I just let out a sigh of relief that likely could have been heard halfway across the globe. Flower Boy Next Door is good. It’s not great, but it’s a solid start to a story without any quibbles from me about the acting, directing, script, or production values that take me out of the narrative from the get go. The hook isn’t there yet, but it doesn’t need to be. This is one drama where the premise, a closed-off emotionally scarred young woman gets pulled back into the outside world by a vivacious young man requires us to develop the attachment slowly. It’s almost like the audience watches along with hero Enrique as heroine Dok Mi is slowly brought back to life. For a drama called Flower Boy and cast with a veritable collection of pretty boys from Yoon Si Yoon, Kim Ji Hoon, Go Kyung Pyo, Kim Jung San, and Mizuta Kouki, my emotional entry into this adorable quirky little world is squarely with Park Shin Hye’s Go Dok Mi. She was captivating right off the bat, with her silence and her odd living habits.
Why did she cloister herself away? Her eyes and body language are so enchanting with her withdrawn tentativeness, leaving even myself tempted to step into the screen and reach out to her. I’m enjoying how all the characters are intertwined and so love no one annoys me or feels superfluous. I’m reading the webtoon “I Sneak Peeks at Him Everyday” that is the inspiration for this drama and many of the elements have been changed to add in a fuller world of characters. I think it works wonderfully and I can’t wait to spend Mon-Tues with the Flower Boy gang for the next 8 weeks. The drama isn’t purposely wacky or kooky but instead feels really mellow and sweet. The chemistry of the cast is evident right off the bat, almost as if they spent time bonding before filming just so they could bounce off each other’s acting cues. As much as this drama as poised to be hysterical and cracky from the promos, it’s turned out to be charming and relaxed in its sweetness.
Episode 1 recap:
The camera pans across a simple relatively old-fashioned apartment unit which is filled with books and post-its. The alarm goes off on the cell phone but the bed is empty.
Instead a lump wrapped in a sleeping bag lurches up off the ground and it’s our heroine Go Dok Mi. She pulls a bottle of water out and then stumbles to the bathroom to wash up, wherein another bottle drops out of the bag. We see the apartment is filled with empty water bottles and paper cups. Clearly Dok Mi doesn’t get out much, though she’s still a ways away from becoming a hoarder.
Dok Mi opens her door a tiny crack and sticks her hand out to feel around for her carton of milk. On it is a post-it with a sketch and a note and she takes it off and sticks to it the collection on the wall.
After washing up, Dok Mi walks to the window and pulls open the blinds to stare into the window of the apartment across the road. It’s a modern high rise and inside the apartment directly from hers is a young man going through his morning routine. His name is Han Tae Joon (Buh? Okay, having bad nightmare flashbacks to Missing You).
Dok Mi mimics everything he does, from jogging to eating toast to washing the laundry. When he leaves for work, Dok Mi finally talks, telling him to have a good day, as if she was the wifey sending her husband off to work.
A young man is making a paper craft on the airplane and its our hero Enrique Geum. He’s apparently either famous or ridiculously good looking, because the stewardess gets all moon-eyed when delivering him a drink, and when he gets up and walks down the airplane, all the ladies gasp and gape at him. There is a crying boy and Enrique gives him the paper robot he made and puts on a show for the kid to quiet him down. Clearly Enrique is (1) one cheerful dude, and (2) a born caretaker. Me likes.
Enrique lands in Korea and he makes friends everywhere he goes, snapping a picture with a guy while waiting in the customs line and immediately chatting up the customs official (and rendering the trainee young lady also blushing and googly-eyed). He has a Spanish passport which the official mutters is because he is dodging mandatory service, but Enrique just bulldozes his way through by nattering on about how he immigrated to Spain when he was 9 and speaks fluent Korean because his dad insisted.
When asked why he is in Korea, Enrique explains that he’s here to play cupid. As Enrique walks out of the terminal, there is a group of media and fans excitedly waiting for him. He adorably hams it up for the audience. The reporters ask about his latest video game and he happily answers questions.
Enrique turns around and sees a girl wearing a white dress with a giant guitar on her back. She smiles at him and he smiles back at her. It’s Yoon Seo Young, Enrique’s first love from Spain.
Two men strut out of the subway, one wearing a tan suit and the other one a black coat, both of them wearing sunglasses and an “I’m so cool” swagger. The ladies they pass all turn around and stare.
Too bad their coolness is just a front, because these two guys are Oh Jin Rak, aspiring webtoon artist, and his roommate and drawing partner Yoo Dong Hoon. The second they sit down at their publishers, their editor tosses their latest webtoon at them and declare it DOA. She also tells Jin Rak not to wear suits in front of her.
Apparently their webtoon Zombie Soccer bears a striking resemblance to Enrique Geum’s video game so it’s a no go. The boys try to argue that it’s a different medium but their editor dismisses that spurious argument and wearily tells them to return when they have another idea.
Dong Hoon flips through their sketches on the tablet when he sees a sketch of a girl. Jin Rok looks at it and gets an idea. He wakes up the drowsy editor (her eye bags and exhausted look is brilliant) and shares his idea about a closeted woman who peeks at her handsome neighbor. The editor buys the idea and tells them to run with it!
Enrique and Seo Young chat outside and he chides her for dressing so scantily in such cold weather. I already dislike her, any chick who looks pretty and wears only a lace dress in the dead of Winter in Seoul is stupid and vain IMO. He puts a coat on her and they share his lollipop casually, indicating how comfortable they are with each other. It’s also weird that Enrique appears to be sucking on a Willy Wonka Never Grow Smaller Lollipop because that thing is the exact same size from when he got off the plane.
Jin Rok and Dong Hoon are walking back to their apartment, with Jin Rok already thinking about the story. Dong Hoon thinks they should have stuck to their guns but then offers to be the inspiration for the handsome guy the heroine spies on, complimenting himself as just that good looking.
Dok Mi is a manuscript editor and is working carefully on a project. She gets a call needing her work and she promises to drop it off at the post office in the afternoon. On TV is a news report about a man bugging a woman’s apartment to spy on her and Dok Mi feels guilty but comforts herself that she doesn’t do that.
The neighbors of the apartment are protesting. Dong Hoon complains to the apartment guard about how much he pays on utilities and is told that the girl in apartment 402 pays much less because she doesn’t use much. Jin Rok gets up on the milk crate and leads the chant while Dong Hoon films him.
Dok Mi looks out her window and realizes Tae Joon is back during the day, apparently to pick something up. She notices that he boiled water and left the pot close to the edge of the table, right over the dog bed where the dog is sleeping. Dude, you are a terrible pet owner. Dok Mi is so nervous as the pot wobbles at the edge before seemingly falling over on the dog,
As Dok Mi rushes out of her house, the guard recognizes her as the girl in apartment 402 and calls out to her. Dong Hoon hears it and tries to ask her how she saves on utility bills and Dok Mi promises to tell him before rushing into a taxi to follow Tae Joon. As she rides the taxi she sticks her head out the window to feel the air.
Dok Mi gets out of the taxi and follows Tae Joon, getting so close she can tap him on the shoulder but she can’t bring herself to. Finally she blurts out that his dog got hurt, which is when a guy steps in front of her with a smile. It’s Lee Jong Hyuk in a cameo role.
Enrique and Seo Young are hanging out and she sings for him. They both bicker about how they missed each other. Enrique tells her to go find Tae Joon and make her love come true. He tells her that he will be staying with Tae Joon and she can come by. Despite encouraging her, its clear this is hard for Enrique because he likes her too.
The man and Dok Mi have the oddest conversation, with him trying to solicit her to buy something while she in turn talks about her experience with Tae Joon.
Apparently the last time she left her apartment was last Fall and that day she happened to see him at the park. She was looking up into the sun and suddenly he appeared in her line of sight. He saw an injured dog and adopted it. Dok Mi went to the convenience store and bought something and got a scratch off prize of a pair of binoculars.
That night she went home and looked out her window with the binoculars and saw the cute guy with the injured dog. She felt like it was fate. Dok Mi wanders off while the salesman guy goes to solicit another person.
Dok Mi goes back and runs into the apartment building of Tae Joon. She calls to report and injured dog in his apartment and then presses her face against his door worried that the poor pooch is wining in pain. Enrique arrives and gets out of the cab and Jin Rok and Dong Hoon recognize him and see him entering the other building.
As Dok Mi is pressed up against Tae Joon’s door, Enrique arrives and presses his face against the door as well and makes the same mewling expression. Dok Mi turns around and shrinks back in shock when she sees him. He asks “ahjumma, what are you doing?” She doesn’t answer and runs away.
Jin Rok and Dong Hoon discuss whether that was really Enrique Geum as they get in the elevator. Dok Mi arrives and they hold the door open for her but she doesn’t get on. Jin Rok figured she wouldn’t get on because she doesn’t like to be around people.
As Dok Mi walks back to her unit, the guard finds her and tells her to come out tomorrow for the protest because its her turn to lead the chanting.
Jin Rok notices Dong Hoon lurking in the windows and finds out that he’s checking out Enrique through the window. He pulls Dong Hoon away and chides him for doing something illegal.
Dok Mi looks into Tae Joon’s window to check on the door and notices the strange guy Enrique is in the apartment and wonders who he is? Enrique senses someone looking at him and tries to catch the person but Dok Mi ducks each time.
Dok Mi falls on a pile of empty bottles and she takes it out to the recycling bin outside. She sees strewn paper boxes and she can’t help herself but to tidy it up. Jin Rok walks outside and sees her there and he observes her. Later that night, Dok Mi types on her computer about having a one-sided crush.
Tae Joon comes home and smiles to see Enrique sleeping on the sofa. The two cousins happily greet each other and Enrique starts to wheedle for Tae Joon to buy him stuff but Tae Joon tells him to change his ways when living here and Enrique pouts.
In the morning, Dok Mi lurches awake in her usual zombie way, this time wrapped in a sleeping bag but actually sleeping on the bed. She opens the window as she is brushing her teeth and sees a pretty young man slowly rise to her exact level right outside her window. LOL, so cute. Their eyes widen and the young man a Japanese new neighbor named Watanabe breaks into a beatific smile, which is when Dok Mi pulls the curtains closed. He looks confused but then smiles as he is lowered again.
Dong Hoon wakes up and falls off the couch. He notices Jin Rok illustrating on the computer and finds out he worked all night. Sleepy Dong Hoon complains about the noisy movers outside. Dong Hoon finds a note wedged into the door.
Dok Mi peeks into Tae Joon’s apartment and is relieved to see the dog is alright. Suddenly she realizes that Enrique is standing there, wearing a panda hat and boxers, staring directly at her. They make eye contact and Enrique makes the fingert-to-eye “I see you and you are so dead” gesture. Dok Mi quickly hides but it’s too late, Enrique has confirmed the identity of the Peeping Jane as the chick in apartment 402 across the way.
Enrique marches over to the apartment to confront Dok Mi. Jin Rok reads the note left by Dok Mi explaining how she keeps her utility bills low. Watanabe is happily unpacking in his unit and gets ready to head out and greet the neighbors.
Enrique pounds on Dok Mi’s door while the other flower boys peer out their units at the commotion, while Dok Mi hides in her apartment freaking out.
Thoughts of Mine:
I was very taken with the low key vibe of this drama which covered all areas of its production. The directing by PD Jung Jung Hwa, who helmed Flower Boy Ramyun Shop (which I didn’t like at all), is much less spazzy but retains the same quaint vibe. Veteran movie scriptwriter Kim Eun Jung is doing a splendid job of taking her time to develop characters rather than throwing a series of “incidents” on the screen and letting that dictate the story. She writes this drama like a movie and it shows with how she doesn’t tell us what is happening but lets the scene unfold at its own pace. She wrote Il Mare and Madeleine and I love those movies to pieces, and so far FBND has that same introspective quality. The actors appear to understand this world implicitly so the acting is lovely to behold with the same relaxed and easygoing vibe. The last drama I saw of Park Shin Hye was Heartstrings, and in my first impression review I mentioned she was overacting in such odd ways and I questioned if it was that PD’s fault. I can now safely say it is, because she is back to being the young talented actress I enjoy watching here, very expressive without being in-your-face. Her character is absolutely the purpose of this story, without her there is no reason to stick around. But it is Yoon Si Yoon’s Enrique Geum and Kim Ji Hoon’s Oh Jin Rak who are shaping up to be the heart and soul of this ride. One will look after her from the side, while the other forces his way into her world and jolts her out of hiding.
I appreciate how the drama doesn’t purposely uglify Dok Mi, as if to hammer home the point that she’s a recluse ergo she must be frumpy. We see that she’s fresh-faced with a lovely long haircut, though she prefers comfy clothes but isn’t necessarily style blind. Her behavior also isn’t shown to be that extreme as to be borderline crazy or dangerous. She appears to have chosen to sequester herself, but she’s not incapable of being in social settings without melting down or having conversations with people. I like that Jin Rak notices that she appears to be the living version of his webtoon heroine, or did he sketch her from earlier and use her situation as the inspiration for his story? His character is much more compelling as the second male lead than Tae Joon, who is so boring and perfectly good looking he sends me into narcoleptic snores the moment he shows up. He’s innocuous but as a romantic prospect for Dok Mi he’s about as interesting as watching paint dry. I love that he’s her sole interest from the outside world but I’m hoping the drama keeps him to a minimum and let him have his equally zzzzz-inducing love story with Seo Young.
I think the drama makes it very clear why natural-born flirt Enrique and wallflower introvert Dok Mi are perfect for each other. He can’t be serious for one minute and she’s filled with all these hidden feelings that needs an outlet. The drama is wasting no time getting them into each other’s orbit, as well as bringing the world of the flower boy neighbors colliding with Dok Mi’s hidden away existence. I don’t necessarily crave the romantic aspects of this drama taking off but am rather more intrigued about how Dok Mi makes friends and slowly comes out of her shell. The drama is filmed in somber shades to reflect Dok Mi’s inner drabness but I wonder if the palate will lighten up as the drama progresses. So far its not terribly deep or meaningful, but it has set up a purpose that I am invested in and characters who I already care about. I think FBND is off to a solid start and 2013 has taken the first positive drama steps forward. This drama is cute without being too precious.