Not all dramas are for everyone and I mostly chalk this up to one of three reasons: personal bias/interest, background or drama mood. However, there are always dramas that are highly recommended, widely viewed and vastly chattered about. Last year probably saw about 4-5 of those dramas, including City Hunter and perhaps Protect the Boss. And like it, love it or loathe it; if a drama is talked about, antennas rise and streaming sites are ablaze. Flower Boy Ramyun Shop is one of those dramas.
Flower Boy Ramyun Shop is the first installment in tvN’s Flower Boy trilogy, the second of which is currently airing Mon-Tues drama Shut Up: Flower Boy Band.
Official Synopsis: Yang Eun Bi is a University student preparing for her civil service exam with the dream of being a high school teacher. She accidentally encounters Cha Chi Soo, an arrogant son of the biggest food conglomerate in Korea. Both of them end up working at a ramen shop run by the lazy Choi Kang Hyuk. This romantic comedy deals with “pretty boys”, who with good looks and individuality, operate a ramen shop with lively college girls and experience the happenings of daily life.
Episode Slurp-up: It all starts with a case of assumed identity, when Yang Eun Bi, a wannabe teacher, meets fresh from America Cha Chi Soo in a bathroom and he compliments her mole. Things get more tangled when she realizes the boyfriend she’d waited for during his Military service, is seeing someone new and hops into his car to save face. It’s not until she starts her new job that she realizes the dazzling baby-faced executive/grad student, is actually, a dastardly barely legal (at least in one country) high school playboy. Embarrassed, she tries to continue with work, determined to make it as a professional, but the damage is done (in more ways than one) and it all ends with a swift cut to his jaw and unemployment.
Chi Soo, however, finds Eun Bi unattractive, old and dangerous until her father dies and he finds her taking out her aggressive on the volleyball court. Uncertain if it was the intense look in her eyes, the tight outfit, bouncing pony-tail or sweat soaked skin, Chi Soo’s interest increases, to what he’s sure must be an illness. So, when sleepy-headed, Kang Hyuk, co-owner of Eun Bi’s Ramyun Shop, courtesy of late Papa, needs more hands on deck, he uses this opportunity to stay near her to find his cure.
But after a few weeks sloshing over squash, his illness doesn’t dissipate but instead aggravates with each encounter Eun Bi has with another man or out of his presence. This leads to a dramatic confession and a full on war between Chi Soo, Kang Hyuk and Eun Bi’s pride.
Characters: One great thing about all the characters in Ramyun is though they are larger than manga life, they are also well rounded. There are several facets that make up who they are and what they are about, even if they aren’t evident on first glance. There could be a few “mysteries” to these characters, like hidden birth secrets or terminal diseases but that isn’t the most important thing. What draws you in are the layers that must be uncovered to understand them fully.
Yang Eun Bi (Lee Chung Ah)
For female characters, Eun Bi is fine and borderline typical. She’s not extremely likable but I don’t hate her. She’s relatively harmless and is earnest in her thinking, desires and motives. She’s a woman that is ordinary in many ways (looks, occupation, background) but abnormal in others (morals, relationships, physique). As a character, the combination of these things, is even more abnormal, because if Eun Bi or others didn’t tell us about her background or her past relationships, we’d think what you see is what you get. And there is a little more to Eun Bi than all that. She’s a woman who wants to be confident, who desires to be normal, and to achieve a sense of stability. Truthfully, her thoughts are that of any woman anywhere. What sets her apart as the heroine in this drama is ultimately, she’s stubborn. She believes certain things about people and the way they should conduct themselves and doesn’t back down (even if she gets a little distracted at times.) She is a woman that lives honestly and for that, she garners respect.
Cha Chi Soo (Jung Il Woo)
Chi Soo is your basic spoiled brat with a mommy complex. However, there is something completely winning about him. Nothing he does or says can be taken seriously, and he’s so oblivious to the “real” world that oft times, you treat him like a little lost puppy. He’s shallow and self-absorbed but oddly sensitive and that is what keeps you from outright hating the guy. His character isn’t complete bravado but a chunk of him relies on façade. Not necessarily an act but rather misplaced pride that gets trampled every other episode or so. For, the people he cares about, he truly tries to assist but his basic disconnect with reality, makes his efforts seem puffed up and ultimately misunderstood.
Choi Kang Hyuk (Lee Ki Woo)
Choi Kang Hyuk *sigh*. Honestly, he’s probably supposed to be one of the most complex characters in the drama. He’s a bundle of what would seem contradictions for he’s mysterious yet transparent, a loafer and a hard-worker, nonchalant but determined, indifferent yet observant. He’s a welcome addition to this supposed love triangle because he’s like Chi Soo but the older less idiotic version. He shines a bit of clarity Eun Bi’s way, because he’s vastly aware of her, who she is, could be and may ever want to be. He’s supportive and strong and everyone woman wants a bit of that?
Other characters: One thing that I believe Ramyun does well is characters. Every character is interesting, even the not so likable ones. Yoon So Yi (Ho Soo) is a prime example of this. She’s the current girlfriend of both Ba Wool and Chi Soo, for she can’t choose between them or more refuses to admit she actually likes Ba Wool over Chi Soo. Almost every word out of her mouth is silly and trite (when talking to the boys) but somehow spot on when she has a random address with Eun Bi. Though she a isn’t favorite, nor a character lovingly hated, she’s an oddity that makes the Ramyun world round. Where So Yi may garner indifference, Yang Chul Dong (Jung In Ki) and Kang Dong Joo (Kim Ye Won), keep me coming back episode after episode. Their dynamic and history (as former crush and Coach) intrigue me more at times than the main characters. Could they have their own show? No, but could they afford more screen time, absolutely. Their flirtatious banter, mixed signals and comfort with one another makes them a couple I wouldn’t mind spending time with.
The Boys,The Ramen, The Shop:
When we first meet Cha Chi Soo, he’s apart of his own F4 combination of boys, and I’m still not sure we actually know those guys’ names. One thing we know for sure is, they are Chi Soo’s crew, his boys, his posse, that until he begins working at the Shop, I’m sure he thought he couldn’t function successfully without. However, these aren’t the boys that prove to be the most dependable, nor are they the boys of Flower Boy. The boys that round out the Shop are two oddities that don’t fit into the “pretty boy” category per se, but work for this shop because they are uncharacteristically naive and just too darn cute. Kim Ba Wool (Park Min Woo) and Woo Hyun Woo (Jo Yoon Woo) are the best side of bromance I’ve seen in a year, because each scene they share together, apart, or alone, is absolutely wonderful. Ba Wool is this bad boy who only looks bad and Hyun Woo is a surprisingly metro homemaker. Together, they conflict because Ba Wool is a man’s man and Hyun Woo sees no need to be. They make a comical but successful pair for the simple fact they have to learn to find each other’s good qualities and decide not to be offended or put out by things they don’t quite understand. They both create sensational foils to each other and Chi Soo, for while Hyun Woo is the understanding, thoughtful, listener, Ba Wool is the hot-headed, forever over-assuming or simplifying doer. They are the types of friends that may make mistakes but know you inside out and still stick around.
Ramen takes on many life forms in this drama and though initially its juices are splattered in your face; but very quickly, it settles into the basic metaphor. There is definitely real ramyun to be eaten and tons of it is made in the shop daily (even little recipes and tutorials at the end of episodes) but the ramen talk, is at a slow simmer while it’s ambiance wafts through each episode.
For in this drama, ramen is not only a package of noodles, it creates warmth, evokes love and represents home. Ramen is a chameleon and yet, it never looses its function, flavor or origin. Ramen’s existence in one’s life, becomes a stark epithet of how a person lives, has lived and views life. Yang Eun Bi’s father initial love and worship of ramen is comical but as the metaphor continues; ramen symbolizes a lifestyle that Eun Bi does not want for herself, for ramen can be basic and ordinary, found for less than a quarter on random snack aisles. Eun Bi wants more than ordinary and thrives to achieve more so she can afford a real meal.
However, ramen isn’t just cheap or rather, it doesn’t have to be. There are several types of ramen and none have to taste or look the same, because ramen is adaptable. Therefore, ramen, like life, a person, or situation, can be whatever and whomever you make of it.
The running theme of Ramyun is that ramen isn’t inept to change. That’s the beauty of it. If your ramen is salty and classless, and you like it, so be it. But someone else can also have the ramen they desire; meaty, plump and luxurious. Sure there’s a basic truth but there are machinations within the facts and it doesn’t just come down to interpretation. Ramen can change or stay the same but all ramen has to be prepared, cooked, tasted and enjoyed to be considered an edible product.
Lastly, the shop is where all the business happens but it’s not just a business for cashing paying customers. It’s a place for misfits and miscreants alike, wanting a home, understanding and most importantly a little compassion and trust. Eun Bi’s dad began the tradition by taking Kang Hyuk under his wing many ramen packets ago and continued with Ba Wool and his crew until his death. Kang Hyuk follows suit by giving the boys a place to live and work, which creates a family among the main characters. This shop is a haven for those that need it and overall, gives off the same vibe as the ramen it sells– comfort.
The Romance: I find the romance in this drama classic, yet odd ball because you’ve got an OTP that should never work out and a basically irrelevant triangle. Eun Bi and Chi Soo are rather too far apart in age, especially given the high school factor, then class and circumstance (he’s ridiculously rich, she’s a struggling day laborer), and there should never be an inkling of consideration. But where the problem begins is well, at the beginning. Eun Bi always related to Chi Soo as an equal or an oppa, therefore the shift from initial perception and reality are blurred. Once you factor in feelings, she can’t outright cancel her attraction to him based solely on age (it’s unfortunate but true). What she can do, however, is apply his personality to the mix and that’s when the balance of romantic power kicks in.
Chi Soo is rabidly emotionally deficient which catapults him, in a cast of sillies, as the silliest of them all. Though he clearly is attracted to Eun Bi, he falls into a pit of self-denial and excuses that run the gamut of sad, pitiful and insulting. Though a compassionate heart may toy with the idea of indulging his childish and petty antics, a rational one is repulsed at the thought. However, this shifts drastically with his concession to those sticky things we call feelings, which undoubtedly makes Eun Bi’s knees weak and her rationale falter. Kang Hyuk decidedly has the better personality and prospective. He’s also rather forthcoming in his attraction and intentions toward her. Unlike Chi Soo, his mind is made, with no character or lifestyle adjustments. Unfortunately, he’s the second lead and therefore, there is always a disconnect, kind of like a picture hanging that never quite looks straight, even with more tugs to the left or right it’s slanted and there’s no fixing it. To be honest, perhaps that’s the issue with the romantic angle of this drama altogether.
No matter which way you shack it, it just doesn’t work. Kang Hyuk may be the right “kind” of guy but not “the” guy and Chi Soo is all wrong but with time (that no one wants to put in) may just fit, while Eun Bi basically doesn’t deserve, or need, either.
Overall Thoughts: Till recently, this drama has been a fun ride and that is solely due to the performances of the cast. Jung Il Woo has been nothing but total hilarity, which shouldn’t be surprising, given his stint as on of the best characters of 2011 (see: 49 Days). If you’ve seen his other dramas, Cha Chi Soo is a wonderful combination of the great gifts he has as an actor, which has made this role one of his most enjoyable. But lest I seem to overly praise Jung, Lee Ki Woo is the actor that has truly turned by head in this drama. In my opinion, he’s been known for playing the good, upright statutesque but boring guy in almost every drama I’ve seen him. He’s generally likeable but there is always something missing. Fresh from Military Service, he has pulled out a dramatically solid and perfectly quirky performance as Choi Kang Hyuk and I certainly pray he never goes back to dry and dull.
My only concrete, deep-seeded gripe with this drama, comes with the birth secret. If you’ve watched enough dramas, you know this storyline is overdone to the point of insanity in dramas. On it’s own, the drama has enough emotional issues, broken homes and parental baggage, than to add estranged siblings and extra-marital affairs to the mix. Unfortunately, added disingenuous conflict drags dramas down and can ruin them relatively quickly. I’ve personally watched up to 12 episodes but have no desire to move forward, due to this very point. Dramas usually start to falter, for me, around this point(the 12 episode). In most cases, plot runs thin or writers run scared (out of material) and some idiotic conflict is introduced to keep the bus moving to it’s destination (see: Protect the Boss, Personal Taste). Likeable dramas remain likeable by staying true to it’s nature, sadly, Ramyun has veered a little off course in this respect.
Even with that said, Ramyun is a drama that settles into the gem category for me. Not because it’s the best acted or executed but because it’s a drama that is so much more than it even gives itself credit for. I’ve heard several comparisons for this drama and all have some basic merit but Ramyun really is it’s own beast. This drama isn’t about the business or the teacher-student romance, there’s no cross-dressing or fabricated personas or identities. From where I type, this drama is about family, life and ultimately growing up. I personally hate the term “grow-up” because the connotation is that someone, somewhere is “grown” and others haven’t reached that status. However, I use growing-up, not in terms of age or even mental state or action but more in terms of appropriate and inappropriate emotional states and connections. The three main characters are going through this journey of emotional growth, figuring out their pasts, assessing their futures and relating in a healthy way with people around them.
This drama if looked at from this perspective, is kind of great because Eun Bi, Chi Soo and Kang Hyuk are all at different levels and areas, not much different from anyone who meets a stranger and creates a bond. We’re all attracted to people like ourselves, less than ourselves and greater than ourselves. It’s what keeps us healthy and “growing” and that concept is what makes this drama a complete delight.
[stills courtesy of tvN]