Strangely enough, a 16 year old girl recommended this show to me. I work as a substitute teacher to supplement my livelihood as an actress/filmmaker, and one day during my biology class I noticed a Vietnamese girl staring intently at her smartphone. A good teacher would’ve chewed her out, but I noticed that she was watching a kdrama so we got to talking about the series we liked and the Hallyu stars we followed. She recommended FBND to me, and when I walked away I overheard her squealing to her friend, “FINALLY, a teacher that understands me!”
I felt similarly when I started watching Flower Boys Next Door. FINALLY, a lead heroine I can totally relate to! Go Dok-mi (Park Shin Hye) is a damaged young woman who works from home as a book editor, and rarely goes out into the outside world because she’s perfectly content in her own little paradise. Her cozy apartment looks like it could belong to Amelie. From the plethora of sticky notes surrounding her desks to her frugal methods of surviving the cold Korean winters, I just wanted to give this girl a hug and become instant best friends over tea.
Unfortunately, Dok mi would probably shy away in terror if I did that. Due to a traumatizing high school experience, she prefers to stay alone, eschewing friends and family for a calm, solitary existence. She does however, have an infatuation with the doctor who lives in the building directly across from her. And so, with quirky yellow binoculars, she spies on him daily, even mimicking his morning routine. Heck, if I lived next door to this man, I’d probably do the same thing too.
Han Tae Joon is unaware of Dok Mi’s spying. However, his younger cousin Enrique is much more perceptive of his surroundings. Hailing from Spain, he’s a genius video game developer with a huge geek following that welcomes him home to Korea. While crashing in Tae Joon’s living room, Enrique senses that he’s being watched and immediately figures out Dok Mi is the perp. Barely dressed, he rushes to her building to confront her.
His actions precipitate one of my favorite scenes. The rest of Dok Mi’s flower boy neighbors come out when they hear Enrique banging on her door. They band together to protect their “Rapunzel” from Enrique’s crazed behavior. “Hippo! hippo!”
Flower Boy #1, Oh Jin Rak, an aspiring webtoon artist who has been Dok Mi’s secret admirer for the last three years that he’s lived in the apartment directly next door to hers. She’s the inspiration for the Rapunzel character in his current webtoon (also called Flower Boy Next Door). While Jin Rak regularly interacts with the real world, he’s also socially awkward and a sensitive dreamer, which is why I think he’s perfect for Dok Mi.
Flowerboy #2, Oh Dong Hoon, is Jin Rak’s roommate and drawing partner. At first we’re led to believe he’s a playboy, but he actually spends his nights working odd jobs since the webtoon business doesn’t pay well unless you make it big. I like how the FBND writers portrayed this naturalistic side of being a starving artist. In a lot of kdramas, the characters become astronomically successful after a brief period of hard work. But in reality, artists can work their entire lives without recognition or monetary compensation, and instead have to rely on unglamorous side jobs to make rent.
Flower Boy #3, Watanabe Ryu, a Japanese cook who came to Korea to learn about Korean cuisine. He hosts weekly cooking lessons in his apartment and is all around adorable.
So lots of eye candy, lots of potential romantic partners for Dok Mi. Interestingly, even though Tae Joon is Dok Mi’s “first love”, he’s the first one to leave the dating picture. Enter the competition – Yoon Seo-young (Woori), Enrique’s best friend in Spain. Woori also played Shin Hye’s frenemy in Heartstrings, I wonder if they’re actual friends in real life?
Seo-young is madly in love with Tae Joon but it’s a one-sided love because he thinks she’s too immature. After he makes his final rejection clear, Seo-young leaves to go back to her home in Spain… but Enrique decides to stay a little longer in Korea so he can figure out exactly why Dok Mi is such as recluse. Tae Joon departs for the army, thus allowing Enrique to stay at his apartment, with easy access to pester Dok Mi into experiencing the fun to be had outside her castle tower.
So why is Dok Mi the way she is? I really liked how the writers kept her past a mystery, revealing only a little bit each episode in flashback form until you’re thoroughly horrified when the whole, ugly truth finally comes out. Bullying sucks, and it sucks even more when your friends, family, and teachers don’t support you. From hints of her attempted suicide to her therapy sessions, it’s clear that Dok Mi’s past will forever haunt her and that it’ll take a special someone to help her finally start trusting other humans again.
From the beginning, I really wanted Jin Rak to win Dok Mi’s heart. He sees himself as her knight in shining armor, but he’s also a kindred soul, since they both have past issues that are preventing them from moving forward.
However, I could see why Enrique was good for Dok Mi. After all, he’s the one who eventually succeeds in drawing her out of her shell. For me though, his character came off as too asexual and immature to be capable of an adult relationship. He cares deeply for Dok Mi, but I never really sense love between the two of them.
Normally I’d be tearing my hair out over the injustice of the final romantic pairing, but this series is much more than a rom com. It’s about the ways humans are capable of hurting each other, and the consequences of these actions. It’s about people like Cha Do-hwi, Dok Mi’s high school bully, who will never issue a sincere apology because in their warped minds, the victim is always to blame.
And it’s about the power of time and human connection to heal wounds.
Jin Rak and Dong Hoon’s overworked and psychotic webtoon editor, played by Kim Seul-gie. I looked her up and figured out why I rewatched all her scenes. She’s a cast member on SNL Korea! =)
Pros: Quiet, contemplative dialogue that really makes you think about the world. Lots of eye candy, a wintry yet scenic Seoul, and amazing performances by a talented ensemble cast.
Cons: The subplot of the older gentleman security guard trying to romance the apartment building’s “owner” was rather dull. The writers probably included it to show that love has no age limit.