THE SHORT VERDICT:
A pretty low-key, small story set in a cute, quirky manhwa-esque world.
Within the smallness of the story, the writers manage to tease out some nice characterization, character growth and relationship development. It’s too bad this wasn’t quite sustained throughout the show’s 16 episodes.
Still a fairly enjoyable way to spend 16 hours, especially if you’re in the mood for contemplative with a side serving of zany.
THE LONG VERDICT:
Word on the street for this show is that most people were disappointed by it / found it too slow-moving and dropped out after 4/6/8 episodes. At the same time, I have heard whispers of a small segment of viewers who actually really love this show.
While I do like quite a few things about this show, I.. can’t say I love it. There is a lot of cute plus other goodies, and certain stretches were extremely engaging. On the other side of the fence, there are some definite flaws that marred my enjoyment, that I simply can’t overlook.
Let’s take this apart for a bit to see how that all works, shall we? There will be spoilers, but I’ll warn, as usual.
CREATING OUR WORLD
Generally, the world that the show presents us with has a comic, manhwa kind of feel.
The use of split frames and words inserted into the screen, overlaid with light, peppy, poppy music, makes me feel like I’m watching a live-action manhwa. There are even a couple of sound effects thrown in, adding to the manhwa feel.
Although the color palette doesn’t lean as technicolor as I expected it to, thanks to these design touches, everything in this world does tend to pop somewhat. And in the end, the world kinda feels technicolor, even if it doesn’t look technicolor, if that makes sense.
I liked the manhwa-esque design of our world, but as with most things, there is a flip side to this coin.
In my view, the more manhwa-esque – and therefore unreal – the design tends to lean, the trickier it is to create emotional resonance that rings true, from the characters to the audience. The show navigates this tightrope reasonably well, though there are miss-steps along the way.
While most of the characters are likable and amusing, the writers only really flesh out a few main characters. Side characters tend to stay pretty two-dimensional, although some get a little more attention than others.
While I don’t exactly blame the writers for choosing this route, it does detract from the realness of the characters inhabiting this world. By extension, that in turn detracts from the realness of the world itself.
Basically, if I can’t feel like your world is inhabited by real personalities, it’s that much harder for me to get sucked into your world, y’know what I’m sayin’?
Park Shin Hye as Go Dok Mi
Park Shin Hye is one of those actresses that has grown on me drama by drama. I didn’t think much of her turn as the bumbling, clueless nun wannabe in You’re Beautiful (although I eventually came to accept the character as part and parcel of that campy, kooky, very fun world), and then I liked her a little better in Heartstrings / You’ve Fallen For Me.
Flower Boys Next Door is easily my favorite role of Park Shin Hye’s, among the shows that I’ve seen her in.
Go Dok Mi is a character that is reserved, contemplative and often a touch melancholic, and Park Shin Hye portrays her with restraint and small nuances that I appreciate.
I liked Dok Mi’s growth trajectory the most, among the various story arcs in the show.
Dok Mi’s journey, from being closeted in the safe confines of her apartment, to wrestling with and overcoming her fears in order to step outside into the world, is no simple thing.
I really like the amount of care the writers took with this, allowing us to explore the workings of her mind and the various corners of her heart as she grapples with her own conflicting thoughts and desires about how she wants to experience the world: vicariously, from the inside of her cave with binoculars in metaphorical and literal hand, or by personally stepping outside with her own two feet.
Straightaway, in episode 1, we get a sense of the extent of Dok Mi’s timidity with people, when we see that she can’t even muster up the courage to ask her sunbae for the overdue deposit of the contract money, even though she clearly needs it.
She seems to have an actual psychological fear of facing people. Her most hated sounds: “The sound of pounding on a door. A telephone ring. The intercom. My name being called.”
At the same time, we see that when she is alone with her thoughts, she is extremely eloquent on her own.
Every episode, we are privy to Dok Mi’s inner thoughts as she writes her journal entries, such as this one, from episode 2:
“That woman’s mouth.. is like a broken faucet in a mountain village. Not a single drop comes out when it’s needed, but it’s like a faulty faucet that only works in the silence of a night. All the words that she wasn’t able to say in that moment comes pouring out after that moment passes. ‘Next time, I’ll make sure to respond like this.. This is how I’m going to retort to the comments..’ This, she always vows to herself. That woman always speaks the most impressive lines when she’s alone in her room.”
I like the way the journaling gives us a peek into her thoughts, while giving us a point of reference throughout the show, so that we can compare her outward behavior with others to her inward reflections.
As Dok Mi grows bolder in her interactions with the world, the gap – both in tone and content – between her diary entries and her real-world communications starts to shrink, giving us a regular means of measuring her growth from episode to episode.
I have more thoughts around this diary device, but we’ll save that for later in the review.
Yoon Si Yoon as Enrique Geum
While many viewers took to hyper, motor-mouthed, energizer-bunny Enrique right away, I have to admit that I was slow to embrace him as a character.
I found his manic energy a bit much, and one of my first reactions to Enrique was, “My word. Enrique speaks really really fast. @.@” He made my head spin with his speed-talking. Almost literally.
And while I found his cutesy, aegyo man-child antics amusing, I didn’t find him appealing in a hero sort of sense. I kinda like to at least see the potential for sexy in my drama heroes, and I wasn’t seeing it in Enrique. Not like this:
It takes a couple of episodes for us to see more clearly the layers beneath the manic, and for me, that felt like a long time because I actually took forever to progress past the first couple of episodes. Once I got to see the layers beneath though, Enrique really began to grow on me as a character, and I have to commend Yoon Si Yoon for managing the “switch-on, switch-off” nature of the manic really, really well.
And the more I saw of the layers beneath, into the workings of Enrique’s heart and mind, the more I rooted for him as a character, and the more I grew affectionate of him. And yes, I also began to see the potential for sexy.
It’s only after more than two and a half episodes of manic Enrique that we get the first solid indication that he’s really just trying to hold it all in.
This little scene in episode 3, where Enrique plays a soccer game alone in a PC-bang, is one such moment. Despite his best efforts, Enrique is unable to prevent the tears from spilling out, and even when they do, he doesn’t even really acknowledge the tears except to brush them away as he continues to talk to himself out loud about the soccer game.
This was a definitive moment for me; my heart went out to him because I started to see the melancholy hidden under the feverishly high-energy facade that he adopted as his default setting.
Another early-ish scene that alludes to Enrique’s inner sadness is in episode 5, when he leaves Dok Mi in the car to pat down his sandcastle.
We realize that he’s read Dok Mi’s diary entry on her phone:
“What is your truth? Answer honestly. Whenever someone asked her that, she kept her mouth shut. When unwrapped from its wrapping paper of lies, the truth is not a sweet candy or a chocolate that appears with a flourish. In the way that skin is needed to protect blood and flesh, she needed lies to cover her truth. More than being honest and exposing her scars, that woman found it safer to lie with a brilliant smile.”
It’s almost imperceptible, but we see Enrique tearing up as he pretends to pat the sandcastle down. Aw.
We’re not shown whether it’s because her words resonate with his own feelings, or whether it’s compassion that he feels, but his words to the sandcastle seem meant for himself and for Dok Mi as well, “Listen… no matter how strong the waves come crashing at you, don’t crumble easily and you have to endure it for as long as you can, okay?”
Later, to Dok Mi, he says, with cheerful facade back in place, “The sandcastle I built will be washed away by the waves soon, without a trace. Then our one-sided love and first love will be washed clean.”
This is one of the key points where we begin to see the duality in Enrique play out more regularly. Amid the occasional cracks in his overly bright facade, we get fleeting glimpses of his inner sadness and loneliness. And that is how we begin to piece together the real person under the perky chatter.
Kim Ji Hoon as Oh Jin Rak
Compared to Dok Mi and Enrique, Jin Rak isn’t as well-developed a character, but he does act as the main foil to Enrique. Also, outside of our OTP, he is the character that gets the most screentime.
Kim Ji Hoon is pretty pitch-perfect as the hapless, always slightly mussed-up next door neighbor nursing a crush on Dok Mi that’s the size of Mt. Everest, but whose idea of courting a lady is so slow and protracted that fossils could form while waiting for him to make a move.
As a general rule, Jin Rak’s deadpan faces are priceless, and he’s often shown in various states of embarrassment while attempting to furtively observe the object of his affection.
One typical funny Jin Rak moment is in episode 3, where Jin Rak first pretends to be a puking drunk, and then a hobo looking through the trash, all while spying on Enrique & Dok Mi’s conversation nearby. The physical comedy, combined with Kim Ji Hoon’s shifty-eyed, confused facial expressions, made me laugh out loud.
In a later episode, late one night, Jin Rak is literally beside himself with anxiety, knowing that Enrique is in Dok Mi’s apartment, and resorts to all manner of crazy antics to try to keep tabs on what’s happening on the other side of the wall:
His efforts are fruitless, but give us several truly hysterical moments, thanks to Kim Ji Hoon’s gung-ho, all-in delivery. I never knew that Kim Ji Hoon could do physical comedy so well, seriously.
Park Soo Jin as Cha Do Hwi
For a relatively significant secondary character, Do Hwi is painted in a singularly two-dimensional fashion. She is the typical paper cut-out of the simpering Bitchy Ex-Friend, a character that Park Soo Jin strikes me as having played too many times.
To that end, Park Soo Jin does pretty well, I suppose, because I disliked her more and more as the show progressed, just like the writers intended.
It’s too bad that Do Hwi never really comes across as a real person, but a caricature. Her motivations are never fully fleshed out, both in the past and the present, and her reasoning and subsequent actions never fully make sense. It’s like the writers painted her in broad strokes and then forgot to fill in the finer details. When we zoom in for a closer look, all we get is a pixelated blur instead of a finely drawn character.
By the end of the show, I honestly couldn’t care two snips about what became of her, coz really, it’s hard to care about a cartoon parody.
Do Hwi’s entire thought process for how she turned on Dok Mi in high school rang completely false to me.
I mean, you are BFFs with Dok Mi for the longest time, and super-close and everything. And then, just because some random girls pay you some attention, you drop your BFF and start taunting her with disdain?
And then, when you suspect in your twisted mind that the Literature teacher and Dok Mi might have a thing going on, you ruin your ex-BFF’s life without even a hint of regret?
Seriously? I.. can’t make sense of it. Any person with a shred of decency would at least be a little conflicted about unleashing such malice on someone that they used to be so close to.
I really think more care could have been put into the plotting of Do Hwi’s character. Her characterization feels lazy, convenient and even a little slipshod.
When the writers don’t bother to create a believable character with believable motivations, I can’t find a reason to understand or to care. And also, it takes me out of the moment when stuff doesn’t make sense, and that’s just not helpful to the overall story.
THE SECONDARY CHARACTERS
Like I mentioned earlier, the secondary characters aren’t really fleshed out very much at all. Some characters get a little more attention and screentime, however, and this makes for a couple of pretty endearing and memorable personalities.
Kim Seul Gi as The Editor
Hands-down, my favorite secondary character is the webtoon editor, played to endearing OTT perfection by Kim Seul Gi.
Kim Seul Gi makes the Editor (who doesn’t even get a name, actually) a cracktastic combination of bug-eyed crazy and blushing schoolgirl, complete with unwashed greasy hair and dark circles the size of saucers.
She makes shrill demands of Jin Rak and Dong Hoon (Go Kyung Pyo) and almost always punctuates her orders with a “Right! NOW!”
She consistently steals each and every scene she’s in, and she’s just all-around awesome. You just can’t help but love her.
Go Kyung Pyo as Yoo Dong Hoon
Friendly, outgoing and amiable Dong Hoon seems mostly positioned to be a companion and foil to Jin Rak. (Ooh.. A foil to the foil, geddit?)
He sometimes is the voice of reason, or simply the voice of opposites for Jin Rak, and the two often bring the laughs, such as this hilarious missed high-five where Dong Hoon gets slapped in the face instead:
Somewhere around the mid-point of the show, Dong Hoon’s character suddenly gets a little more attention, complete with a rather adorable love line.
The attention per se doesn’t feel completely like an afterthought, since we do get hints of his late-night activities from early on in the show. The love line does feel tacked on, though it’s so cute that I forgive the writers.
On top of that, Go Kyung Pyo makes Dong Hoon a very likable character, which makes me happy to have more Dong Hoon in my story and therefore I shan’t nitpick too much.
A Random Handful of Characters
There are some characters that I expected to be fleshed out a little more, and which weren’t. Like Han Tae Joon (Kim Jung San) and Yoon Seo Young (Kim Yoon Hye):
I thought these 2 characters would have been given fuller story arcs and more well-rounded characterization.
Instead, both characters make fairly abrupt exits around the mid-point of the show, and we never actually find out what happens to them both. I found that a little strange.
And then there’s Mizuta Kouki as Watanabe Ryu, who seems to serve no narrative purpose whatsoever, except to be one of the requisite flower boys:
Conveniently, Watanabe is a Japanese chef who is in Korea to learn about Korean cuisine. And he does so at Bibigo, which is ludicrous, really, and so obviously PPL.
(Bibigo does not serve traditional Korean food, but more of a fusion, modern, “healthy” version of Korean food. Think bibimbap served with purple/black rice, and hot sauce in sachets on the side. I know this because I ate at a Bibigo chain store 2 weeks ago. It’s kinda like saying you’re going to Japan to learn about Japanese cuisine, but you do so at a ramen chain store that’s not only fusion but even a little bit fast food-ish. Kinda ridiculous, eh?)
Of course, there’s also Security Guard ahjusshi Hong Soon Chul (Lee Dae Yeon) who’s clearly crushing on the lady tenant in apartment #404, Im Jung (Kim So Yi).
Ahjusshi’s attempts to woo Ahjumma never take up very much screentime, and instead the brief moments are peppered throughout the show, offering a cute bit of on-going side entertainment.
All in all, it would have been really nice if these secondary characters could have been fleshed out more, but as it stands, they were a fun, rather amusing bunch to have around, and helped to make our Flower Boy neighborhood a quirky, fun place to hang around.
Similar to how only key characters are properly fleshed out in this show, only the key relationships are carefully drawn. With Dok Mi’s trajectory taking centerstage, it is her relationships with Enrique and Jin Rak that are ushered to the forefront and that get to feature some thoughtful writing.
I’m going to just spend a bit of time on the other relationships that I want to touch on, before getting to our OTP. Since theirs is the central relationship of the show, I thought we’d save that for last.
Enrique and Jin Rak
I found the relationship between Jin Rak and Enrique really quite amusing.
As the two men vying for Dok Mi’s attention and affection, one might expect them to be highly overtly combative, but Jin Rak’s sense of propriety and decorum, which seems mostly powered by wimpishness, is no match for Enrique’s persistently friendly, talk-a-mile-a-minute, never-give-up, wide-eyed puppy ways.
Jin Rak’s weak attempts at protest are consistently mowed over by Enrique’s eager chatter, and the two become reluctant friends. Well, reluctant from where Jin Rak’s standing, anyway. Enrique seems to genuinely want to be his friend.
Jin Rak’s reactive nature, combined with his jealousy towards Enrique’s interactions with Dok Mi, translates into quite a bit of passive-aggressive behavior, like in episode 3 when he draws dark circles and a beard on the webtoon version of Enrique. Pfft.
It is also pretty gratifying to see the outwardly more mature Jin Rak actually learn about the real meaning of love from young puppy Enrique. So while Jin Rak was never going to get the girl, he does learn to put away his rose-colored lenses and see love with more insightful eyes.
A Friendship Minted
One of my favorite moments between Jin Rak and Enrique is in episode 5, when Jin Rak, finally driven to action by a huge stockpile of accumulated frustrated jealousy, confronts Enrique and introduces himself.
Enrique is so delighted to make a new acquaintance that he basically eager-beavers a very unwilling, rather horrified Jin Rak into going to the PC-bang with him.
As they game, Jin Rak belligerently tries his darndest to beat Enrique, to no avail. Enrique trounces him blithely and effortlessly, to Jin Rak’s chagrin.
His competitive streak stirred up more than ever, Jin Rak boasts afterward to an adoring Enrique about having been in the special forces in the army, only to have his bragging met with thrilled glee, “You’re totally a man! Wow!”
Jin Rak challenges Enrique to a race, and the two take off, charging down the streets.
By the time they stop for breath, Jin Rak’s grumpy expression has given way to one of genuine exhilaration, and just like that, their new friendship is sealed.
Hee. I love how all of Jin Rak’s defenses are powerless against Enrique’s indefatigable good humor. I think I’ll call this the Enrique Effect. Heh.
A Lesson in Dok Mi
One of Jin Rak’s lessons from Enrique happens in episode 7 when Jin Rak confronts Enrique on the roof for accepting Do Hwi’s memory boxes on Dok Mi’s behalf.
As Jin Rak reasons with Enrique, their very different perspectives on love come tumbling out.
Enrique’s take is that in love, someone always has to confess first. Jin Rak, on the other hand, contends that there shouldn’t be a need for that, “if people take their time and fully get to know one another.”
Jin Rak likens Dok Mi to a still water pond, and accuses Enrique, “You’re saying you’ll crash into her like a tidal wave or something until [you leave]?”
Without batting an eye, Enrique fires back, “That ahjumma is not someone who’d be shaken even if the tidal waves were to move in on her like a tropical storm! And… even though you’ve watched over her for as long as you have, you know even less about ahjumma than I do.” Touche. So true.
And then Enrique adds, “You really were planning on getting to know her really, really slowly, huh?” Pffft.
I had to laugh at that, coz my patience was really wearing thin with Jin Rak’s recurring protest of “But I was here first!”
That’s right, hon. Love just doesn’t work that way.
Dok Mi and Jin Rak
Pretty much all drama long, Jin Rak tries his best to be considerate of what he perceives as Dok Mi’s delicate nature by keeping a respectful distance and passively admiring her from afar, just like he’s done for the past 3 years.
In his own mind – and in his webtoon, too – he’s constructed and fleshed out an entire dossier of the kind of girl that he believes Dok Mi to be, without once daring to inch forward to check his ideas of her against her real personality.
Through the course of the show, Jin Rak slowly and painfully discovers that the Dok Mi that he’s placed on a pedestal in the ivory tower of his mind isn’t quite the same as the living, breathing Dok Mi that inhabits the apartment next door.
I guess it doesn’t quite count as losing your love if you were really only in love with an idea?
In episode 5, we get a couple of scenes that represent pretty succinctly Jin Rak’s misguided adoration of Dok Mi.
First, Jin Rak gets drunk and in his intoxicated state, meanders on and on to a bemused Dong Hoon about Dok Mi. We learn that he thinks (1) Dok Mi is so perfect that one can’t sully her by putting the moves on her, and (2) eros is only for jerks.
No wonder he never gets anywhere with his crush, living in fantasyland and all.
Then the next morning, he’s discovered by Dok Mi while furtively adjusting his post-it for the day, which he hastily retrieves.
His final post-it, which never makes it into her hand, reads: “Even if you’re far away, I know you. – This is Apt 401, Oh Jin Rak.”
After Jin Rak’s (rather weak) confession is foiled, we see that the post-it pictures do move when flipped, and they tell a story in stop-motion, about a guy who falls for a girl at first sight and ends up proposing on his knee with flowers. Aw.
I thought it rather poignant that Jin Rak’s sketch figures made more progress in love than Jin Rak himself.
In episode 9, Jin Rak musters up the courage to make a halting confession to Dok Mi as they stand outside their respective doors.
“I really hate the winter. In spring, summer and fall… You keep your windows open… And I can smell the scent wafting out from your home.” … “I can smell the scent of the herbs… The scent of your rice cooking in the evenings… And I can even see your curtains billowing in the breeze. On rainy days… I can see you stretch your hand out… to feel the rain on your skin. It feels as though you’re right next to me. I just… want to remain by your side for a long time. And after some time of doing that… maybe even some trace of me… like the imprint of that hat… could remain, couldn’t it? All you need to do is… just as you are already… remain where you are now.”
Jin Rak’s confession sounds romantic in an almost literary sense, but honestly doesn’t show any understanding of Dok Mi as a person, only an almost-creepy, intimate knowledge of her routine.
Plus, his confession is basically an invitation for her to stay still so that he can slowly, really, really slowly maybe-kinda-sorta become a small trace in her life. Um. Not very practical for most girls, I would think.
Doing the Decent Thing
Despite Jin Rak’s overly romanticized ideas of love, he’s really a decent guy, and we see him choose to do the decent thing in episode 11, even when it means sending Dok Mi to Enrique.
I felt so sorry for Jin Rak in this episode, really.
First, he gets all happy and pleased that Dok Mi actually asked him to the Van Gogh exhibition, and he primps for their date, only to realize that her thoughts are elsewhere with Enrique.
Then, he gets all teary-eyed as Dok Mi tells him to stop with the post-it notes, and he anticipates her good-bye with a mix of fear and defeat written on his face.
And then Dong Hoon calls him with news of Enrique being attacked and sent to hospital. Talk about having a bad date.
Jin Rak doesn’t even hesitate and tells Dok Mi the news, despite knowing that this will curtail whatever remaining time he has with her. He then takes a shocked Dok Mi to the hospital to see Enrique.
Oh, Jin Rak. Your affections may be completely misguided, but your principles are not. You’re a good man.
A Moment of Truth
In episode 13, when Enrique discovers that Dok Mi is missing from her apartment, Enrique springs into action to search for her.
Enrique rattles off possibilities as he darts in and out of Dok Mi’s apartment, “Her Grandma’s. Do I have to call her colleague at work? She has places that she wants to go, and the pictures. We will just need to check that.”
After Enrique dashes off, Jin Rak, looking sobered and stunned in one, finally says, “Dong Hoon-ah. I don’t know anything. If Dok Mi disappears one day… I won’t even know where to look.”
Aw. The moment when Jin Rak realizes that he really knows nothing about Dok Mi is sad, but true. I think this is the pivotal point when Jin Rak begins to come to terms with how distant he really is, from Dok Mi.
By the end of the show, though, Jin Rak’s arrived at a much more self-aware place.
During one of their meetings, Editor challenges Jin Rak, “Flower Boy Next Door discusses love? Are you kidding? Do you know love? You said there was no such thing as a timid confession! What does a guy who’s done nothing but stare out his window know about love?!”
Jin Rak smiles, “I didn’t know love. Love is something that people do, so you can be rejected or make mistakes… but I put love in too high a place, and just looked up at it. So I want to tell people not to be like me, to give courage to those who can’t confess, and I want to comfort hurting loves.”
A lesson learned in perhaps an unnecessarily protracted manner, but a lesson worth learning all the same. Good on ya, Jin Rak.
Dok Mi and Enrique
When we first meet Dok Mi and Enrique, they seem as different as chalk and cheese, save for the fact that they are both pining for other people in unrequited one-sided loves. She’s all timid reserve, while he’s all tireless animated chatter.
As we get to know both characters a little better, though, we realize that underneath their respective facades, they each nurse a sense of melancholic loneliness that isn’t so very different from the other.
What makes them different from each other in their melancholy is their responses.
Dok Mi puts up her defenses and stoically hides behind them, while Enrique proactively barrels through those defenses, one by one, to get to the kindred spirit that he sees in her.
If I had to summarize Enrique’s and Dok Mi’s relationship, it would be this: He sees her; he hears her; he knows her. And he knows when not to take no for an answer.
Dok Mi sees Enrique too, much as she doesn’t want to at first.
I pretty much love how good Enrique is, for Dok Mi, and in turn, how good she is, for him.
[SPOILERS THROUGH THE END OF THE REVIEW]
He Sees Her:
I find it significant that Enrique is the first one (and only one, come to think of it) who sees Dok Mi peeking out from her apartment and insists on calling her out on it. He pounds on her door and refuses to allow her lack of response to deter him from seeing her face to face.
It’s the literal play-out of what’s going on at a deeper level.
She doesn’t want to be seen, but he sees her anyway. She doesn’t want to open her door, but he finds a way in anyway. She doesn’t want to talk, but he talks to her anyway. And he just keeps talking until she starts talking back.
He basically insists on seeing her, and in the end, it’s how the defensive walls around Dok Mi begin to crumble.
Not only does Enrique see her, he treats her like an active participant in life, instead of the dead wallflower that she prefers to be.
In episode 3, when Dok Mi faints and Enrique takes her back to Tae Joon’s apartment, he promptly considers her a friend and treats her so.
When Dok Mi tries to leave, he pulls Dok Mi close and stops her. With a slight crack in his voice, he whispers hoarsely, “Don’t go, ahjumma.” … “Help me. Please.” Compelling, to say the least.
And so it is, that Dok Mi ends up staying on in the apartment and helping Enrique, despite it being completely out of her comfort zone.
Clearly, Enrique has a knack for getting Dok Mi to engage with him, with others and with life in general.
In fact, in episode 6, Enrique even writes a book, just to create a formal reason to spend time with Dok Mi. Ha. Talk about going to great lengths.
It’s even more interesting to know that at the point of writing the book, Enrique isn’t even aware that he might have feelings for Dok Mi. In his mind, he’s just doing all he can, to teach Dok Mi how to come out into the world.
It’s only in episode 11 that Enrique, after his accident, hallucinates that Dok Mi is looking down over him and realizes, “I’ve… fallen in love” as a tear rolls down his cheek. Aw.
While Enrique’s hallucination speaks to his desire to be with Dok Mi, I also find it symbolic that Enrique sees her, even when she’s not physically there. It’s like she doesn’t need to actually be there, for him to see her, because he sees her so clearly.
He Hears Her:
There’s a recurring motif in the show, of Enrique being able to hear Dok Mi’s thoughts.
It first surfaces in episode 2, when Enrique is talking to Dok Mi about their earlier misunderstanding, and Dok Mi thinks to herself, “I miss my room.”
Enrique seems to hear her thoughts, coz he says, “Stop thinking about wanting to go back to your place.”
Enrique’s seeming ability to hear Dok Mi’s thoughts becomes his barometer for how connected he feels to her.
In episode 10, when Dok Mi comes knocking on his door to give him the money for her hospital bill (and to say goodbye), Enrique puts a finger to her forehead and says somberly, “When I looked at you, I strangely used to think I could hear your voice. But now… I can’t hear anything. I don’t know. I really don’t know.”
After Dok Mi finally confesses that she likes him in episode 11, Enrique pronounces, “I can hear it again. The sound of Ahjumma’s heart.” Aw.
And right away, the little “talk-to-the-thought” thing between them starts again.
Enrique shows Dok Mi the definition of “dating” in a dictionary, which reads, “A close friendship between two people who are in love.”
Dok Mi thinks to herself, “Lo… love? All I said was that I liked him.” To which Enrique blithely replies, “Liking someone and loving someone means the same thing.” Cute.
I found it rather cheesy at first, but this little thing between them where Enrique answers Dok Mi’s thoughts really grew on me, and by the later episodes, I genuinely found it rather cute and sweet.
He Knows Her:
One of the things that Enrique says several times during the course of the show, is that to know someone is to love them. And I love how he knows Dok Mi.
He refuses to tiptoe around her nor handle her gingerly or delicately as if she’s a fragile item. He gives her what she needs, rather than what she wants, and essentially helps her to overcome her demons in spite of her own fears in facing them.
In episode 9, we get a scene of Enrique giving Jin Rak advice on what to do for Dok Mi:
“Once in a while… just leave her be. And then one day… go knock on her door, and go out to the world together. Then you’re going to show her a really beautiful scenery. So that she starts to think… the world is worth living, and that her heart is starting to heal. And also… you’re going to let her be free. And then once in a while… “I know your pain… and that I’ll never ignore you… Since I know your heart better than anyone else does. So can you… step a little closer to me?” That’s the kind of signal you’re going to give her.”
Aw. The advice Enrique gives Jin Rak is exactly what Dok Mi needs. It’s also totally what he wants to do for Dok Mi himself, and the way Enrique says it all, so dreamily and tenderly, it’s like he’s doing all these things for her in his mind already. It’s so sweet, particularly in that all these things have to do with helping to heal Dok Mi of her hurts while giving her space to find that healing.
I love too, that despite his plan to return to Spain, Enrique makes a game for Dok Mi, to bring her out into the world, just like he promised he would. I found that so sweet. Really.
And that he does it for her, while masking his own pain with cheerful words, double aww.
One of my favorite scenes around how well Enrique knows Dok Mi, is when he encourages her to talk honestly with Do Hwi about their past in episode 12.
It’s such a great thing, truly, that Enrique doesn’t indulge Dok Mi’s desire to hide, but instead gives her encouragement and strength to face her demons.
Jin Rak can’t take Do Hwi’s outburst and wants to stop the entire conversation to protect Dok Mi, but Enrique knows better. He knows Dok Mi needs to talk, and he knows that she can do it. And he’s right.
And after she does, he has this little flash of pride flitter over his face, which is so gratifying to witness. He knows her. And like he’s already said, to love someone is to know them.
What I love even more about this story beat, is that afterwards, Enrique doesn’t allow Dok Mi to find comfort in his arms either.
Instead, he gives her a way to find her own calm, with the pencil sharpening. And then he watches from afar, giving her space to find that calm. More powerful than a hug, perhaps. And he really does seem to know her. Which I love.
Aw. And when he leaves, he tells her that when she looks out the window in the morning (ie, when she’s ready), she’ll see him.
Such a lovely balance between giving assurance and giving space. Love that. So much.
She Knows Him Too:
As much as Enrique sees and knows Dok Mi, she too, sees and knows him right back. She looks past Enrique’s bright facade and sees the loneliness beneath that everyone else misses. It’s partly the fact that she’s working on Enrique’s autobiography, but it’s mostly because of her interactions with him where she’s seen through the cracks in his facade.
In episode 7, when Enrique and Dok Mi argue, it’s clear as day that these 2 know each other’s most painful buttons. They sear each other with their words, hitting where it hurts the most, as they both tear. They see through each other’s protective shells so clearly that they know where it hurts the most.
Enrique’s hurt response to Dok Mi’s words is telling:
“I don’t care about the key words made up by people who don’t know me. But you know who I am. Even if it’s a little bit. Calling me a hollow shell? That’s a bit harsh. I’ll just take it that you said those words so you can cut me out of your life… so I’ll cut you out of mine too.”
Enrique is more hurt by the notion of Dok Mi not seeing him for his true self, rather than the opinions of others that she throws at him. He cares about what Dok Mi thinks about him, not what other people think of him. We see this too, when Enrique is most concerned about Dok Mi misunderstanding him, when the handphone thief uploads couply photos of him with Seo Young.
We see the significance to Enrique in his autobiography, where he writes, “When rejected by the person you love most, when betrayed by the person closest to you – that’s when self-abasement begins. You hide in a space that’s all your own, and close your heart. I can’t just pass by people like that.”
While Enrique seems to be the more proactive one in their interactions, Dok Mi’s gift to Enrique is the way she sees him for his real self, knows him, and still accepts him.
Other Dok Mi-Enrique Thoughts
One of the things I love about Dok Mi’s and Enrique’s relationship is their unique love language.
In episode 12, Dok Mi says to Enrique, “I want to try going outside. Out into the world.” And he practically bursts with joy.
And it truly is the biggest thing she could say to him. Not “I love you,” or “I miss you,” but rather, “I want to try going out into the world.” Aw.
Later, when Enrique asks Dok Mi to go to Spain with him, Dok Mi writes in her diary:
“How many meanings are there in the words I’m sorry? Sadness and scars. Misunderstanding and repentance. Regret and reconciliation. Innumerable feelings are mixed up within. That man believes that you can’t express your heart with one short word. “Will you come to Spain with me?” What that man spoke was love.”
I love that these 2 are so tuned in to the subtext of what the other says. They truly do listen to each other’s hearts, and I love that.
Sort of still in line with language, I really like the scene in episode 16 where Enrique and Dok Mi “practice” making sentences using the words ‘sorry’, ‘thank you’, ‘I love you.’
Not only is it a romantic, sweet little scene, it actually encapsulates the essence of their relationship.
Pressed by Enrique to go first, Dok Mi says, “I’m sorry that I pushed your feelings away until now. It was a long road but you didn’t lose your way and came… thank you. Because of you, I came to love myself.”
Enrique’s sentences go, “I’m sorry that I couldn’t come earlier. Thank you for letting me love you. I love you.” Aw. That is so sweet.
The title of Dok Mi’s photo album in her phone after Enrique tells her to capture the world is “Her world.” Dok Mi discloses, “The first thing I saw of the world to capture was you. It’s what I realized as I wrote the title… You are my world.”
She then re-does her sentences, “For only making my confession now, I’m sorry. Thank you for becoming my world. I love you.” Double aw.
Later, Enrique thinks, “I thought love was giving half of myself and the other person filling the other half. That woman thought her half was dark and shameful, and so she pushed love away. That love is taking an incomplete half and going towards completion… is something that woman only now realizes.”
I really like that thought, that love is taking something incomplete, and moving towards completion. Not necessarily in finding the completion in the other person, but even in the process of loving, to find personal growth, and to mature and blossom towards a completion of oneself.
A Kissing Aside:
Ok, I just want to make a quick fangirl aside to comment on the kiss that we get in episode 11.
I absolutely love the build-up towards the confession and the kiss. BUT. I’m really quite disappointed in the execution of the kiss itself. It’s so stiff and static, and our OTP’s lips are barely touching.
Seriously, I expected better.
I can buy that Dok Mi would be stiff because that jives with her character, but it makes sense that Enrique would express more tenderness. And I have heard on good authority that Yoon Si Yoon is capable of much, much better.
And this is cable, too! I blame the PD, seriously. Tsk.
Dong Hoon and Editor
I just wanted to give a quick spotlight to this adorable couple.
I loved the humorous touch that the writers gave all their relationship interactions, from Jin Rak’s “speak softly” tip which Editor then uses to hilarious effect on Dong Hoon, to Dong Hoon’s jealousy over Editor going starry-eyed over Enrique.
It’s extra funny that through it all, these 2 don’t even seem to realize their relationship is evolving.
In episode 16, Jin Rak talks about the new love story that he’s working on, which is clearly built on Dong Hoon’s and Editor’s relationship. I get that this was supposed to be sweet, but I found it sorta lame.
But, Dong Hoon’s and Editor’s stunned reaction is cute. In unison, they ask incredulously, “Are we in love?”
So funny, and so adorable, these 2. ♥
DOK MI’S JOURNEY OF GROWTH
I just wanted to do a quick spotlight on Dok Mi’s journey of growth, which really, is the main point of the entire drama.
From the moment that we first meet her in episode 1 through to the end of the drama, Dok Mi makes some huge strides in terms of overcoming her fears and learning how to step out into the world with strength and confidence.
Here are just a couple of my favorite Dok Mi growth moments.
1. In episode 7, when Dok Mi steps outside to save Jin Rak from the suspicious looking men who want to arrest him, she says:
“Excuse me… Does Oh Jin Rak know that he’s being indicted? Isn’t it that you can only arrest people who’s been proven to be guilty? Which department are you two from? Do you two have proper identification to prove who you are? If you two can’t provide proper identification… You wouldn’t mind if I called the police?”
Aw. & Wow. How about that, for a display of strength?
2. In episode 10, when Dok Mi comes face to face with the Literature teacher again, thanks to Do Hwi’s conniving scheming, and everyone else pretends like everything is as fine as can be.
I love that Dok Mi doesn’t play along with them. Even though she says it haltingly while fighting tears, she calls them on it, and I consider that a strength on its own.
“You’re all… acting like everything is fine. You’re all… asking me questions like nothing happened. You’re all… so cruel.”
She’s not hiding behind a wall, but facing a situation for what it is, and speaking directly to it. This is one of the bravest things I’ve seen her do.
3. In episode 11, Dok Mi does a lot of reaching out. She reaches out to the woman who got hurt, and she reaches out too, to Enrique. Big steps, especially considering how we started with everyone reaching out to Dok Mi instead.
4. In episode 14, when Dok Mi finally speaks with Do Hwi about their past, she struggles. But when she finally speaks, it is with steely confidence. Dok Mi really shows her mettle, and I love it.
I’m just going to come right out and say it: I have issues with the writing in this show.
Yes, there is some very nice stuff in here, especially when it comes to our key characters and the key relationships.
I can even overlook some of the weird comic shifts in tone, which were sometimes seriously distracting. Like in episode 15, when our OTP has had a major fallout, and Enrique shows up at Dok Mi’s apartment dressed like Sherlock Holmes with a ponytail in his hair. After leaning towards raw emotional intensity, this sudden shift towards physical comedy felt strange and I felt that it completely diluted the emotional potency of the scenes prior.
I can even live with the sometimes overly heavy-handed use of metaphors. Like in episode 16, Dok Mi asks if Jin Rak if he’s seen the security booth lately, and notes that the hat is no longer there. In its place is a picture of the couple, and she says that someday it’ll leave a mark just like the hat did, but of the two of them and their life together. All these metaphors. They mean well, but too much of a good thing really just makes a lotta cheese. But I can live with even that.
My real beefs with the writing have to do with the flawed use of quite a few plot devices.
The Psycho Fan Arc
Seriously. The psycho fan arc surfaced again and again – and yet AGAIN in our story.
As the episodes wore on and she kept surfacing, I had less and less patience with this plot device. It got really old, really fast.
The psycho fan arc was definitely shoe-horned in there to Make Something Happen. Instead of focusing on the emotional core which is the best part of our story, we instead were inundated with interferences from this external, irrational source.
The show’s tone suffered as a result, becoming uneven and jerky in spots. Plus, I honestly felt manipulated. And that never feels nice.
Argh, the fakeout. This show used way, way, wayyy too many fakeouts. Haven’t the writers heard that too much of a good thing is, well, not a good thing?
Let me count off just a few fakeouts, for the record:
- Episode 8. Dok Mi’s upset when she sees the couply images of Enrique and Seo Young. The doorbell rings, and Dok Mi just knows that Enrique’s at the door, and thrusts his panda hat at him as she opens the door. Except it’s all a fakeout.
- Episode 10. Dok Mi faints, and is caught by Enrique. Except it’s really a fakeout, and it’s actually Jin Rak who catches her.
- Episode 10 again. Enrique sees Dok Mi hovering over him after his accident. Except it’s a fakeout, and it’s actually psycho fangirl peering over him. I get the mirror effect we’re going for, but still. 2 fakeouts in a single episode.
- Episode 14. The boys’ crazy mafia stunt plays out according to plan. Except it’s a fakeout.
- Episode 16. We start the episode after a one year time skip, and we’re shown Dok Mi and Jin Rak being all chummy and couple-like. Except it’s a fakeout, and the show comes back to the scene later, and changes up a few details to neutralize the couple-tone. I call fakeout.
Listen, I see what you’re trying to do there, but when you keep faking out, it doesn’t work anymore.
It’s kinda like the boy who kept crying wolf. We stop believing you. Plus, it gets boring.
When noble idiocy reared its ugly head in episode 14, I sighed and rolled my eyes.
Dok Mi says to Jin Rak, “I can’t be happy watching [Enrique] like that by my side. Will you help me, so that he can leave?” Classic nobly idiotic words.
With the show’s refreshing emphasis hitherto, on open conversations and promises to be truthful, this was a huge disappointment. It felt like the writers were looking for filler and decided to fall back on the ol’ trusty noble idiocy. This felt like a cop-out, seriously.
Surely there could have been other worthy ways to spend our last couple of episodes, that would align with the foundations that the earlier episodes had built? Surely we could have spent the time better, say, on exploring the emotional core of our characters?
Not only did this insertion of noble idiocy feel jerky, pacing-wise, I felt like it also compromised the thematic throughline of the entire show.
Really wish we didn’t have to go there.
Like I mentioned earlier in this review, I actually liked the diary device, for giving us access and insight into Dok Mi’s mindscape. I just wish it had been used better. Let me explain.
Dok Mi consistently writes about herself in the third person, and this struck me as really rather odd at first.
Later, I had what I’d thought was a completely brilliant insight into why Dok Mi writes about herself in the third person: Because it feels safer, and removes her from her own world, so that it doesn’t feel so scary. Bingo!
BUT. By the time I finished watching the show, I realized this mustn’t have been the reasoning of the writers after all, because Dok Mi continues to write in the third person. Drat.
There are a couple of times that she does write in the first person, when writing about “that man” instead of “that woman,” like she does in episode 13:
“I try following that man’s way of laughing. I try seeing the world through that man’s eyes. I try thinking with that man’s feelings. To that man, love is seeing with both people’s eyes and feeling with both hearts, seeing the world more deeply.”
I thought that was a nice way to show that her perspective and way of looking at and processing the world had started to change.
Right at the end, though, in episode 16, Dok Mi’s still referring to herself in the third person. We see her open a new file, titled “That Woman’s World.”
I would have liked the diary device so much more, if she’d moved into writing in the first person, and titled that file “My World.” That would have been so much more impactful, I feel. From distancing herself from her existence as “that woman,” I would have loved for her to have embraced herself and her world by writing as “I,” “me,” and “my.”
Still. I have to concede that I liked the entry Dok Mi wrote in That Woman’s World: “Knock on a closed door. Wrap your arms around a tired shoulder. Wipe away tears. Listen to the sound of each other’s hearts. Love each other like that.” Very nice.
The show’s ending was neatness and rainbows all around, and while that felt just a little bit pat, I didn’t mind that so much as I did the whole “you are my world” turn that Enrique’s and Dok Mi’s conversations took.
As the cameras take us from scene to happy scene, we hear our OTP in voiceover:
Enrique: “One person can’t change the world. But you can become another person’s world. A warm, bright, and peaceful world. If all people could be someone’s bright, peaceful, good world, one becomes ten, and then a hundred, and the good world grows. Ke Geum’s world, Go Dok Mi.”
Dok-mi: “Go Dok Mi’s world, Ke Geum-ie.”
I had to really think about why these sweet-sounding words didn’t sit right with me. And I think I’ve found the reason.
While I do think that Dok Mi’s growth was more central than the romance, the show didn’t execute that in a way that made it clear for the viewer. If the show had gone lighter on dressing it up as rom-com angst, and been more upfront and detailed in showing us her growth, I would’ve felt it sit better, I’m pretty sure. I enjoy character pieces, as long as they aren’t dressed up and disguised as rom-coms, coz that just misleads the viewer. Don’t point left when you really want me to look right, is what I’m saying. Enrique’s departure and all that was presented as the rom-com Separation Trope, and that weakened the sense of Dok Mi’s growth that we could’ve enjoyed, if Show would’ve allowed the spotlight to linger on that.
If Dok Mi’s growth was the whole point, then I would’ve liked to have seen at least a montage of scenes of what she did after Enrique’s departure, to make inroads into her new world. I want to actually witness that part of the journey in some way, if the journey is the main point.
And if her making inroads into the world is the point, then I kind of think it’s misguided to then have her decide that Enrique is her world. Coz that negates the whole point. And is in direct contrast with Enrique’s earlier approach, which I much preferred: not to shield her from the world, but to help her be strong enough to step back out into it, and walk tall.
Many people hated on Operation Proposal because they went in expecting a rom-com and it was way slower than a rom-com should be. But I saw it as more of a character piece, and that made the whole thing work for me. The slow steps that our hero took inching forward weren’t so much to do with romance, but at a deeper level, more to do with his character.
Why that worked for me, though, is because I got to witness the journey. Slow and painful as it could be at times, I got to see Baek Ho (Yoo Seung Ho) grapple with himself and wrestle with his character in order to achieve positive change.
And that’s kind of where FBND lost me in the last stretch. I wanted to see Dok Mi’s continued journey of growth, particularly in Enrique’s absence, so that I could disconnect her growth from him. I wanted him to be the catalyst and companion that he’d originally promised to be, as she stepped out into the world, rather than become the world itself.
By actually telling me, in both characters’ voiceovers, that they’ve become each others’ worlds, I feel it dilutes the growth, and even negates some of the earlier awesome. Which is a huge shame, really, coz there was quite a bit of awesome.
Despite all its flaws, though, Flower Boy Next Door brings us a meaningful message:
- That to love someone is to know them, really and truly, and not just in the way of seeing a person every day and thinking you’ve got them all figured out;
- That love should be born out of understanding, communication and acceptance;
- That love means giving the other person what they need, more than what they ask for;
- That, like it or not, we leave traces of ourselves with others.
And so I’ll end this review with one of Dok Mi’s diary entries:
“A sunflower that smiles up at the sun every day eventually turns into a little sun. A clamshell that’s been playing all day with the ocean gets patterned with grooves in the shape of affectionate waves, little by little. Things that are ardent grow together in likeness – that woman now understands this a little.”
A nice little bit of food for thought, I thought.
THE FINAL VERDICT:
A show that I like, but wish I could love. I guess that makes it a show that’s been friend-zoned. Heh.
FINAL GRADE: B-