Friday, October 18, 2013

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

Source
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

BoF source
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. 


20 comments:

  1. It's not like BOF is even one of the best dramas in Korea. I have nightmares where the song "Almost Paradise" features prominently.

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    1. That's horrifying. I will now have "Almost Paradise" stuck in my head on an infinite loop.

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  2. Thank you! Pretty much said what I've been thinking all along! Skip it or check it out, but come on! I've also seen a lot of racist comments, or saying how everyone is ugly, etc. Come on! 4 live action versions (you forgot the HK version, but everyone does -_-), and you can't handle another one because its not from Asia? Ppphhht! Give it a chance first, that's all I'm saying.

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    1. Whoa! I've never even heard of a HK version! I learn something new every day...

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  3. "[T]he American version of BOF probably isn't a sign of the impending Apolcalypse."--Hilarious! I won't watch the American version either, but you are absolutely right. This fandom frothing at the mouth is a tad overreacting.

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    1. Seriously. Any time someone starts writing hate mail, it's time to take a step back.

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  4. Yeah, I saw a lot of comments from people worried that an American remake would 'ruin' Boys Over Flowers, but I don't think those people realised it was a manga first, and that two other versions had already been done. I mean, I like the original story, so i'll watch every adaptation (although this one totally does look like a bad made-for-tv movie). I love seeing how they change things. You don't want something to be a complete copy because as you said, what's the point? They remade Psycho shot for shot in 1998. Most pointless movie ever.

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    1. Oh yeah, Psycho is the PERFECT example. Who wants to watch Vince Vaughn copying Hitchock's stuff line for line anyway?

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  5. I'm actually not a Boys over Flowers fan, for whatever the reason I prefer Hana Yori Dango. Still I don't understand the point of this adaptation. Die-hard BoF fans won't watch it, and the typical American audience will dismiss it as a Lifetime movie.

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    1. Agreed. I don't think they'll make tons of money. I think they may have their best shot if they can get it onto Netflix, where people are more willing to watch anything if they're bored.

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  6. "Because the original was perfect" - DEFINITELY have to be a hardcore fan to say that! :) I liked BoF, but was barely in the same hemisphere as perfect, so of all the objections, I consider this the weakest.

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    1. And yet so many people continue to make this complaint! I think that it might be the nostalgia talking for a lot of people when this was the first drama that got them hooked.

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  7. I'm actually going to check out the American adaption BECAUSE I loved BOF (and to check out any possible dance scenes...I mean this IS set in an art school right). I know there's a large chance I'll hate it, so I have low expectations, but I'm probably going to give it a shot. (just I gave Heirs a shot just for Lee Min Ho but realized that I really was not interested in anything other than lee min ho's character...

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  8. Hi!!
    First I would like to express my delight in discovering your wonderful blog, It started with an article I found by coinidence and ended up goong through all the past posts in one sit!
    Absolutely original views on a variety of topics so neatly laid out and above all simply HILARIOUS in most cases
    Regarding the article at hand though, I first heard about this American remake over at mydramalist.com where they got their resources directly & exclusively from the producers of the upcoming show, who in turn have been nice enough to create an account over there to answer people's questions and inquiries. I've then received a reply from this particular account that assured me that the remake is NOT of the Korean version BoF but rather of the Japanese Manga but it seems that however many times they clarify that people just don't seem to get it
    http://mydramalist.com/article/2013/09/21/boys-over-flowers-american-remake-ask-your-questions#.UmQjRWQayc0

    Loving your blog loads, keep up the good work ;-)

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    1. Exactly! Most of the people getting upset don't seem to realize that it's NOT a remake of the Korean drama, but rather a re-adaptation of the manga.

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  9. Since your my only source for this information - I'm too lazy really - this was the first I had heard about it. I've been telling my husband for years that Western TV shows should move more towards an Asian drama style- that way we would wouldn't have 8 series of the same show. Meteor Garden was one of my firsts, but that doesn't mean I wouldn't like to see an American remake - I want to see what they do with it.

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  10. First thought when I saw the start of this post: "SIN! SACRILEGE!!! How could- but- GAH!" But I've calmed down. ^^ It won't be BOF, but who says it has to be? As mentioned many times, BOF isn't even the SOURCE MATERIAL for the story, and it's not the only adaption. This American drama will just have to be taken as it is- something separate from other shows we've all come to passionately love (or hate in some cases...). I'm not sure it's really my thing. "Korea" is a BIG part of why I enjoy Kdramas... But I might keep my eyes and ears open out of curiosity. ^^

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  11. One of the things that make Kdramas so beloved to Western audiences is the sexual repression of the dramas, (the longing glances, hand holding, rare and in between kisses) and I don't say this lightly. It is refreshing to watch a drama where the two leads don't hop into bed at the 'drop of a hat' or at least with the ease of which it happens in most American productions. That's what makes kdrama kisses so popular - because they are the highlight of the show, not a prelude to sex - in a way that isn’t feasible to replicate in American culture. And I think, that is what most of the fans of BOF fear, that in adapting the story to fit into American Culture - they may lose elements of the show that makes it beloved to Asian audiences. This is just my opinion.

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    1. This is a really good point, and I think it's something that draws a lot of people to Kdramas. I don't know how much sex they intend on including in this version, but I wouldn't be surprised if it was minimal. Even though sex is much more prevalent on American television than Korean television, there are plenty of American romantic comedies where people aren't just hopping into bed and the whole thing concludes with a kiss. I guess we'll have to wait and see!

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  12. A large part of my problem with an American remake of BOF is it's been done to death. 90210 both versions, Gossip Girl (Heirs), the OC, and a hundred more that never made it to the back 9., for us here in the states it's really been done already. Having said that, maybe the bullying angle should be played up. Here in the states it's one of the leading causes of teen suicide. Maybe it's time a mirror was held up to the bullying in high schools and we see ourselves for what we are

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