Cast list for heroine-in-drag rom-com To the Beautiful You
Get ready for lots of casting news, starting off with the Hana Kimi remake, To the Beautiful You, the awkwardly titled gender-bending rom-com coming soon to SBS later this summer. Casting of the lead roles has been set for a while now, but the show has just unleashed a slew of news about supporting actors, so we may as well get evvvverybody’s roles out in the open in one monster post. Ready? Diving in…
The show is set in a high school for athletes, with specific attention in track and field (a couple characters are runners and high jumpers), making it sort of like a Fame For Sports Stars. Or Dream High, Literally. The drama stars a number of idols like Sulli of f(x) and Min-ho of SHINee, though I’ll be watching mostly for Lee Hyun-woo (Equator Man), who’s transitioning nicely out of child roles into… well, if not quite adult roles, then at least older and almost-adult. He’s like the next Yoo Seung-ho in terms of packing lots of talent into his tender years, although technically he’s a few months older than Yoo (though Yoo edges him out for leading roles and industry experience).
The story kicks off when leading man(-boy) Min-ho, a “genius high jumper” — pfffft, is there even such a thing? Okay, I suppose you could call it a prodigy, but again, pfffft — suffers an injury and falls into a mental slump. Sulli’s the girl who cross-dresses her way into the school to help him make his comeback, which naturally leads to Shenanigans. Hijinks are a given. Maybe even Tomfoolery. The heroine uses the name Jae-hee (which can swing both ways but tends to be more of a boy’s name), and both Min-ho and Lee Hyun-woo start to fall for her despite initially believing her to be a boy. She’s the Beautiful Ultimate Prince Scandal Man, basically.
Lee Hyun-woo, Kim Ji-won
Also among the previously cast stars is Kim Ji-won of High Kick 3, who plays star gymnast Sol Han-na. She’s going against her wiser-than-her-years High Kick character by playing a bright and cheery character with a careless streak — although she turns into a “docile lady” in front of Tae-joon (Min-ho). Born to a wealthy family and raised with everything she could ever want, she lives only for Tae-joon, but that remains firmly in one-sided-crush-land.
Now for the newest additions, starting off with Kang Kyung-joon (pictured below). He may be the most obscure of the bunch, but he’s the one who gets my attention since he’s become one of those actors on my Where are they now? list. It’s been a while since he’s been in the public eye; he got on my radar in 2005’s campus sitcom Nonstop 5, where he had a cute loveline with Jo Jung-rin. (His acting was rough, but he was very likable.) Then he went to army and seemingly disappeared for years. See, that must be every budding actor’s great fear about army duty — losing momentum when you’re trying to gain purchase and dropping off the face of the showbiz planet. (Kang has done a few things here and there, but not much: He had a bit in History of the Salaryman earlier this year and a cable drama, The Great Catsby, among others. )
Kang Kyung-joon, Lee Young-eun
Kang will play athletic coach Byun Kwang-min, who’s not so brainy (“simple and uneducated”) but rates strong on the brawny meter. He’s a former high jumper and he’s known for being tough on his students, making him an antagonistic presence to the kids. But he turns into a softy whenever he’s around love interest and fellow language teacher Lee Young-eun (Marriage Plot). Which makes me think of the sidekicks in Big — or, you know, any of the High Kicks, which may be more apropos given this writer’s resumé.
I can already see how the setup works cutely, but I can’t be the only one who’s seen enough male gym teachers with demure lady language teachers, can I? Is there something intrinsically feminine about teaching language? It makes me want to see the direct opposite, which makes me appreciate Flower Boy Ramyun Shop’s Eun-bi even more, now that I think about it.
Ki Tae-young, Kwanghee
Ki Tae-young, aka Mr. Eugene, is another addition to the adult crew as the “mysterious doctor” who works the infirmary. He’s the first one who finds out that Jae-hee (Sulli) is a girl, which I guess means he earned that medical degree. He doesn’t out her immediately, however, and is described as a character who adds dramatic tension to the story (well, aside from the fact that every character should add dramatic tension, really.). I presume that means we/she will be nervous as to when, or if, he’ll spill the beans. Instead, Doc keeps his mouth shut and ends up becoming a supportive guardian angel figure for both Jae-hee and Tae-joon, popping up whenever they run into trouble.
Then there’s Kwanghee, another idol (of Ze:A), whose specialty is jumping hurdles. Literally, I mean, on the track, not that he enjoys overcoming adversity — although hey, who’s to say he doesn’t? Frankly I thought Kwanghee was cringe-inducingly bad in Vampire Idol, and there he was playing an idol, but it seems he’s pretty firmly in background character territory here so I’ll try not to think about that too much. Plus, he’s described as a guy who’s constantly being annoying, so… maybe that’ll work with the role. His character’s got a warm heart, supposedly, but he’ll be one of our heroine’s main antagonists, picking on her and causing trouble.
Last but not least, adding interest are the rumors that this may be a comeback project for Go So-young, aka Mrs. Jang Dong-gun and Nineties It Girl, who hasn’t been in a TV project in five years, during which time she got married and gave birth to a son. Hers is the only casting that’s still unconfirmed, but if she signs on to the project she’ll be acting as chair of the school board.
The drama has a built-in following on multiple fronts, given the fanbase of the original Japanese series, as well as that for each individual idol. Granted, by now we know that idol starpower isn’t enough to make a show a success, but when we’re talking about a youth romance based on a manga, it’s pretty much primed for idol participation.
To be honest, I admit I’m a little fatigued of the cross-dressing heroine device — okay, a lot fatigued. It’s a trope as old as time and I’m not against it in principle (on the contrary, I tend to love these plots); it’s just that it sure has gotten a workout in recent years. To the Beautiful You will have its work cut out for it in satisfying fans of the genre while accomplishing something fresh to set it apart from all the others. Especially since so many of its K-drama predecessors have done such a great job with the conceit: Coffee Prince, You’re Beautiful, Sungkyunkwan Scandal… If you do nothing new and remain complacent, you end up with a mess like K-Pop Ultimate Survival, which was mostly fluffy cuteness without direction.
The producers make sense for this project, but also make me wary: I have some faith in the writer after penning Nonstop 5 and all the High Kick series, but PD Jeon Ki-sang, who butchered Boys Before Flowers? You almost want to ask, “Who saw Boys Before Flowers and thought, ‘Hey yeah, let’s give him another drama? Another high-profile adaptation with idol stars and a youth target market, to boot?'” And then I remember the insane numbers of Boys and have to sigh at the marvels of failing upward.
To the Beautiful You will air on Wednesdays and Thursdays on SBS beginning in August.