Boys Over Flowers: Our first exposure to Korean Drama determines if we’ll dive into the Korean fandom, and many people’s first K-Drama was Boys Over Flowers (2009). The show has the most stunning cast, extravagant life, fashion, music, and great visuals. As a first-time watcher of the show, it’s easy to fall in love with it mindlessly, but over time, the show starts to get sour. The series has a lot of problems like abuse, toxic relationships, elitism, and more than just making us cringe. The show, despite its immense success in Korea and internationally, could not stand the test of time.
Abuse and Bullying
The series begins with fear-mongering and high school bullying leading a student to attempt suicide. In the show, we see high school bullying prevalent, and there are no attempts to correct the same. The leader of the F4, Gu Jun Pyo, is a rich boy who is a bully himself, and the rest of the students take his orders. If a student was disliked by Go Jun Pyo, the other school students would bully and take to physical abuse to torture the student.
We see this happening with our female lead Jan Di as well. The students were verbally abused, called pathetic names, physically hit with eggs, beaten up, and almost raped just because F4 had a problem with Jan Di. Not a single student stood up to Gu Jun Pyo, and no faculty was ever present throughout the show.
And what’s more, the F4 is famous for their strong childhood friendship, but none of them stopped Jun Pyo. Even when Ji Hoo tried, he did it to save Jan Di behind the scenes making him look like Jun Pyo’s puppet who could not call out his dear friend for his behavior; more on this later. Gu Jun Pyo is also seen physically being violent towards Ji Hoo because he likes Jan Di. The portrayal of abuse because of bad temper and making it seem okay is one of the show’s many problems.
Throughout the series, Jun Pyo is being violent toward other students. His abuse has no bounds, as there is a scene in which a student wears the same exclusive shirt as Jun Pyo, and he ruins the student’s shirt by pouring juice all over it. The only reason being nobody can be like him. In one episode, Jun Pyo ordered Jan Di to lick the ice cream that had fallen on his shoe. Towards the last few episodes, we see F4 mentally and emotionally abusing Jan Di by faking Jun Pyo’s accident. By doing nothing about abuse and bullying, the show enables and encourages such behavior.
Sexual abuse, Toxic relationships, and abuse
In continuation with abuse, we see many scenes of Jun Pyo forcing himself on Jan Di. He orders other school students to take advantage of Jan Di practically, but Ji Hoo comes to the rescue, angering Jun Pyo. In another instance, Jun Pyo asks his staff to kidnap Jan Di and take her to an unknown location and gives her a makeover only because Jun Pyo assumes Jan Di likes him and thinks kidnapping someone is fine.
In the first half or more of the series, Jun Pyo forces himself on Jan Di when we see her refusing and being very uncomfortable. However, this changes once Jan Di confronts him, but there is still no excuse for this behavior.
Relationship abuse was not just between these two main leads. We see one such instance between Ga-eul and Yi-Jung. Yi Jung knew Ga Eul had a crush on him, and he led her on, only to throw her aside when he was done having fun leading to mental and emotional abuse. He eventually is shown as he has changed, but his true womanizer nature prevails.
We also see Ji Hoo kiss Jan Di knowing that Jan Di and Jun Pyo are in love. His reasoning, if not very blatant, we see in the episodes ahead that his actions were to bring those two together. But is this the only way to do it? Isn’t this emotional abuse? The series clearly established that Ji Hoo already liked a model Seo Hyeon and she was his first love. Understandably they had a complicated relationship, but Ji Hoo still loved her and made a move on Jan Di to prove a point despite that.
Jun Pyo is also seen as extremely possessive about Jan Di, taking it to toxic heights. This show promotes the idea that if you keep pushing harder, crossing the line, and forgetting the idea of consent, you will get what you want, especially with a male lead like Jun Pyo, who lacks boundaries.
Toxic friendships in Boys Over Flowers are something that not many people talk about. Be it F4 or Jan Di’s relationship with her friends, the show is filled with toxic friendships. Let’s talk about the toxicity within the F4. Let’s take Jun Pyo and Ji Hoo’s relationship.
While the Kdrama fandom loves Ji Hoo, here is the problem with his behavior. He might have saved Jan Di from behind the scenes but never dared to stand up to Jun Pyo. He might not be a fighter, but he is among the elite and powerful; if he had the will, he could have helped change Jun Pyo. Sometimes Ji Hoo tried to confront him but was told off by Jun Pyo, and Ji Hoo let it be. The problem between their friendships also begins in their childhood. A scene shows that Jun Pyo had broken Ji Hoo’s toy robot as a child, and even then, Ji Hoo never said a word to him.
F4 and Jun Pyo. Friendships don’t work on one being a leader and the rest following that person mindlessly, but that’s what the show portrays. The three of them do as Jun Pyo wants them to; they act like their puppet. We also don’t see any F4 member trying to put sense into Yi-Jung as he is a womanizer. They enjoy the cheap talks about women and laugh about it together, and the show conveys that it is okay to do so.
Jan Di and Ga-eul’s friendship is quite toxic as well. Ga-eul encourages her to fall in love with toxic Gu Jun Pyo despite knowing his behavior only because the F4 is rich and handsome. At one point in the show, we see Ga-eul being okay with Jan Di dating Ji Hoo or Jun Pyo without much thought because they are “F4”. We don’t see Jan Di being a great friend to Ga-eul, either. When Ga-eul is heartbroken about Yi-Jung, she does nothing about it.
Jan Di’s friendship with Min Ji is extremely toxic as well. Min Ji used Jan Di to get close to Jun Pyo. She went so far as to hire a photographer and create a prostitute vibe to Jan Di’s picture taking advantage of the fact that Jan Di needed money and creating a scandal. She publicly used the fabricated images to show to the entire school, and in the end, Jan Di just forgave her.
Elitism and abuse of power
The series, from start to finish, propagates the power of the elite. Jun Pyo and the other F4 members come from a wealthy background, making them seem invincible. Jun Pyo’s behavior of abuse and temper was just pushed under the rug by everyone because his family owns the school, and people could forgive such behavior from him. If any other ordinary student had done the same, the punishment would have been severe.
The show also shows classism within the elite. The F4 members attend a school for the elite, and despite most students coming from a rich background, the hierarchy within them is evident. The F4 is the richest of the rich, and the rest obey. In many scenes, we see Jun Pyo’s mother’s power as she can also control the media. What is problematic is that the rest of the people are submissive and accept the fate propagating the wrong ideas.
In the school, other students treat Jan Di poorly and differently because of her poor background. They abuse and threaten her knowing she has no power. And within the series, we see classism in almost every episode. While studying, Jan Di works many jobs and works hard at swimming to keep her school scholarship. The F4 members live luxurious lives with beautiful houses, great clothes, and other material possessions. We also see Jun Pyo buying material things for Jan Di’s house, encouraging the idea that you can buy people with money.
Keeping up with the elitist mentality, we see Jun Pyo’s mother imposing strict rules on Ju Pyo about the image he has to maintain as he is elite. She is baffled upon hearing his and Jan Di’s love story as she is from a poor background, which is unacceptable. Because of Jan Di’s poverty, Jun Pyo’s sister hires Jan Di as the housemaid. The show portrays this in such a way that his sister took this step to keep Jun Pyo and Jan Di together. Jun Pyo’s mother proves her point in one of the evilest ways; Jan Di’s family, facing poverty, forced her to sell snacks on the street; his mother seized the opportunity and called Jan Di over to humiliate her and prove a point to Jun Pyo.
Jan Di’s family makes the viewers cringe. Jan Di’s mother is extremely shameless and selfish. She pushes Jan Di to get married to the elite. She does not care about Jan Di’s feelings or the abuses she is facing. As parents, they never enquired about her well-being in school and only cared about the glamour and rich boys in love with her. Her mother was overjoyed seeing all the presents that Ju Pyo bought them. Her parents went above and beyond in welcoming Ju Pyo to their house without Jan Di’s consent, especially when she wasn’t clear about her feelings.
Jan Di’s parents didn’t care about her as long as she learned to doll herself up and marry a rich guy. Many scenes showed Jan Di hanging out with F4, and they would inform her parents about her whereabouts, and there would be no follow-up from them. A few times in the show, her parents didn’t check on her if she didn’t return home.
Portrayal of Female Lead
The show uses the most cliché and toxic portrayal of the female lead. The show begins by showing Jan Di as an independent, strong girl capable of taking care of herself and others around her. But, eventually, the tables turn as a man enters the plot. They portray Jan Di as a typical damsel in distress, waiting for her knight in shining armor to rescue her.
After repeatedly being abused in forceful physical relationships with Jun Pyo, Jan Di is seen forgiving and jumping into the toxic relationship. The show needed a better character arc for Jan Di. Her relationship with Jun Pyo is Stockholm syndrome. This portrayal is further normalizing all sorts of abusive relationships. Di’s character traits and over-dramatic behavior made viewers dislike her character.
We also see Jun Pyo flaunting his wealth at every chance he gets and making grand gestures toward Jan Di. The show portrays these scenes in a way that shows Jan Di subtly falling for Jun Pyo. The message is that abuse is okay as long as someone is rich. The show also normalizes immature relationships.
We understand using certain characteristics and actions for the sake of the plot; it’s a fictional story, but what Boys Over Flowers did was it took all sorts of toxicity to the extreme. There were enough scenes that could not have used abuse and toxicity to keep the plot going. Considering the show is a high school drama, more teenagers are likely to watch it. Keeping this in mind, Boys Over Flowers is problematic because of its messaging, especially to young girls concerning relationships! As much as we like to go back to the show for nostalgia over time, it makes us bitter.