Exploring Korean Drama: Flower Boy Next Door

Waits for installments of Korean cable network tvN’s “Oh Boy” series are agonizing. Not because the shows are built around the premise of gorgeous men — well, not just because — but because I know I’m guaranteed a fantastic show with either a lot of humor or a lot of heart, or both. Flower Boy Next Door, the third in the series after Flower Boy Ramyun Shop and Shut Up Flower Boy Band, doesn’t disappoint.

All of the kdrama hallmarks are there: quiet, mousy lead that suddenly attracts the attention of multiple gorgeous men, one of whom’s actually been sending her notes as a Daddy Long Legs for years. There’s tension between the female leads, more than one love triangle, and late-hour drama. Yet, almost every tired plot thread is explored in a new, intelligent, and at-times adorable way.

flower boy next door spyingImmediately the show sets itself up as silly, self-aware, and layered with social commentary. One middle-aged woman living on the same floor as our protagonist constantly rhapsodizes about getting to live in a community surrounded by so many hot young guys; it’s almost like the show is fondly incredulous of its own premise.

The reclusive Go Dok Mi is lucky enough to live in a neighborhood infested with Flower Boys. She even gets her jollies by snooping on one that lives across the street from her. Until another one catches her in the act.

Go Dok Mi’s spying is creepy and wrong, despite the fact that on the surface the show manages to make it almost look cute. The guy across the way wakes up and exercises, so does Dok Mi. He eats breakfast, and so does she — going so far as to wait, spoon hovering in the air, until he takes a bite.

The situation is portrayed as complicated, even if that doesn’t make it excusable. We’re not shown anything to indicate that Dok Mi’s spying is overtly sexual, even though the pure act of snooping in such a way often is. On one level I appreciate the fact that it might be, because it gives Dok Mi a sexual agency that few kdrama heroines are allowed.

I know if the show’s premise were reversed — a meet cute with a man spying on a woman — I’d be more uncomfortable (although that’s never ruined Back to the Future for me, perhaps in part because the film doesn’t require viewers to become invested in the romance between George McFly and Lorraine Baines). I like the gender reversal for two reasons: first, because we don’t need more creepy guys on television, and Dok Mi’s spying is presented on the surface in a humorous way, and second, because she’s immediately made to answer for her actions.

To be fair to Dok Mi, I'd be staring too if I noticed this out my window.

To be fair to Dok Mi, I’d be staring too if I noticed this out my window.

Dok Mi is caught by the end of the first episode and confronted with what she’s done. She’s actually caught when she’s spying for a good reason. The day before, when spying for not-as-good reasons, she sees an accident that causes her to believe that her neighbor’s dog is injured. The next morning she’s trying to check on the dog when she’s caught, providing her with an excuse to beg off this one instance of spying.

But she doesn’t. She’s clearly ashamed and she doesn’t do it again.  Her spying also informs her character on a much deeper level; it’s not a quirky character piece or a pure sexual act, but a symptom of her struggles with agoraphobia and other severe social anxieties.

The beating heart of Flower Boy Next Door is Dok Mi confronting the traumas of her past and coming out of her shell. What I like most about her journey is that it’s not entirely complete when the series is over; she’s taken major steps forward, but we’re not expected to believe that she healed entirely in a short span of time.

Dok Mi’s journey is also where the series takes its one major stumble. Dok Mi takes her most important step around episode 12 (and that’s also about the time we get our first big romantic payoff; the two are related, but not inseparable), and the pacing, which had been pitch perfect up until that point, meanders afterward. Some really wonderful romantic moments occur in the remaining episodes, but the tight focus of the plot, which had been more about Dok Mi’s growth than the romance, seems to lose itself a bit for the rest of the series.

That’s not too much of a bother, though, because the adorableness, which permeated every part of the show, picks up the slack. I can’t believe I made it this far in a kdrama overview without mentioning the male lead, especially one as fantastic and lovable as Enrique, but that’s a testament to just how engrossed I was in Dok Mi’s character.

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