Recently, I had the unexpected urge to re-watch Boys Before Flowers (even though I should have been finishing Arang and the Magistrate), the Korean version of my beloved Hana Yori Dango. Those of you familiar with my blog know that Hana Yori Dango was my “gateway” drama as it were, my first love that got me into this mess. You also know that the Korean version did not rank highly in my opinion, so my sudden desire to watch it again had me a bit baffled. Now that it’s available on Netflix (US at least), I sunk a good seven episodes down yesterday without even blinking and was surprised to find that I was enjoying it much more the second time around. I’m not sure if that’s due to everything being better than Meteor Garden’s second season or if it just lends itself better to hindsight watching. Either way, now that I have the Japanese, Taiwanese, and Korean versions well watched I figured I’d do some comparisons. Here we go!
Taiwanese Version (2001): Meteor Garden
Episode Count: 19 in Season 1, 31 in Season 2 (50 total)
Starring: Barbie Hsu, Jerry Yan, and Vic Zhou
Japanese Version (2005): Hana Yori Dango
2 Seasons + Movie
Episode Count: 9 in Season 1, 11 in Season 2 (20 total)
Starring: Inoue Mao, Matsumoto Jun, and Oguri Shun
Korean Version (2009): Boys Before Flowers
Episode Count: 25
Starring: Koo Hye Sun, Lee Min Ho, Kim Hyun Joong
Best Leading Man?
I’m going to have to give this one to Japanese Matsumoto Jun, whose Domyouji had me totally enthralled with his series. As much as I love both Lee Min Ho (K) and Jerry Yan (T), I felt that Matsujun was able to strike the best balance of terrorizing and desperation for human connection. Now, this may be skewed since I watched HYD first, but as objectively as I think about it, I just loved him and he’s been my favorite ever since.
Best Leading Lady?
Surprisingly, I think I’m going to give this to Barbie Hsu’s Shan Cai. She ended up being a little more fun and carefree than the other two. She embodies the spunky spirit that makes the leading lady her, but she isn’t quite as stiff as the other two, even when she’s upset. Plus, I think Barbie has the best connection with her male counterparts, which leads to a sparkling chemistry. If I had to rank them, I’d put Inoue Mao second and Koo Hye Sun last.
Ah man I loved Vic Zhou’s Lei! He is absolutely adorable and his chemistry with Barbie makes that show. I’d say that he is also the most versatile, though his character ends up being just heartbreaking. I’d say Rui and Ji Hoo are about even in their portrayals as the jilted but supportive best friend.
Once again, I’m going to give this one to Taiwan. Since it’s a bazillion episodes long, you get to spend a lot of time developing the friendship between the four. I also love to see some backstory for our side characters and while the J and K versions give a bit, the T version just felt the most fleshed out. A quick caveat - I love the secondary romance in the Korean version. It’s the only one that doesn’t make the best friend seem like a stalker.
I’m going to give this one to Mama Domyouji, the ice queen of the Japanese HYD. Mad props to Mariko Kaga, who gives a spot on cold performance, while also being somewhat human. The K and T versions are cruel, but don’t actually seem to be real people. You can see Mama D getting frustrated with her son’s life getting out of her control. One of the benefits to the movie that rounded off this series is giving some reconciliation between her and Makino. Heck, even at the end of the show, she gives Makino a ride, even if she can’t bring herself to go into the proposal.
Ah, I really do love HYD’s Shigeru. She strikes the perfect balance of being sweet but still threatening. I can’t even talk about the poor girl opposing Dao Ming Si in the T version, too likable and not threatening. The K version is too threatening and just not that likable.
Japanese wins out again. The Makino family has a beautiful dependence on each other that gives a close knit feel without getting too crazy. The Geum family in the K version has far too much tension to be likable at all, though again, I find them less insufferable on a second watch. Shan Cai’s parents in the T version are super annoying and just plain silly. They have their endearing moments, but mostly were just over the top. Way too over the top.
Once again, I’m going to give this to the Japanese version. Even with two seasons, it’s still the shortest of the three, which means there’s not a lot of down time. In the K and T versions, I think the confession is too drawn out. Let’s not even talk about the abysmal choices the Taiwanese drama made with their second season to make it unbearably long. The Japanese version wrapped up their story solidly and every episode was 100% watchable and not drawn out.
Surprisingly, I think I’m going to give this one to the Korean version. While the three aren’t terribly different, I think the K version had me most immediately caught up and invested in the story. I’d give a close second to the J version and a 3rd to the T version.
Hana Yori Dango takes the cake no question. Whether you ended on the show (with a seriously celebratory proposal) or the movie (with a wedding and a baby announcement!), the only thing the J version leaves you wanting is some closure on Makino’s professional career. I’m going to rank the K Drama second in that it gives you a good look at Jan Di professionally, but leaves you wanting some concrete romance closure. Meteor Garden had a decent close to season 1 and just failed so epically in the second season, it’s almost not worth talking about.
Oh come now. When have I ever given a best intimacy rating to anything outside of a Taiwanese drama? Once again, their willingness to commit to the moment makes the T versions of all shows stellar in the intimacy rating and this is no exception. Every kiss on that version is electric. We’re giving a close second to the closing kiss of HYD season one at the airport. Then a third to Jan Di and Joon Pyo at his house on the bed. Adorable!
Best Tear-jerking Moment?
Easy peasy. When Domyouji is trying his best to stay away from Makino and she finally works up the courage to call him. She says what a beautiful thing their phone is and essentially how much she missed him. He’s not saying anything and she’s trying her best not to cry before asking him out just the way he did earlier. Oh man, that scene gets me every single time. I’m tearing up just thinking about it! Close second, Shan Cai and Lei on the beach. You know what I’m talking about here.
Worst Thing about the Show?
Meteor Garden - The entire second season. Die amnesia plot device, DIE!
Hana Yori Dango - Alongside the amnesia plot device, things get a little too loose at the end of the second season. The whole maid thing just screamed I was in Manga!
BBF - I’m going to go with the whole competition to see if Jan Di and Ji Hoo are going to get expelled. It was lovely to get the sister involved, but it had me very confused about whose side I was supposed to be on.
Best Moment in Each Show?
MG - Oh snap. I am surprisingly going to go with that totally unexpected, heart-wrenching and totally perfect kiss with Shan Cai and Lei on the beach. It was the only version that didn’t totally make me mad about Shan Cai being an indecisive jerk. Totally.
BBF - I’m a little torn on this one. I think I’m going to go with the moment that Joon Pyo jumps into save Jan Di amid the framing scandal. He carries her out princess style, then tends to her wounds in a manner gentler than we’ve seen from this character.
HYD - Actually, I don’t know why, but I super love the scene where tensions are running high in F4 and they finally just beat the crap out of each other. It’s adorable and you can feel the reconciliation afterwards. Since I feel bad leaving Makino out of my favorite moments, I’m going to give a close second to Domyouji’s letter given to her with the Saturn necklace, about being a partnership of destiny. Squealing a little bit on a the inside (OK, maybe a lot).
Most Worthless Character in Each Show?
MG - Qing He. While he may be based on a character in the manga. I just wanted to kick him out of every scene he was in. A close second goes to all the other random people this show decided to include. TOO MANY.
BBF - I’ll give it to the K version. This show keeps it pretty tight character-wise.
HYD - As lovely as Toda Erika is, her hospital patient character really just kicks up her feet for an episode then lets you down. After the whole Shigeru debacle, it’s just sort of a hiccup.
OK, have to finish on a silly one. Let’s give it to Lee Min Ho’s Joon Pyo! Si looks ridiculous when his hair’s not straightened out (thankfully they fixed it fast) and Matsujun’s hair was really struggling in season 1, but got a lot better in season 2. But no matter what qualms I have about the Korean series, Lee Min Ho will always be pretty and I guess that's something.
So, what’s that mean? Well Hana Yori Dango is still my favorite, but Meteor Garden season 1 surprised me with a lot of nice moments. That said, season 2 horrified me with an unending onslaught of terrible moments. The Korean version doesn’t do hardly anything the best of the three because it often misses some crucial timing and tone (like a serious scene will have weirdly happy music). That said it still manages to avoid a lot of serious errors, keeping it sort of middle of the pack.
Hope there’s other obsessive fans out there who enjoyed this!