Saturday, April 13, 2013

KDrama Review: To the Beautiful You

The Gist: Goo Jae Hee (Sulli) had it rough when her mother remarried and moved them to America. Her only comfort came from Kang Tae Joon (Minho), a high jumper back in Korea. After his skills motivated her to take up track, her life became easier and enjoyable. However, Tae Joon suffered an ankle injury and stopped pursuing his dream. Feeling inspired by and indebted to him, Jae Hee radically decides to chop off her long hair and disguise herself as a boy to enroll at Tae Joon’s school in Korea. Fate’s on her side because not only does she end up in Tae Joon’s school, but also in his room! He doesn’t want her help, immediately annoyed at how interested she is in him. Luckily, another student Cha Eun Gyeol (Lee Hyun Woo), takes a liking to Jae Hee, such a strong liking that Eun Gyeol starts to become confused by their friendship.  He’s not the only one – it’s not too long before Tae Joon realizes how Jae Hee can help him and that she’s not exactly who she’s claiming to be.  
1.Casting and Characters

 I really admire that the characters in TTBY have their own quirks and personalities apart from the Japanese version, Hana Kimi. While I think sticking to the source material is great, I think some new material has to be added to make it worthwhile. I think I like Sulli in this role a little bit more than her Japanese counterpart and definitely liked Minho as a better fit than Oguri Shun. Their chemistry was obvious, which made the plot smooth. Eun Gyeol was also a favorite, though I must admit I liked him much better when he cut his hair halfway through the series. He looked like a mushroom initially.
2. Seol Han Na

Acted by Kim Ji Won, Han Na was a character I thought I’d hate the whole show. She starts out obviously catty and clingy, totally obsessed with Tae Joon without much consideration for anyone else. **SPOILERS** I think the best decision for this character was to have her get injured. It humanized her and even drew some strong parallels between her and Tae Joon. This moment enabled her to accept and even befriend Jae Hee, which gives me that cathartic redemption I was looking for in this character. I think her later pairings with Seung Ri (Seo Jun Young) also led to some surprisingly enjoyable scenes.
3. Min Hyun Jae

 Kang Ha Neul’s character is Tae Joon’s rival in high jump, always in his shadow. I feel very similarly about Hyun Jae as I do to Han Na. I thought I’d hate his character forever as he seemed to simply stand in to make Tae Joon’s life harder. **SPOILERS** He gets pretty complex when his inferiority drives him to attempt to hurt Tae Joon, a stunt that ends up injuring his roommate, Eun Gyeol. That desperation was a welcome change from his cocky attitude and afterwards, his efforts to change make him utterly likeable. His resulting friendship with Tae Joon felt very appropriate.
1.The Comedy

I had this same complaint about Hana Kimi. I think that the bizarre over acted weirdness just doesn’t resonate with the rest of the story. Prime example: when Tae Joon first meets Jae Hee, her suitcase busts open. She ends up sitting in it and flying down the entrance steps. The effects are bad and the writing is bad. The whole scene made me cringe. STILL, I think it is a bit lighter with TTBY than with Hana Kimi, so the briefer moments are more tolerable. Also, that just seems to be the spirit of the original, so I can’t complain too much for them keeping some of that flavor.
2. The Pacing

I didn’t mind the length of the show, but I think they pushed back the reveal about Jae Hee’s gender too far. At some point the relationship between her and Tae Joon drops off because there’s only so far they can go when she doesn’t realize he knows she’s a girl. I think between episodes 9 and 15, I just wanted her to be exposed already. I appreciate that that would have thrown off the course of events, but it still felt a little drawn out.
1.The Ending

**SPOILERS** Seriously, are we ever going to get a good drama where people aren’t separated at the end? I have major beef with this ending. First, when she decides to leave, why doesn’t she just transfer to the school she was supposed to be at this whole time? Obviously, her family doesn’t mind or they wouldn’t have let her go to begin with. Then, she doesn’t go to Tae Joon’s competition, which is like the pinnacle of why she’s there. Her excuse – if I see him then I won’t be able to go – which is funny, because after saying that, she goes to see him before the competition anyway! She should have just gone to see him jump. But alas, she doesn’t transfer to a school to be near to her best friend and boyfriend, but goes back to America FOR NO REASON. It was nice that Tae Joon came to visit her, but what an unsettling ending. I think Hana Kimi ended better.
2. The Self Pics

I cannot overstate how much it bugged me that Eun Gyeol just randomly held out his phone to take pictures of himself staring deeply into the lens, then tweet it with a bizarrely vague phrase. It made me feel like Eun Gyeol was more self-absorbed than he really was and just seemed like a forced character quirk. I mean, I totally believe that’s something a high school student would do, but I found it totally cheesy and weird. Almost as weird as that student that uses the lip balm all the time.
3. Too Rich

WHAT HIGH SCHOOL LOOKS LIKE THAT? It’s so over the top that it was almost distracting. Even the best schools don’t have boarding rooms that nice. Maybe Korea’s got something on America, but the dorms and cafeteria seemed more like a movie set than someplace high schoolers would actually live. When Jae Hee would offhandedly mention something about how small their room was, I couldn’t believe it. I’ll trade with you any day!
So…I think ultimately I liked this version better than Hana Kimi, but still not as much as I wanted too. The casting was good, but the ending had me feeling a little empty. Also, our characters kiss like they barely like each other – what is this, a Japanese drama (oh snap!)? I think the depth of the story was good, but it didn’t have that same spark that shows like You’re Beautiful or Hana Yori Dango have.
Final Grade: B   

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