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Bringing the Drama: You’re Beautiful

ANNA: To start out this new feature on Manga Bookshelf, I thought that You’re Beautiful would be the ideal show to discuss, because I think it would be a good first series for anyone to try who isn’t familiar with Korean dramas. There are plenty of plot points in You’re Beautiful that manga fans can appreciate, due to the cross-dressing reverse harem scenario that the heroine has to face.

You’re Beautiful is the story of a novice nun who has to impersonate her twin brother and join a boy band, cross dressing as an idol singer. It is available for streaming on Dramafever and Hulu.

What about You’re Beautiful do you find compelling?

EVA: Of the four of us, I think I’m the newest kdrama watcher. I’m still learning the conventions, quirks, and tropes of Korean television, so many of what you all take for granted I still find either hilarious or perplexing.

What brought me to You’re Beautiful was, if I remember correctly, you and Emily chortling about it on Twitter, then Emily and Nancy coveting the stuffed pig-rabbit that came with the deluxe edition of the DVD set. (I may have my time line a bit skewed. It was a while ago that all this took place.) I figured anything that had all three of you so excited must be worth giving a try.

What kept me going past the first three episodes (I’ve learned that kdramas don’t often get started until at least episode four) was how deliberately silly the show is. Even as a novice viewer it was easy for me to spot many of the things the show parodies. From our heroine’s first appearance on screen as a ditsy nun (a trope that usually drives me crazy), to the boy band decked out in lace and guyliner, to the evil arch-rival plotting against them all, there is nothing about this show that takes itself seriously.

ANNA: I was also inspired to watch You’re Beautiful after seeing Emily post about it on twitter. For me, it was the first drama that I’d watched that wasn’t a manga adaptation, and it ended up being a bit of a gateway drug because I promptly immersed myself in watching many more dramas after finishing it.

Minam is tortured by cute idol singers. Tortured!

Minam is tortured by cute idol singers. Tortured!

I think that You’re Beautiful’s silly tone is one of its strengths. It isn’t cynical at all, which is quite refreshing in today’s world. Even though the characters do plenty of ridiculous things, their actions totally make sense when you consider their personalities. When sheltered Minam has to face entering a locker room filled with undressed men, the mental gymnastics she puts herself through in order to maintain her disguise result in one of the most hilariously surreal scenes I’ve viewed in a TV show.

A.N.JELL lead singer Tae Kyung might be an emotionally distant OCD case with an odd obsession with cowl neck sweaters, but compared to how he might have turned out considering his harpy of a mother he’s actually not so bad. Poor Jeremy wanders around like a lost puppy, wondering why he keeps having visions of his new band mate eating fruit in slow motion, and Shin Woo’s penchant for quiet observation and on-demand emotional support doesn’t further his goals of romance.

So even though there’s plenty of guyliner and ridiculous scenarios, the core cast is remarkably sympathetic in the midst of all the silliness. When the characters do goofy things like pondering the dangerous nature of bidets or getting trapped on a moving truck, they aren’t ever really the objects of ridicule for the audience.

Chibi A.N.Jell

NANCY: Kdrama is the new shoujo manga! At least for romantic comedies. This drama was written by the Hong sisters, who definitely brought the “shoujo manga” aesthetic to this series. There are even chibi versions of the members of A.N.JELL (the fictitious kpop band in the show) that can be seen on merchandise in the drama itself. And that pig-rabbit is merchandising gold–I still want one! Unfortunately it wasn’t included with the YA Entertainment release here.

At the time this came out, I think I was still a bit hesitant about many of the TV dramas because they can reach high levels of tragedy sustained over many episodes, which can be grueling to watch. Like Eva, I wasn’t keen on the “Sound of Music” beginning with the hapless nun, but by the end of the first episode–with its super-shoujo ending–I was hooked.

Tae Kyung, King of Guyliner

EMILY: I’m a huge fan of shoujo manga, something that is chock full of ridiculous situations, unrealistic characters, and romantic comedy. There are also quite a number of series featuring cross dressing idol singers. Therefore, when I heard about a kdrama that embraced these same themes I’m so fond of, I was all over it. As an added bonus, You’re Beautiful is by the Hong Sisters, a writing duo whose work I have previously enjoyed (Fantasy Couple, Delightful Girl Chung-hyang, My Girl) so I had high hopes it would be good. I was happy to find myself hooked rather quickly. You’re Beautiful is silly, and the characters are all so exaggerated, but it’s so much more fun that way.

The Hong Sisters have a way of taking cliched situations and putting just the right amount of spin on them to bring unexpected results, or a surprise laugh. They are masters of parody. And what can I say, I love seeing surly heroes like Tae Kyung (king of all guyliner) be taken down a peg or two, be it from falling for Minam, or being chased by a wild pig.

Shin Woo in a clever disguise!

ANNA: That’s funny that Emily and Nancy were commenting on the similarities of You’re Beautiful to shoujo manga, because for me it was my first time getting sucked in to the kdrama staple plot of the second lead guy’s hopeless romance with the main girl. I really wanted Minam and Shin Woo to end up together even though I knew that wasn’t likely to happen. The Hong sisters really packed this show full of interesting supporting characters and plot lines.

Other than the romance of the main couple, what were your favorite supporting characters or stories?

NANCY: I have to say I was always a fan of the leading man, Tae Kyung, snarls and pouts and all. Jang Keun Suk is captivating, even when his acting is deliberately overblown. I also have a soft spot for Lee Hong Ki, who plays Jeremy. Jeremy is the one who keeps finding his bandmates in suggestive situations with Minam, whom he believes to be a boy. This drama also includes one of the best tongue-in-cheek nods to female fandom. There’s a scene in which Jeremy reads slash fanfic about the band in an online forum, and he then goes on to imagine how it would play out. You then see the three male leads reenacting a love triangle.

Minam’s online test to become an official fan of A.N.JELL is another gem. I feel that I can’t talk about Jung Hong Hwa (Shin Woo) or Lee Hong Ki without mentioning that their bands (Hong Hwa’s C.N. Blue and Hong Ki’s F. T. Island) will be holding a joint concert in Los Angeles on March 9.

pig rabbit

Who wouldn't want a slightly toxic pig rabbit?

EVA: Hahaha! I love how Nancy’s unabashed love of Kpop sneaks its way into every conversation.

It’s hard not to love Jeremy. The adorableness of everything he does is almost cuddly. And the scene Nancy described is one of the standout scenes from the entire series. But my favorite side character is Minam’s archenemy Yoo He Yi, played by Uee. The Evil! It Burns! She’s so effective as the villain because she really, truly thinks she’s in the right, that Minam is the bad guy (girl), and that Tae Kyung just doesn’t understand. Her love is pure, by golly, it’s pure!

EMILY: I’m generally a first-lead fan, so I was Tae-Kyung/Minam all the way. Shin Woo was nice, but was waaaay too passive. It’s funny how he kept trying to be a shoujo manga-type prince, doing all these secretly sweet gestures, but he should have realized that with a heroine as dense, er, naive as Minam, he needed to be a bit more outgoing to make her notice. I felt bad for him, but it also sort of felt like he was stringing her along and getting more personal kicks out of being the secret helper. He put himself on the sidelines, so he shouldn’t be surprised if he ends up there. I think my favorite supporting character was Jeremy. He managed to be really sweet and considerate and likable in spite of the strangeness of his hair. (Seriously, what was up with his hair? Poor guy). And yes, the BL fanfiction scene and Jeremy’s support of it is one of the best moments in the series :)

Jeremy, confused by fruit.

NANCY: Caught by Eva!! I enjoyed Yoo He Yi as well (and Uee happens to be in the kpop group After School–ha ha ha!). I also agree with Emi that Shin Woo was too passive. In a way I feel Jeremy got robbed because most of his time was spent with Angelina Jolie, his golden retriever. He never got the chance to be a serious contender for the heroine, but his scenes are a joy to watch.

ANNA: I totally understand why you’d say Shin Woo was too passive – setting up elaborate scenarios and expecting Minam to guess his feelings was doomed to failure. One of the nice things about the way the Hong Sisters wrote You’re Beautiful is that it is possible to enjoy the supporting cast even when they are portraying characters that might be unsympathetic like Yoo He Yi.

But how do you feel about some of the other characters who are a little more villainous?

Even though Minam’s aunt was a focus of comic relief, she’s pretty much a hypocrite for seeking out her nephew only when she discovers that he’s in a boy band. What about Tae-Kyung’s mother? I pretty much wanted to drop her down a well for her selfishness, even though she is given plenty of back story to explain her motivations for being the Worst Mother In the World.

EMILY: In regards to the villains of the series- they are all so totally selfish!. Tae Kyung’s mother gets ranked high up there on the evil kdrama mom scale. She is even worse than the stereotypical evil kdrama mom type that always tries to bribe the poor girl to stay away from her rich son. In this case, she doesn’t even care enough about her son to go that far. As for the idol angel He Yi, she was a good obstacle in Minam and Tae Kyung’s road to true love, but I did get annoyed at how little she actually had to work to be that obstacle. All this great ammunition kept falling right into her lap without her having to do any snooping or conniving! I would have liked it if she had to work harder to be evil :)

ANNA: I agree that the villains could have used a bit more nuance. Maybe it is just the dramas that I’ve watched, but I’ve found that there isn’t a whole lot of subtlety to be found in the antagonists. I’m not sure what all the evil kdrama moms indicate, perhaps many of the drama writers have mommy issues.

NANCY: I think the evil mother was in there merely for Tae Kyung’s character development and to show why he was a cynical guy in the first place. I did worry a bit that You’re Beautiful would follow the lines of Winter Sonata with his mother’s obsession with Minam’s father, but thankfully that did not come to pass.

EVA: I guess my last question on this topic is: What, if any, kdramas have you watched as a result of watching this one?

I tend to follow actors and actresses I’ve come to enjoy (which is easy with kdramas, since there seems to only be 27 different actors/actresses in the whole country who just rotate around the various channels and genres). I think my viewing flow went something like this: I saw Kim Myung Min in Bad Family, so I followed him to Beethoven Virus. In Beethoven Virus I was introduced to Jang Geun Suk, so (after I heard you all talking about it) I followed him to You’re Beautiful. In You’re Beautiful I was introduced to Hyun Jyu Ni, so I followed her to IRIS where I was reunited with Jung Joon Ho who I had loved in Last Scandal.

Do you three do the same? Or do you have other ways of finding new shows to watch? Which show would you suggest as a follow-up to You’re Beautiful?

ANNA: I went on a major kdrama binge after watching You’re Beautiful, and I can’t trace my viewing flow as exactly as Eva does. But on what next to watch after You’re Beautiful, I think you have the options of following either the actors or finding something similar in tone. I haven’t watched many of the other Hong Sisters’ dramas, but I did enjoy Greatest Love quite a bit, which has the same satirical take on show business with the benefit of having adult as opposed to teen characters.

I did watch Heartstrings solely because of wanting to see Jung Yong Hwa and Park Shin Hye together again, but while it was fun to see them overall I thought it was a tad on the inert side dramatically. For a similarly funny drama, I’d actually go with Protect the Boss, which is a hilarious show about a juvenile delinquent who gets a job as a secretary for a spoiled young company heir.

You're Beautiful

You're Beautiful

EMILY: I don’t have an easily followed chain viewing pattern like Eva either, but I do mainly watch dramas for actors I like, and genres I like (romantic comedy), then creative staff. I enjoyed the dramas the Hong Sisters made after You’re BeautifulMy Girlfriend is a Gumiho and Greatest Love. Both were wonderful in different ways. Once again, the Hong sisters take common kdrama cliches and twist them around a bit to make something refreshing. In particular, Greatest Love takes another look at the show business world from a different perspective than You’re Beautiful and manages to have a lot of excitement even without a specific ‘bad guy’ character.

For other crazy romantic comedies, I have to agree, Protect the Boss is fantastic. I love how everyone in it is just a bit insane, plus it has awesome bromance.

Another series that deals with teens trying to make it in show business is Dream High.

Two other series that have a ‘girl masquerading as a guy’ theme are Sungkyunkwan Scandal and Painter of the Wind. Both of them are historical dramas. Sunkyunkwan Scandal has a more fusion-historical-idol-pretty-boys-hijinks-ensue sort of feel to it, while Painter of the Wind is more dramatic. I keep hearing that they are planning to make a kdrama version of Hana Kimi, but I have no idea if it will ever happen.

On a random note, I’ll watch anything with Park Shi-hoo in it because he is the amazing second lead guy who can actually get the girl (he has stolen the girl from the first lead at least twice now).

NANCY: I did watch some of Marry Me, Mary as a result of this drama (also starring Jang Keun Suk), and I may finish it someday. Keun Suk is also in a new drama Love Rain, which I will check out. I usually find kdramas by what people are talking about on Twitter, though I do watch shows with kpop stars too. (Iris is on my list. T.O.P ;))

I think if you like You’re Beautiful, you’ll like the kdramas based on shoujo manga like Boys Over Flowers, etc.

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  1. I haven’t tried any kdramas, mainly because I don’t have time. That said, kdramas are so popular in Taiwan that the government is considering putting a quota on them to protect local dramas. There are even a lot of men who watch them, and Taiwanese men are no more comfortable expressing ‘feminine’ behavior than their American counterparts. I do, however, plan to try them in that vague, mysterious time in the future when I do not have 100 other things which are higher on my priority list. At least I do have time to read manhwa. And I have time to watch Idol dramas, mainly because they count towards Mandarin practice (and yes, I know I could watch kdramas dubbed in Mandarin, but I don’t like the bad lip-synching).

    Nonetheless, I will be following this feature, so you just might manage to bump kdramas higher up on my priority list. I’m also interested in seeing how they compare to idol dramas (which also have only so many actors who appear over and over again – there’s a reason they are called ‘idol’ dramas), as well as the original manga/manhwa when it’s a manga/manhwa I’ve read.

  2. Great new feature! I’ve been curious as to what these mysterious K-Drama things are, and I’ve seen sales on Ya Entertainment stuff on The Right Stuf periodically, but I didn’t know I could view one of these series on hulu for free so I didn’t have to take a blind risk of throwing $50+ at something I might not like. I’m going to take the suggestion and try out You’re Beautiful as an intro to K-drama (that and being free, albeit bombarded with ads, is a good motivator)

  3. The only kdrama I’ve watched is Coffee Prince (which also stars a cross-dressing girl!), but I do actually have You’re Beautiful sitting in my queue at Hulu. All of you make this sound like a really fun series! I’m going to have to move it up in my viewing list now.

    This looks like a great new feature! I’m not very familiar with kdramas, so I really look forward to finding more series to check out. :)

  4. I’m glad you are enjoying this new feature! I hope it inspires people to seek out some kdramas and You’re Beautiful is a great starting point.

    @CJ, has plenty of add supported dramas to watch too! The dramas on Hulu are generally subbed on Dramafever first.

    @Lorin, Coffee Prince is great! You’re Beautiful is one of my absolute favorites, so I encourage you to check it out :)

  5. So cool that you’re expanding into even more Asian entertainment on the side. And you picked a great one ^^. The only kdrama I own is the Yesasia edition of Sweet 18 (which is quite old by now) and I haven’t watched it completely. I watched some twdrama episodes – got about 17 episodes into The Rose – but anime watching comes first.

    If you ladies haven’t seen it yet, Sarah Rees Brennan (author of the Demon Lexicon trilogy) did an AWESOME post on You’re Beautiful on her LiveJournal a while back. Warning: the post is HUGE – as it generally is when she really enjoys something. If you’ve read one of her book or movie reviews, this is what it is but even more so.

  6. I’m so glad that you chose this series to start out with, as it’s a favorite of mine too! I’m also happy to hear I’m not the only Jeremy fan here. I think one of my favorite scenes in the entire series is when he confides in Minam by showing her his secret bus route. Oh, Jeremy.

  7. Ah I remember the days when YAB’s subtitles would come out like the day after the new episode aired because it was just that popular. I enjoyed it for a stretch of time but ultimately the dim heroine and ridiculous star theme knocked me off this train. When the Hong Sisters want to make a point, they REALLY makes a point. Not cross-dressing, but another manga-esque drama would be Tamra Island. It’s actually based on a Korean manhwa. It was kind of in obscure land when it aired but has gained more popularity online

  8. I’m new to drama’s. I’ve been reading manga, manhwa etc.. for many many years (I’m 36 years old). My first drama was Devil Beside You. I watched it only because I had read the manga Akuma de Sourou. I loved it. So there started my hunt on dramas based on manga. Like Eva mentioned I it lead me on actor/actress hunts. Like it was also mentioned, I find it hard to get past the first few episodes. I adore Skip Beat both anime and manga but I haven’t made it past the second episode in the drama. Same goes with Ouran Host club. I think I got to episode 4 and stopped. You’re Beautiful was a delight. It caused be two sleepless nights but I managed to watch the whole series on Netflix in 3 days. I wholly recommend it.

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