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We started our Summer of Subtitles with Boys Over Flowers, a 25-episode Korean drama. South Korea has quite a following of American youth for their music and TV. It’s referred to as K-pop and K-drama by American fans. My daughter has some friends who are into both, so this series was a relatively easy sell, despite getting some eye rolls at the whole idea for the Summer from both of them at the beginning.
I saw glowing reviews of Boys Over Flowers online and in multiple Facebook homeschooling groups when I asked about media resources for Asia. I’ve heard about this series for years but it was never available to stream without purchasing it when I looked.
So knowing about those glowing reviews, I struggled greatly to review this series. With twenty-five 70-minute episodes, it felt like it took us forever to get through it, and I had several red flags about the content.
About The Series
It’s rated TV-14 in the US accoding to Netflix, TV-15 in Korea according to IMDB. The IMDB parent’s guide contained no information on sex, nudity, violence, profanity, substance use and frightening scenes.
Boys Over Flowers is available for free right now on Netflix. I had some reservations giving the rating and with no info to go on as to content that generated that rating, but the high praises sung about the series by fellow homeschool moms won out so I decided we’d start the series and stop if we ran into problems. And I should have stuck to that decision.
The episodes are about an hour and ten minutes each. It’s entirely in Korean, so you have to rely on Subtitles. The subtitles interpreted everything except the intro and outro music. Those subtitles have included an fbomb written in the graffiti on a chalkboard.
I’ve also seen perhaps about a half-dozen mild curse words between graffiti aimed at humiliating one of the characters and one of the high school actors who is bratty and entitled. Mild cursing isn’t very common outside of the bullying.
Boys Over Flowers high school teen drama focusing on Jan Di, a younger girl who is a commoner and is new to the school, and the four uber-wealthiest, older boys who run the social life of the school. This leads into a love triangle between Jan Di and two of the uber-wealthy young men, Ji Hoo and Joon Pyo.
The show opens with a young man standing on a roof contemplating suicide after being bullied and Jan Di talking him out of it while people look one and jeer at him, encouraging him to jump. They’re filming with their phones instead of trying to help him. Jan Di displays great bravery while delivering something to the school for her parent’s business and talks the young man down off of the ledge. Her bravery and push-back against following the (rich) crowd forms the whole basis for the series, then the series moves into integrating her with the four boys and focusing on the love triangle that has developed.
Themes include bullying, discussions about class, society and romance, as well as a love triangle and entitlement. There is a lot of room here for discussions about emotions, consent and equality in relationships as Jan Di is put into a dating relationship against her will as a major part of the storyline, yet she inanely will not speak up for herself throughout it. There’s also a lot of room to discuss how different societies view appropriate boundaries in relationships and the differences between societies that are matriarchal, patriarchal or egalitarian.
First off, let me say that I was VERY concerned about the abusive behaviors portrayed as normal in this show. Particularly the cycle of abuse and the domestic violence portrayed as simply normal romantic behavior in the relationship between Jan Di and Joon Pyo. This raised a lot of red flags for me. At one point, he said he wanted to destroy her, that if he couldn’t have her, no one will. I almost stopped the series there, but we cautiously continued after a lot of discussion as to why this was wrong and that it certainly was no romantic.
For that reason alone, I do not recommend this series for impressionable young teens who might think this is romantic or even remotely acceptable in any relationship. There were too many red flag abusive language and posturing scenes, verbal abuse and put downs in the couple who were supposed to be in love with each other even though he never hit her- he just paid someone else to do it. This is a good lesson in what to avoid in a guy. And the problem is that the show makes it look romantic.
The young man, Ji Hoo, who behaved in a loving and giving manner, was selfless, loved Jan Di and took care of her well gets completely dismissed. Plainly put, she chose the wrong guy. The abuse dynamic continued being amplified until then end, it was called romance, and the good guy ended the series with no girl. She even called the good guy her soul mate, but she chose to marry someone else.
Real life should never work that way. Abuse, intimidation, name calling, destruction of someone’s property isn’t romantic.
The main character, Jan Di, displays some pretty dense and non-sensical behavior at times and is contrary. She occasionally behaves difficult just for the sake of being difficult, as some teens are prone to do. She generally suffers as a result of it. However, this crazy hard-headedness continues far too long into the series after the establishment of her character and it becomes wearing.
There’s a focus in the series on how money makes some people feel entitled. They clearly show that some people buy respect and the moral issues surrounding that. There’s also examples of people not understanding boundaries and receiving pushback or being corrected by their friends.
No nudity in the episodes. One instance of underage drinking where it’s very clear she learns her lesson by getting sick and having a bad hangover- it isn’t glorified and she is later very embarrassed by her behavior and rightfully so. False accusations of teen pregnancy are used to shame one character.
Mean girls abound. As do people out for themselves.
Points of Discussion
There are a number of things that happen in the series that are good points of discussion with your teens.
The abuse is quite glaring in this series. Jaw droppingly so for those who understand the dynamic of narcissistic, controlling abusers. And then it gets romanticized. I wouldn’t allow an impressionable young woman to watch this series. I did watch it with my daughter after careful consideration with liberal use of the pause button to explain abuse dynamics and the red flags to look for. However, this point alone keeps me from recommending this series. I only allowed us to finish the series in hopes that they would right the wrong and fix the problem. Sadly, they did not. If I had to do it over again, I would have stopped the series and not wasted time on hoping they would correct it in the end.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition between Jan Di’s father who is rather hands off and uncontrolling, her mother who is pushy and very vocal (annoyingly so, although she plays a minor role overall on the show) and the blatant sexism and objectification displayed by the richer boys towards all of the girls. Knowing that South Korea is a strongly patriarchal society that is only beginning to make strides towards safety and equality for women, the things that take place that might raise your concerns would apparently be socially acceptable in South Korea.
There is a scene where an entitled young man tries to force a kiss on a girl. It was a good discussion point in our family about entitlement, sex, ownership of one’s body and consent. That no means no, and that when a woman says no, that doesn’t mean that a young man just needs to keep trying harder but to accept that no.
Love triangles aren’t uncommon among teens, nor is confusion over what qualities to look for in a mate. Both can be good discussion points using this series.
Integrity, self-image and not allowing others to tell you how you should think about yourself or your value is an interesting theme juxtaposed with the ‘romantic’ abuse Jan Di endures. Repeated attempts to humiliate her do not succeed. She won’t allow them to break her. Yet she’ll marry an abuser. This makes no sense.
I won’t recommend this series, but as we have found, there are some really good K-drama series out there that aren’t so inane and don’t portray abuse. So we will not give up on the genre as a whole.
But I really wish I had that twenty-nine hours back to watch something else.