hana Kimi has always portrayed friendships exeptionally well but it’s what I’m missing the most from this Korean adaptation. We don’t really get to know any of the other students enough to recognise their faces besides the handful of main characters. The only friendship that remotely tugs at my heartstrings is the one betwee Hyun Jae and Eun Gyeol and even so, we don’t get enough of it.
The writers attempt to stray from the manga and seek to reinvent the story, but it does so in ways that are unspectacular. For example, changing Minho’s character to someone who is a top star, is a change that seems quite unnecessary to me, and in fact, makes me feel a little more detached from a drama that could have potentially be heartwarming and relatable. The whole drama just has that vibe that’s a little too cool for school, everyone’s just a little too good-looking, the rooms just a little too big and luxurious, that it all just renders me unable to really connect with the characters and ultimately, the show, leaving me feeling mostly like a distanced spectator, not really feeling for any one person.
7. Where is EXO, dammit?!
Self-explanatory. You can’t put them in the official poster and then not show them at all throughout all 16 episodes (that one very short scene of EXO-K performing ‘MAMA’ so does not count), it’s just… false advertising. And leaves me feeling cheated. Probably the biggest disappointment for me because they were a huge part of why I picked up the show, and I was so excited to see the boys showcase their acting skills. I actually really wouldn’t have minded even if they had non-speaking roles and simply drifted in and out of the school corridors, because hey, EXO.
(Picture credits: Top Star News)