On Re-Adaptations, Remakes, and the American Version of Boys over Flowers
In case you haven’t heard, there is an American version of Boys over Flowers in the works, and it’s created quite the hubbub among the fangirl crowd. Every single article I’ve seen on the subject—from the initial announcement to every casting decision—is filled with people outraged that anyone would dare touch their little baby.
|American "Jun Pyo" source/Korean Jun Pyo source
Considering that Boys over Flowers might just be the most popular kdrama in the history of anything ever, this outcome isn’t surprising, but I wanted to take another look at the issue. Since my focus in grad school was adaptation studies, I have a slightly different take on the whole thing. (And yes, I realize that this makes me kdrama fan type #3. I can’t help it, okay?)
After skimming through the comment sections of several articles, I have noticed a few consistent complaints about the American version of Boys over Flowers. Let’s have a chat about them one by one.
Complaint #1: The “original” was perfect
|BoF source/P&P source
This is probably the most common concern. A lot of people have been saying that they love Boys over Flowers so much that they don’t want another Boys over Flowers because it’s an insult to the original. In order to talk about this issue, it may help distinguish the difference between a “remake” and a “re-adaptation.” A remake is when you take a movie (or, in this case, drama) and redo it. As an example, 2011’s Footloose (blech—Julianne Hough) is a remake. A re-adaptation means that there is original source material, and it has been adapted multiple times. Pride and Prejudice would be the perfect example of a re-adaptation. Not only did Joe Wright adapt the source material differently than the BBC did, but the BBC adapted it differently than Robert Z. Leonard did in 1940, and so on and so on. Maybe you believe that Colin Firth was the best Mr. Darcy of all time and that it was a travesty to even try to make a “new” one in 2005, but if everyone felt that way, there would be no Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy because we would have stopped at Laurence Olivier back in 1940.
So what does this have to do with Boys over Flowers? Well, lest we forget, not only is Boys over Flowers an adaptation of the Japanese manga Hana Yori Dango, but Boys over Flowers is already a RE-adaptation of the manga. If we’re applying the “We did it first!” attitude across the board, Boys over Flowers wouldn’t even exist because Meteor Garden (2001) and Hana Yori Dango (2005) beat it to the punch.
Is it possible to re-adapt something too many times? Probably. But I don’t think there’s some magical cutoff to determine when that happens.
Complaint #2: They will change too much from the original
If we accept the possibility of re-adaptation, then the concern becomes whether this particular adaptation will completely change the original text.
The idea of a “faithful” adaptation is complete nonsense to begin with. The second you decide to adapt something from one format (manga) to another (live action), you’re going to be stuck with an interpretation. The choices you make in casting, costuming, lighting, etc. all put a personalized twist on the source material in order to place it in conversation with the original text.
That being said, I think what most people mean is that they worry about basic plot changes. Guess what? Boys over Flowers doesn’t follow the exact manga plot, either, though I can understand why a complete, unrecognizable overhaul of the story would be concerning. From what I hear, the basics will be the same: rich, snooty guys at a private school with a hardworking poor girl who won’t put up with their bullying. Multiple rich guys fall in love with the poor girl, and romance ensues.
What would concern me more, however, would be if they kept everything exactly the same as it was in Boys over Flowers. Think about adaptations as people on an elevator. When there’s only one person in the elevator, that person can stand wherever he or she wants. When a new person gets onto the elevator, what happens? They naturally spread as far apart as possible. The same process repeats every time a new person gets onto the elevator in order to maximize personal space.
Think of re-adaptations in the same way. They can’t all occupy the same space because then they really are pointless remakes. (I haven't seen it, but the new Carrie looks like it may suffer from this issue.) If each adaptation is in conversation with the original text, then why bother saying the same thing over and over and over? Even changes to the plot can create an interesting conversation to keep things lively.
Complaint #3: It’s another American rip-off
|IA source/ The Departed source
This one’s interesting to me. If we’re okay with having Meteor Garden from Taiwan and Hana Yori Dango from Japan and Boys over Flowers from Korea, what’s wrong with an American take? From what I gather, each one of those stories embeds its own distinct culture into the story, much like Bride and Prejudice takes Jane Austen’s story and gives it a Bollywood spin. Is the concern that American culture is much farther removed because it’s not Asian? If so, see point #4.
But is that really the source of irritation here? What if this were a French adaptation or a Chilean adaptation, or even an English-speaking adaptation, just done by the BBC instead of Americans? I somehow suspect that there wouldn’t be so much outrage.
There’s a sense that Hollywood rips stuff off all the time from other countries, and that’s what makes people mad. When the English-speaking version of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo came out barely two years after the Swedish version, it seemed like supreme laziness to me. I mean, really? People are so averse to reading subtitles that they need Daniel Craig to dumb things down for them?
Even though I get riled up about this issue all the time, there is another side. First of all, this movie isn’t being made by Big Hollywood. It’s a small, independent production, so it’s not like they’re robbing ideas and trying to make the big bucks by casting Kristen Bell as the female lead or anything.
Second, English-speaking (or French-speaking, or Spanish-speaking) remakes and re-adaptations are a way to expose new audiences to your favorite works. How many people had never heard of Infernal Affairs until they saw The Departed? What about all of those people who decided to check out Japanese horror movies after that huge string of popular remakes in the early 2000s? So maybe you can lure your friends into watching an English-speaking rom-com, and once they’re hooked, you can bring them to the source material. If your predictions are right and it can’t even come close to Boys over Flowers, then even better. It will finally force them to recognize the value of the kdrama world.
Complaint #4: The story won’t work outside of Asia
Again, I hear you on this one. Really, I do. When I heard that they were redoing the stunning Swedish film Let the Right One In as Let Me In with creep-tastic Chloe Grace Moretz, I was horrified. I reacted so strongly partly because the trailer looked like a pointless shot-for-shot remake of the first film (see point #2), but mostly because there seemed to be something inherently Scandinavian about the film that couldn’t quite translate to an American setting. As a Finn watching the movie, the reserved people living in the quiet and the cold somehow made the entire thing work beyond just a simple vampire horror tale (which I generally hate). When I saw Oskar, he reminded me so much of my little brother that I cried for an hour after the final credits. I recognize, however, that my experience with Let the Right One In isn’t everyone’s experience, and that many people could appreciate different aspects of the story in its American counterpart.
Obviously, there is something about the Korean culture in Boys over Flowers that resonates with many viewers, and if you simply aren’t interested in seeing what happens in an American setting because the culture was the most interesting part to you (much like my experience with Let the Right One In), then go ahead and skip it. No one will blame you.
What I find interesting, however, is that most of the complaints seem to assume that the plot itself is impossible in an American setting. I have read comment after comment that specifically claimed the bullying aspect of Boys over Flowers would never work on an American show. I don’t think that’s the case. The sad reality is that people get bullied everywhere in the world, and it can get pretty bad even in the States. As a teenager, my husband got shoved into a locker and had to wait until a teacher found him. (Yes, really. This stuff doesn’t just happen on Saved by the Bell, folks!) Sadly, more extreme cases where bullying leads to teen suicide are far too common. I wish it weren’t true, but that part of the story isn’t specific to Korea.
On a lighter note, I like to think that the parts of the story that are outlandish in America also require suspension of disbelief for Korean audiences. Where are these schools where people do no studying and there are zero teachers? Is that a real thing?
So, what I’m trying to say is that the American version of Boys over Flowers probably isn’t a sign of the impending Apocalypse. Personally, I’m not super interested in watching it mostly because it kind of looks like a bad made-for-TV-movie, but I’m also not upset by the fact that they are making it. It’s certainly not worth writing hate mail to the actors and producers involved with the show. Just take a deep breath and go re-watch Boys over Flowers instead. I promise it will make you feel better.