Okay, I’m cheating just a little bit on this one, since this is a TV series and not a movie. But it’s still worthwhile I promise. Let me introduce you to a Korean drama called Boys Over Flowers. I can’t remember how I stumbled onto this little gem, but I’m so glad I did.
Boys Over Flowers is originally a Japanese manga. There’s a Japanese anime and even a Japan version of the TV show. I haven’t seen the anime, so no comment. But on the TV show, I tried watching it, but I found Jun Matsumoto to be all wrong for the male lead. It’s probably the Korean version’s fault. Lee Min Ho does a much better job. (It’s probably from watching Jun be a “dog” in Kimi Wa Petto).
Anyways, the plot from Wiki:
Geum Jan-di is an ordinary girl whose family owns a dry cleaning store. While delivering dry cleaning to a student at the prestigious Shin Hwa High School, she saves his life by stopping his attempt at jumping off the roof and is given a full swimming scholarship. She attends Shin Hwa High and soon is terrorized by the leader of F4 (the four richest and most popular boys at the school) Gu Jun-pyo.
Although Jun-pyo persists on bullying her, he begins to find himself attracted to Jan-di. However, Jan-di has a crush on Yoon Ji-hoo, Jun-pyo’s best friend.
Let the love triangle romance begin!
PREJUDICE OF THE POOR
Let’s face it. Most of us aren’t rich and probably a lot of us harbor some angry envy toward those that are—especially when they’re snobbish about it—more especially when it was something just handed to them. It’s a subject matter that appeals to a wide audience, so they’ve already built up story sympathy that way.
And just to sweeten the pot, the show us how poor the female lead, Jan-di, is. She has a job, Mom and Dad both have jobs—oh, and Dad has a gambling problem. So getting that swimming scholarship seems like it would be a big boon to Jan-di, only it isn’t. She doesn’t want to attend a snobby, rich kid school. And, it seems, every hates her for being poor in the first place. See how much conflict they’ve already set up in the beginning?
Enter our male lead, Jun-pyo. He’s the alpha male, leader of his own exclusive richie club F4. When someone crosses F4, he makes sure their life is a living hell (what he’d done to the boy of whose life Jan-di saved). The other students are afraid of this dictator and follow orders without question. In the beginning he’s ruthless and very unlikeable.
Which is why we have his foil in Ji-hoo. Also a member of the group, he’s kinder, softer, a musician, and who Jan-di has a crush on. Ji-hoo lost his parents in a car accident, so although he doesn’t stop Jun-pyo from being a terror, he’s never an instigator (and comparatively more likeable).
But how does the romance get started when it seems there couldn’t be two people who dislike each other more when it comes to Jan-di and Jun-pyo? Jan-di stands up to him, something he’s probably rarely if ever experienced. At first he thinks she’s in love with him and is eager to exploit it, but she rejects him, only making her more intriguing in his eyes.
The writers then spend the next several episodes showing us the change in him (making our jerk likable, as one of our best sympathy building tools is seeing a person undergo a sort of redemption). And we also get to know that his being a jerk, well, there’s a reason, turning him from unlikeable to likeable jerk. But since he must be a jerk for awhile, we have Ji-hoo to pick up the slack in the story.
As I watched this series, I wondered how is it they keep me coming back for more even though it’s a bit cheesy and sometimes over-dramatic? Tension. They keep switching the polarity on the main story as well as the subplots. Jun-pyo seems to be a good guy. Oh wait, he isn’t. Oh wait, he is. Maybe Jan-di and Ji-hoo will get together. Oh wait, they won’t. Oh wait, they will.
Obviously as a writer you have to find that delicate balance of doing it too much or too little. Overboard and it isn’t believable. Underdone and it’s boring. I’m not saying every story has to be written like this, but I’m hoping if you watch it you can gain a little more insight into tension like I did. They keep throwing obstacles in our heroes’ ways which make me want to click on next episode hopefully like our stories will make readers want to turn to the next chapter.
Plus the payoffs and stakes keep rising higher and higher. Whenever one of our characters gains something you thought was the best thing ever, something gets in the way to keep it from being truly fulfilled or makes it the worst thing ever.
SAME OLD, SAME OLD
This was really the first Korean drama that I watched, but since I enjoyed Boys Over Flowers so much I ventured onto other dramas like My Princess and Secret Garden. I was surprised how much it seemed they recycle plots in Korean drama. Love triangle. Check. Jerky rich guy. Check. Poor, but headstrong girl. Check.
And yet it works. Not that I’m saying you should purposely recycle a plot, but let’s face it, it’s all been done. So in one sense we are recycling plots. How do we make it seem original? Our characters, for one. And by stretching our imaginations.
Often our brains, when plotting, will give us something very expected as our first option. It will tend toward cliche. That’s why rewrites typically come in handy. Our first draft is merely scaffolding to the real piece of art we’ve yet to reveal.
Boys Over Flowers isn’t the perfect example, but it is an example. We go into it doubting there’s anyway Jun-pyo and Jan-di would ever get together. We’d much rather Jan-di and Ji-hoo did. But then our expectations shift. Maybe it is better if Jan-di gets with Jun-pyo instead. And so on, and so on.
It is very romantic comedy, but it’s a lot of fun. I hope you’ll give it a watch, it’s available on Netflix and probably somewhere on the internet as there’s a huge Asian drama fanbase. A warning to Netflix watchers, sometimes the subtitles are…shall we say…creative? You get the gist of it.
UPDATE: Because my blogger buddy Picture Me Reading asked, I glanced on Hulu and you can watch it for free and it seems with better subtitles. Netflix, you really need to work on updating your stuff.
Have you seen Boys Over Flowers, either Korean or Japanese? What did you think? Have you ever learned something about creating plot, story or character from watching foreign films? What foreign movies or TV shows would you recommend watching to learn more about crafting story? Let us know in the comments below.