Sunday, August 19, 2012

To the Beautiful You: Episode 1 and 2 Mini-recaps and First Impressions

Okay, in four words... I. Love. This. Show. I'm not sure why, really, because it's mediocre as far as acting and plot sense/writing go. To be completely honest, it's probably because of the OST, the cinematography, the set, and the wardrobe/makeup more than anything else. Oh, and Ki Tae-young and his absolutely hilarious crush on Yonsama. Bahahaha. Anyway, the first week was surprisingly fun to watch, and met any expectations I had going into it. The resemblances to the J-dorama are kind of few and far between, with only the broadest of references made to the source material.

Watch TTBY Episodes 1 and 2 on DramaFever.

Super Brief Recap of Episode 1
In California, a girl, our lead, GOO JAE-HEE (Sulli) watches a boy, KANG TAE-JOON (Minho), on television as he makes the gold medal-winning high jump at the track and field Junior World Championships. So moved by his performance is she that a tear slips out of her eye. Upon hearing that Tae-joon has injured his Achilles heel and is pretty much out of commission, she makes the decision to cut her hair, dress like a boy, and enroll at the school at which Tae-joon is enrolled. In South Korea.

Arriving at Genie High School, Jae-hee has some problems adjusting and fitting in with her classmates, who pull a few "new student" pranks on her to make her leave. She passes the tests, of course, but that doesn't stop one SONG JONG-MIN (Hwang Kwang-hee), who (presumably) has a crush on CHA EUN-GYUL (Lee Hyun-woo) from trying to off her at every turn. Eun-gyul is the school's resident soccer superstar prodigy and also the only one who befriends Jae-hee. Impressed by her moxy against the other guys' hazing, he decides to show her around campus and get her settled in.

Meanwhile, our main lead is busy doing promotions and getting back into the high jumping scene, much to his own chagrin. His manager pushes promotion after promotion on him in an effort to get Tae-joon to start practicing again, but the surly former high jumper is still reluctant to return to the world of athletics.

Our leads meet in a most unconventional of ways and Tae-joon, A.K.A. Mr. Cranky Pants forms an immediate dislike for the new flower boy-esque transfer student, even going so far as to kick Jae-hee out of the dorm they're supposed to share together. Fortunately for Jae-hee, she has an ally in her Dorm 2 dorm leader (the captain of the track team and also her 3rd year sunbae), HA SEUNG-RI (Seo Jun-young) who admonishes Tae-joon for kicking her out and tells him to play nice. Seung-ri, along with the other two dorm leaders, is the iron fist around the dorms, acting as both teacher and friend to his hoobaes.

While all of this is going on, Tae-joon's manager is dealing with her own set of problems. She's not only in charge of the stubborn Tae-joon, but also star gymnast SEOL HAN-NA (Kim Ji-won), who fancies herself Tae-joon's girlfriend, even calling him "oppa" (all without his consent, of course). Regardless of all the hassles, Tae-joon's manager sets him up to do a CF wherein he'll have to show off his jumping skills so that a famous Olympic high jumping coach will take him on as his new protege.

Tae-joon bluntly refuses to do the CF (and to that extent, refuses to jump at all), and goes to see the school doc, Dr. Jang Min-woo (Ki Tae-young), who's busy looking at pictures of Yonsama (the original Hallyu star himself, Bae Young-joon) on his computer. That still cracks me up. Doc tells Tae-joon that his heel seems to be completely healed, but they should still go to a larger hospital and get him checked out. Of course, the reports all come back positive and Tae-joon is cleared to do physical activity since his heel is all better.

After this, the kids take part in a pickup game of soccer. Jae-hee bets Tae-joon she can score at least one goal by the end of the game. If she does, he'll let her stay in their dorm with him. Although she does her best to make this happen, Jae-hee eventually gets pummeled by Jong-min and has to be taken to the infirmary.

Meanwhile, Tae-joon gets a text from his manager to come to the gym because everyone is waiting for him to shoot his CF. Tae-joon readies himself for the jump as Jae-hee wakes up in the infirmary. Doc comes over to take a look at her, and gives her a glare as he asks, "What is a girl doing in an all boys' school?" In the gym, Tae-joon starts off in a run for his jump as everyone, including his father and his rival MIN HYUN-JAE (Kang Ha-neul), watch on expectantly. He leaps up to make the jump, but squarely hits the crossbar and lands with a thud, the bar coming down on top of him.

Episode 2
So, Jae-hee assure Dr. Jang that's she's not, not, NOT a girl and rushes out of his office. She spends the rest of the first half of the episode avoiding him. Tae-joon's chaebol father comes to visit him at school after his epic fail of a CF jump, only to give him a sure slap to the face and the usual cold-hearted treatment, telling him to get his ass in gear and stop screwing around. Tae-joon doesn't particularly like Dad's attitude and simply replies that he'll be doing whatever the hell he wants, thank you very much.

Back at their dorm, Tae-joon agrees to let Jae-hee share the room with him so long as she doesn't make a peep and stays out of his way. That night, Tae-joon has a nightmare about his mother's funeral and when Jae-hee comes over to see what's wrong, he grabs her hand (thinking she's his mother) and she falls asleep beside him.

In the coming days, the three dorms begin to prepare for the inter-dorm sports competition, which is just around the corner. Seung-ri assigns Tae-joon the high jump, but he refuses to participate since he doesn't want to waste his time with peewee contests like this.

On the track, the Dorm 2 boys practice the 100m dash and Jae-hee gets paired against Jong-min. He trips her in the middle of the race, and she's sent to see Dr. Jang about her ankle, which seems to be hurting. At the infirmary, Jae-hee overhears Doc talking to Tae-joon. Apparently, at the CF shoot, Tae-joon had failed his jump because he'd felt pain in his supposedly-healed Achilles heel. Doc tells him this is a bit of a concern because it seems like Tae-joon is suffering from something called Yips Syndrome, wherein an athlete who is under an inordinate amount of stress and pressure is unable to perform, athletically. It's different from just being in a mental slump, because there's no known cure for the condition. Tae-joon seems unconcerned either way, and tells the Doc he never really expected much for his jump anyway.

Jae-hee gets caught eavesdropping by the Doc, who threatens to tell the school about her. She explains that she's only at Genie because of Tae-joon, whom she's indebted to. She wants to help him out of his slump and get him to jump again. She won't leave until she meets that goal. The Doc pauses at this, but tells her that he'll think it over. He warns her that the truth always comes out, one way or another.

Jae-hee tries to encourage Tae-joon, but he's pissy as usual and tells her he never really wanted to keep high jumping anyway, so she'd better just leave him alone. Jae-hee goes outside to sulk, which is when she runs into Eun-gyul. He attempts to cheer her up, and they end up laying in the grass on the soccer field together. He takes a picture of them, being the social media maniac that he is, and then begins to see Jae-hee in a new light as they lay there. Hee.

Hyun-jae (Tae-joon's self-proclaimed high jump rival) is in Dr. Jang's office and looks through Tae-joon's medical file, taking photos of it. Meanwhile, a sports reporter, YANG SEO-YOON (Ahn Hye-kyung) begins to snoop around, trying to find out the truth behind Tae-joon's flub at the CF shooting. Neither Tae-joon nor his manager divulge any information, so she switches her attention to Jae-hee instead, asking her for some help.

Soon after, Reporter Yang releases an article about Tae-joon being diagnosed with Yips Syndrome. Both Tae-joon's manager and his father are angry upon reading the article and they wonder how Tae-joon's med records got leaked. Tae-joon's suspicions turn to Jae-hee when he finds Reporter Yang's business card among her laundry in their dorm room. Jae-hee denies having anything to do with the article, but Mr. Cranky Pants doesn't believe her.

Next, it's time for the sports competition. By the end of the first four events, Dorm 1 and Dorm 2 are tied with two points each, and the last event is the marathon. Jong-min is supposed to run for Dorm 2, but he's hurt himself and can't do it. If they don't run in the marathon, Tae-joon will have to do the high jump (and win) if they want to win the competition. Unfortunately, he's gone MIA and Hyun-jae suggests that maybe he really has been diagnosed with Yips after all, so Jae-hee steps in to run the marathon. If she runs it, Tae-joon won't have to jump, sparing him some of the scorn (and speculation about his injury). She ends up winning and builds some cred with her dorm-mates, and again attempts to convince Tae-joon that the article wasn't her fault. They have a moment.

That night, the dorms all throw a celebratory party for the winners (Dorm 2) and everyone's there, including Han-na and some of the girls from her school. Eun-gyul is still enamored by Jae-hee and tries to knock some sense into himself. Jae-hee is disappointed that Tae-joon is nowhere to be found and goes looking for him. Tae-joon happens upon a table full of drinks and mistakenly picks up a glass of champagne, downing it in one swig. Seung-ri and Jong-min get caught by one of the teachers trying to drink some of the champagne as well. Seung-ri mentions that they'd better keep Tae-joon away from the alcohol since he can't handle it and gets really handsy when he's drunk, kissing anyone who crosses his path.

Lucky for Jae-hee, she happens to be that person. Drunk Tae-joon pushes her against the wall and plants a big one on her. Fireworks go off behind them.

Thoughts: Story, Plot, and Pacing
Okay, so having watched both episodes twice now, it's become clear to me what works and doesn't work for this show. At the end of the first week, my biggest beef with Beautiful You is in the writing. Not so much the dialogue and character interactions as the actual story progression. Both episodes came off disjointed and uneven in tone and plot. It's almost like the show doesn't know what it wants to be.

Even so, the show's biggest flaw, I think, is continuity. Over the course of the first two episodes, there were a lot of characters being introduced and a lot of stuff going on, but nothing really seemed to connect to each other and both hours came off discordant and slightly stilted as a result. It was like a collage of pretty scenes that had nothing to do with one another. Consistency was also a problem, with Jae-hee hurting her ankle in the marathon and then being completely fine in the very next scene, as just one example.

Then again, there are plot points that are drilled into our heads over and over again. Namely, Tae-joon's injury having healed and Jong-min's intense dislike of Jae-hee. We must have heard the same line about a dozen times between the two episodes as multiple characters talked about Tae-joon's heel, and I've already lost count of the number of times Jong-min tried to sabotage Jae-hee. So, there are some aspects that get inserted and then glossed over, while others are mentioned repetitively. This, again, hurts the tone and flow.

On one last note, I think the first two episodes might have been easier to watch if we'd gotten rid of some of the manager scenes. Those aspects are dragging the story down, and I'd rather be able to focus on what's going on at the school than have to deal with Tae-joon-is-a-bad-advertising-spokesperson drama every five minutes.

Thoughts: Characters
While the writing and story may be the biggest thing hurting this drama, I think the characters are likable enough that they pick up that slack. My favorites so far are Eun-gyul and the Doc, who are both quirky in their own ways, but still manage to be intelligent, aware characters. My least favorite so far, and whom I believe to be the least-developed, is Han-na. She's got tunnel vision when it comes to Tae-joon and she bases her entire life on her crush on him, even going so far as to consider quitting gymnastics to marry him.

So far, I think Jae-hee and Tae-joon are living up to the characters they represent. When I watched the J-remake, I never thought that Maeda Atsuko's portrayal of Ashiya Mizuki was annoying, and I feel the same here. Sulli is putting forth an earnest effort to make Jae-hee a believable character, and while she may come off a little irritating, she's got some redeeming qualities that make up for it (like the bathroom scene where she gets into a fight with the scary sunbae, and when she stands up for herself against her classmates that are picking on her).

Tae-joon, and subsequently the manga character of Sano Izumi, is written as the typical heart-is-an-ice-box-woe-is-me type who is apathetic about the world at large. This makes him, and as a result Minho's portrayal of him, come off a little bland. I don't think that's Minho's fault really, since Sano is supposed to be like this, but I could do with a little more personality from him. In the J-remake, Nakamura Aoi injected a bit of sympathy into Sano, rather than just being a cold bastard, and that might be what's missing from the Korean flavor Sano here.

Thoughts: Technical Execution
While the characters may be the best thing about this drama, my favorite aspect of it is in the technical execution. Meaning, the sets, wardrobe, cinematography, and soundtrack. It's no secret that the production values for this drama are much higher than any of its predecessors in Japan and Taiwan. It also helps that it's being produced by the mammoth SM Entertainment. Budget, while it may not help with bad directing and crappy scripts, does make the difference between a poorly shot drama and one that looks as beautiful as BY.

HD cameras and spot-on lighting make BY looking like a big-budget film rather than a weekly TV drama. That was one of the first things that hooked me in the trailers that were released before the premiere. If a show looks pretty, I'm about ten times more likely to watch it.

Which brings me to my next point... Does this baby look pretty or what?! Those stylists and wardrobe people need some serious props. I'm very impressed with the way the characters in this drama look. Normally, there's a disconnect for me with regards to the way actors and actresses in Asian dramas (mostly Korean) are dressed... there's a different sense of fashion over there, and (not that I think it looks bad) it just doesn't mesh with my sense of fashion over here. That being said, holy smokes do the kids in this show look spectacular. There's so much care that's gone into everything from the school uniforms to their everyday clothes, that I'm suitably impressed by it all. It's like a watered-down version of Gossip Girl, the Korean edition.

As impressed as I am by all that, I think I'm most impressed by the sets. As a college student at a relatively well-off university, I know a thing or two about dormitories. Never have I ever seen anything like what they've got going on in BY. Those lucky SM kids. Jae-hee and Tae-joon's dorm room may very well be larger than my entire apartment. And not just the dorms... the whole school is pretty fricken snazzy. Way to show off your big bucks.

And last but not least, the OST. Originally, I'd thought that J-min's Stand Up would get annoying in half a second. Instead, I find myself listening to it multiple times a day and haven't gotten tired of it yet. On the other hand, the rest of the OST is nothing to write home about. Can't have everything, now can we? Not every drama is going to be savvy enough about music as Coffee Prince. This applies to BY even more because of its SM background. I'm just not a K-pop fan.

Thoughts: Hana Kimi Comparisons
Remakes are a dime a dozen these days, with the big three on the drama scene (Korea, Japan, and Taiwan) adapting dramas all over the place. In my experience, of the three, Korea takes the most liberties with the source material and oftentimes diverges substantially from the original concept (see: Dr. Jin -____-). That's why I was curious to see how the writer (Lee Young-chul of the High Kick franchise) was going to pull this off.

I've never read the original Hanazakari no Kimitachi e manga, and I've only seen one of the adaptations (Japan's 2011 remake), but I know the story and it's enough for me to make the initial comparisons with BY. I was surprised at how much things have been tweaked. It's like BY has the barest of resemblances to Hana Kimi. The premise is the same, the leads are (mostly) the same, but the end product is different. Sano and Ashiya are supposed to have met prior to Ashiya's coming to Ohsaka Gakuen. In BY, the only indication of Jae-hee knowing who Tae-joon is is from the opening scene, which makes it even harder to believe that Jae-hee would fly halfway across the world to see him.

Additionally, the focus on Tae-joon's injury, as well as his reputation as a nationally famous athlete is far more emphasized than it ever was in HK. Tae-joon really is a prodigy high jumper, he really does have a reputation that precedes him, and he really is famous throughout Korea (indicated by his banner at the airport when Jae-hee arrives, as well as by the numerous sponsorships he has). I was actually surprised by the route they took with his injury in the second episode. In HK, Ashiya comes to Japan because Sano is already in a slump and needs some prodding to come out of it. Here, Tae-joon is willing to try jumping again, but his failed attempt at the CF shoot leads to him finding out about his mental inability to perform.

Also different is the whole character of Kashinosato Juri. Here, Han-na is flaky and uncouth, whereas in HK, the character of Juri was the epitome of prim and proper. The peripheral characters are different too. Oscar (Masao) is a figure skater as opposed to an actor, the Nakao character (depicted as Jong-min) is not in love with Nanba, but rather Nakatsu. The Kayashima character is nowhere to be found, and neither is Sekime.

Final Thoughts
Whoa. This turned out way too long... Next week won't be nearly as long, I promise.

Anyway, in the end, I really, firmly believe BY is just a vehicle for SM to get their idols onto the mainstream drama scene. Hana Kimi is a big enough franchise that it was going to do well, no matter who they'd cast to play the leads. Separate from that, SHINee and f(x) both have massive followings on their own. Put the two together, and you've got a smash hit package. Even so, by nature, youth dramas are polarizing because of their limited appeal and audience. BY is never going to beat out Gaksital or, for that matter, Arang and the Magistrate in the ratings, but its fan base is pre-determined and I think it'll reach the goals it has set out for itself. It's no Dream High, pushing the barriers of the youth drama's reaches, but it's also no Playful Kiss, failing abysmally.



  1. Have to agree with you here on the pacing - all over the place, and way too many plot points/backgrounds converging. I decided to try this out of curiosity (not being an especially big fan of either of these two's representative Kpop groups), and by the second episode I was already fast-forwarding through.. I think I might give it up as a serious watch, at least for the time being. Instead, I started (and have almost already finished) the original Hana Kimi 2007... maybe because it's shorter, it doesn't seem to drag as much. In comparison, To the Beautiful You feels entirely too "stuffed" for me to care about everything at once, or about anything/one in particular. :(

    1. I agree. There was way too much going in the first week for us to really take anything away from it that we cared about. That's why I'm holding out hope for this week. Now that we've got the set-up and the characters down, we can hone in on the aspects of the story that really matter. I've also started watching the original Hana Kimi, and I'm finding that BY is following more in the trend of the remake about being mellower and not so insane, like the original. That's partly why I'd avoided the original... I'd heard from different places that was kind of zany and nonsensical. In that respect, I'd say last year's remake (and BY so far) did a better job.