What a breath of fresh air. This show has just the right mix of quirkiness, hilarity, and heart, with a really lovely indie sensibility. I love rom-coms in all forms, but it’s nice to depart from the glossy studio sheen on a lot of them. This world feels rich and lived-in, and every character feels real. Not necessarily realisitic, I mean, but grounded with an emotional truth even in the midst of all the romance-comic-book-like trappings.

What tvN has done right with its programming isn’t just throwing together a bunch of pretty people and slapping a “flower boy” label on them—or I suppose I should say, that’s not all they’ve done. Their dramas still remember to have an emotional center, and characters we care about, and that’s why I keep coming back for more.

There are a lot of things that Flower Boy Next Door is doing well, but one of my favorite things is a heroine with depths to explore. A bright, bubbly hero doesn’t hurt, either.

SONG OF THE DAY

Flower Boy Next Door OST – “Ready-Merry-Go!” by Romantic Punch
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EPISODE 2: “Just leave me alone! Please!!”

Pulling back to the moments leading up to last episode’s ending, our scruffy cartoonist Jin-rak finds a folded note in his door from “Apartment 402.”

He opens it up to find: “How to Cut Down Apartment Management Bills.” Omg that’s so cute. Remember when Dok-mi was hurrying out to catch the puppy owner and got sidetracked by sidekick Dong-hoon, who wanted to know why she paid less than they did? She told him she’d write him a note giving him tips, and she actually did it. She’s adorable.

As Dok-mi’s voice narrates, we see her living what she preaches: Reusing every bit of water, hand-washing clothing, wearing outdoor jackets indoors. It’s living by the hot water bottle, and she’s an expert.

But she’s not totally ingenuous about it, because she caps the letter off with a P.S.: Could he take over for her as protest leader today? (She’d gotten roped into it by the security guard.)

Dong-hoon comes up to read the letter, and tsks-tsks at her stingy practices, like not flushing the toilet after every use. Shudders. His simplistic brain doesn’t pick up on what Jin-rak does: that she’s hiding her poverty with her miserliness. “How transparent,” he says.

Dong-hoon points out that this makes Dok-mi his ideal woman, since he looooves transparency in people. Heh. I don’t think he’s far off the mark on this one.

Since Dok-mi’s note asks for a response, Jin-rak heads out to give it but is stopped by the quirky new neighbor at his door. He’s Watanabe Ryu (played by Mizuta Kouki), and he’s freaking adorable with his muffin basket and ear-splitting grin.

They let him in and Ryu looks around in childlike wonder at everything. Grumpy Jin-rak grumps grumpily about the rock muffins while Dong-hoon sees the new drawing he’s drawn, wondering why their new webtoon character looks so familiar. Gee, why do you suppose?

We revisit the scene of Peeping Dok-mi getting caught by Angry Panda, aka Enrique, who by the way has matching panda slippers. He cracks me up and I love him.

Enrique stomps over to her building as Dok-mi freaks out and tries to hide under her desk. Lol. She peers out her peephole… and sees Enrique’s face in the fisheye lens, glaring at her.

He rings her bell repeatedly, persistently, and Dok-mi clutches at her pounding head.

We transition to either a memory or a fantasy: Dok-mi sits in a therapist’s chair, dressed in a school uniform, eyes closed as her shrink asks what she hates most. Answer: “The sound of pounding on a door. A telephone ring. The intercom. My name being called.” Ah, so this must be memory.

Why does she hate them? “Because it means I have to meet somebody.” The doctor asks how long she’s felt this way—did it start “after that incident”? Eyes still closed, Dok-mi starts to cry.

Present-day Dok-mi cowers at her door while Enrique gets madder and vows, “Well if digital won’t work, we’ll have to go analog.” You mean because frantic slap-dancing with the door button is your idea of finesse?

With that, Enrique launches himself at the door like a monkey, kicking and pounding. He threatens to call the cops on her, and Dok-mi imagines her face splashed across the tabloids for being arrested as a pervert.

The fuss is so loud that it draws the attention of the boys next door. Oh, is Jin-rak literally one apartment over? And Ryu is on the other side? Dong-hoon recognizes the crazy guy, and Jin-rak starts to scoff, “Why would Enrique even BE — oh look, it IS Enrique.”

Dong-hoon seems to have a fixation with capturing embarrassing moments on video, and he whips out his phone. But Ryu fidgets and the flower boy totem pole topples over, finally getting Enrique’s notice. They wonder whether Dok-mi could possibly be his girlfriend (which just makes the kicking-him-out–in-his-boxers scenario funnier).

Hilariously, Enrique he tries to affect an air of somebody who isn’t totally nuts and asks if they know the “man-person” who lives here. I love the bits of awkward Korean sprinkled through his dialogue. He launches into the explanation of how the man-person in Apartment 402 has totally been peeping in on him.

But the security guard grabs Enrique and calls him the pervert, which isn’t a strange conclusion to arrive at given his current state of pandawear.

Finally Dok-mi musters her nerve and steps outside. One good look reminds Enrique of seeing her at his (hyung’s) door yesterday, baby-talking to the dog. He starts accusing her again, and the men all jump to restrain him.

Dok-mi screws her eyes shut, then interrupts in a barrage of words: “Ajusshi-that-person-came-because-of-me-it’s-true-I’m-the-one-who-did-wrong.”

Jin-rak takes charge, telling Dok-mi that he’ll handle this and sending her back inside. He’ll also take over her protest leader duties. He tells the guard this is all a misunderstanding stemming from the two apartments being built too closely, and disperses the group.

Dong-hoon enjoys the idea of women peeping too, like it’s some sort of validation of his gender. Jin-rak, on the other hand, scoffs that she’s not the type to do that—she’s too nice and sweet and yes, transparent.

Dong-hoon gives him the shifty-eye and narrates, “Bachelor No. 1 has just expressed favorable interest in Miss 402.” Jin-rak shoves his foot in his face. Ha, I love their dynamic.

Still peevish, Enrique takes a seat right in front of his window and plants himself there, facing Dok-mi’s window. He starts writing something.

The next morning, Dok-mi opens her curtains to find Enrique at his window, waving at her with a gleam in his eye. She ducks away, but he’s still there the next time she ventures a peek, and the third time he’s gone but has posted a sign to let her know, “I will be back soon.” Are those devil eyes he drew under the message? HA.

Dok-mi finds her fridge is empty and her rice stash low. But she doesn’t want to leave the apartment, nor does she want a delivery. Sigh. Which is the lesser evil?

Jin-rak explains his new webtoon concept to the supervising PD, explaining how the heroine is happiest when alone at home, but the appearance of the girl’s next-door neighbor draws her out into the world. The PD wonders how Jin-rak could have come up with such a complete story, and he says he’s been working on it for the three years since he moved into his apartment. (Aw, is he using himself as hero material?)

The PD is practically wild-eyed with interest, waaay too invested in this webtoon. It’s great. She demands, “Why can’t that guy just confess his feelings already?!

Jin-rak gets just as impassioned in his reply that you have to consider what the confession would do to the woman, and in her confusion the confession could get rejected or their acquaintance cut off completely. Thus there can be no shy confessions in this world, just bold ones. “He’s afraid she’ll be thrown into chaos! He’s afraid she’ll be hurt!”

She gives them the good news: the webtoon is a go. Send over the preview and make plans for Episode 1.

The boys are thrilled. They move in for a high-five, and Jin-rak high-fives Dong-hoon’s face. Ah, I love this show.

That afternoon, Dok-mi apprehensively joins the neighborhood meeting on the rooftop, and Jin-rak gets in touch with his inner hero (wannabe)—all of a sudden he’s gung-ho to lead the protest in Apartment 402’s place. Hee. Dok-mi sends him a little nod of thanks, which totally makes his day.

After the meeting, he hangs back to address Dok-mi alone, his voice hilariously dropping another register to sound extra-manly. The added formal inflection sounds vaguely sageuk-y mixed with a dash of lawyer. Oh man, I need a Jin-rak of my own.

Of course, Dong-hoon waits outside to protest that he’s totally going overboard, and Jin-rak slaps his mouth shut and hisses for him to shush.

Enrique, meanwhile, arms himself with a video camera and a murderous glint in his eye. He heads over to the roof and confronts Dok-mi. Alone.

She wills herself to keep silent, but he presents her with a voice recording: It’s her call to emergency services about the neighbor’s dog. Ah, so the emergency workers did drop by, and Enrique asked for the recording. He realizes she must’ve been peeping in on the dog, not on him, and pesters her to reply.

Dok-mi keeps her sarcastic thoughts to herself, but unnervingly Enrique uses the exact same wording back at her, which startles her. She thinks, “I’m not an ajumma, I’m in my twenties. Just go away!” He goes on, “Say something like ‘I’m not an ajumma, go away!'”

He adds that he overreacted this morning and wanted to explain. She thinks longingly of being in her own room, and he pesters, “Don’t just think of how you wanna go home and answer me!”

Wide-eyed, Dok-mi looks straight at Enrique and thinks at him, “Can you hear me?” He answers, “Yeah!” which freaks her out, then adds, “…that’s how you should look at someone when they talk to you!” Haha.

Okay, so he’s not a mind-reader but they’re working some uncanny telepathy, since she wonders why he thought she was a man, just as he wonders the same thing himself.

In any case, he makes sure she understood his explanation, and Dok-mi just nods and nods and nods in a nervous motion. Enrique stops her with a finger, telling her one was enough, and then… there’s a moment. Silence, recognition, something in the air between them…

…at least from her end. ‘Cause then he just chirps on like it was nothing, leaving her staring in confusion.

Enrique suggests moving their conversation out of the cold, but in the second his back is turned Dok-mi darts for the door. Hee.

She scrambles for her keys, but in a flash he beats her to the door and keeps on chattering. Oh my lord, he’s adorable and puppy-like and he TALKS SO MUCH. He’s like a 9-year-old on speed.

The thing is, Enrique’s chattiness seems as much an affectation as anything, and there’s a perceptive guy underneath all that gab. He rattles off how a goalkeeper seems like a great position in soccer ’cause you can use your hands, but it’s actually lonely and you’re left defending the goal all by yourself. “You’re the goalkeeper,” he tells her.

He says it’s a really tough position to play, and lifts a fist in encouragement: “Be strong!” Off he goes.

Dok-mi heads inside, touching a hand to the forehead he poked. She growls, “That little kid dares mock an ajumma?” Then she shakes her head—wait, he’s got her thinking she’s an ajumma already!

Enrique leaves the building complaining that the ajumma didn’t say a word, though he wonders why it felt like they’d had a conversation.

He heads out into the city with his camera out, which gets the paparazzi’s notice, and heads over to give an interview. He starts out charming the reporters, but his way of talking through the bullshit (but with a sunny smile!) sours some of their moods. He takes a bus home, and already the internet is abuzz with photos of him being seen around the city—but with derisive messages about how he’s childish and cocky.

Seo-young texts about the Enrique pasta he promised to make for her, and now that he’s not in front of her he’s not working so hard to keep up that I-don’t-care-that-you-chose-hyung attitude.

Seo-young texts hyung Tae-joon next, who turns out to be a doctor. The way he sighs at her message (about seeing each other tonight, a year since the last time) suggests her love just might be the one-sided kind. Either that or hyung feels guilty for taking Enrique’s girl.

Dok-mi ventures out to take care of some errands, and ends up in browsing the same grocery store Enrique’s shopping at. They miss each other as they roam the aisles, though she does perk up to hear his familiar voice.

And then… the arrival of a mysterious woman. She parks outside the apartment building in a fancy-looking car as a man reports that it didn’t take very long to find that person, who moved here three years ago. Hm, Jin-rak’s ex perhaps?

The residents gather in front to have their daily protest, just as Dok-mi heads home with her purchases. Aw, who else feels a terrible sympathy pang for the way Jin-rak just lights up to see her? His voice booms even louder as she joins them, while Dong-hoon practically starts singing “Jin-rak and Dok-mi, singin’ in a tree…”

The mysterious woman, Cha Do-hwi (Park Su-jin), steps out of her car and grimaces at the dingy building. She follows the voice to the courtyard, and then…. the scene takes on a rosy glow, angels sing, and she fixates on the hottie leading the demonstration.

Then Do-hwi spies Dok-mi hanging back in the group, and calls out Dok-mi’s name in surprise.

Dok-mi doesn’t quite look thrilled to see her, but Do-hwi squeals in recognition and hugs her.

Flashback. High school. Do-hwi is the mean girl, Dok-mi is her bullying victim. Dok-mi asks, “Why are you doing this to me?” Do-hwi says, “Just because.”

It must not be Dok-mi that she came to find, though, since this run-in comes as a surprise. Enrique pops by and joins in the conversation, and when asked who he is, he replies that he’s the guy on the opposite side of the impeding-view fight, “Like Romeo and Juliet, we’re enemies in the apartment battle, but we became friends.”

Dok-mi reels in shock this whole time, perhaps retreating into her schoolgirl trauma, though nobody notices. Granted, it’s not like she’s a talker even on a good day. But when the crowd gets boisterous and Enrique starts to head over to check out the fuss, Dok-mi grabs his arm and actually holds him back.

She looks at him with those big, tearful eyes and ekes out, “I… I…”

It sounds like she’s asking him for help, but before she finishes the thought she falls in a dead faint. Enrique grabs her before she falls.

Maybe it’s a flashback or maybe it’s a dream, but we watch as Dok-mi writes another passage in her work-in-progress. Scenes from earlier today flash by in her mind, illustrating her words.

“Her mouth is like a broken faucet in a mountain village. When it’s needed, not one drop comes out, and in the middle of a silent night it flows on its own. In that moment, all the words she couldn’t speak come pouring out belatedly. She vows, Next time, I should answer like this, I should make this retort. That woman speaks the most impressive lines when she’s alone.”

Now she sees flashbacks to her high school days, when she was singled out for bullying.

Dok-mi stirs awake and finds herself on a couch. That dog, Hippo, goes trotting by. She’s in a strange apartment, but she looks around and recognizes items from her days peeking in through the windows. She imagines Tae-joon here too, going about his day, smiling at her.

Enrique’s in the kitchen preparing dinner, and tells her she fainted. Since his hyung is a doc, she can get him to check her out since he’ll be home soon.

That won’t do, and Dok-mi quickly excuses herself and heads for the door, thanking him for his help. Enrique stops her with an arm, the way she grabbed his, and finishes the plea she’d started earlier: “Help me.” He says he’s about to do something “really hard,” and it would help to have her with him.

Just then, the door beeps open. Tae-joon walks in. Enrique shoots her a grin. Showtime?

 
COMMENTS

I don’t know what magic potion tvN’s taken, but they’ve done such a great job with this Oh Boy/Flower Boy series. What impresses me is that they feel like fully conceived artistic works, in the way that films maintain a stylistic constancy from start to finish. I don’t doubt that this is more difficult to produce in a television show with many more episodes, but the number of series that are bolstered by this kind of cinematic touch are certainly in the minority. Whether or not you’re a fan of the tvN shows (or even cable at large), they have managed to be a step ahead of broadcast television in letting directorial flair and tone shine through. I’ll always take a great story over those things, but once you’ve got a compelling story in place, I appreciate the drama that sets up a world, an atmosphere, a stylistic sensibility that pulls the whole thing together rather than just looking cool for the sake of cool.

Now, for this story: So far my favorite thing about it is Dok-mi. Thank ye for an interesting heroine for once! Okay, so it’s not like they don’t exist in dramaland, but they do appear to be, sadly, a minority population. The heroes get all the good, meaty stuff and the heroines just… are there to be motivators, sometimes catalysts, and in the worst cases, objects.

What strikes me about this pairing is how alike Dok-mi and Enrique are, despite appearances suggesting the complete opposite. She barely ever talks, and when she does it’s a hushed flurry of nervous words. He speed-talks like a grade-schooler, his vocab peppered with tons of cut-down words and slang and aegyo tones. He puts me in mind of a hummingbird buzzing around a flower, actually.

But it’s hinted that Enrique’s talk is a defense, just as Dok-mi’s is avoidance. He puts on that sunny front and bombards you with dialogue, and barely lets you—or himself, I suspect—register that there’s anything beyond that surface.

In that sense, I wouldn’t be surprised if he actually were a genius, though perhaps not simply in the way the world defines it, as the kid who designed a game at 17 years old and now is wildly successful. Perhaps it makes him more emotionally acute, seeing as how he honed right in on Dok-mi’s sense of loneliness. It’s something nobody really notices or pays mind to other than Jin-rak, and he (1) has had three years to study her, and (2) is still kinda wrong. At least in defending her as transparent and pure and totally not looking in on that apartment when she’s totally peeping the hell outta that window.

So what we have are two isolated, lonely souls with an uncanny ability to communicate despite their respective obstacles. Maybe the whole telepathy thing is a little out there, but I appreciate the idea behind it.

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