Monday, August 12, 2013

New Series: Who Did It Best [WDIB]: You're Beautiful

So I've decided to start a new series in my blog. Most of us are likely familiar with shows such as The Office which originated in the UK, but have been adapted for American audiences. Similarly I've noticed that often if there is a popular manga or drama that's created in one country, others will eventually follow with their own versions. In this new series "Who did it best?" I'll look at each of the shows and offer my opinions on ultimately who created the best version.

Naturally it's difficult to discuss this topic without getting into some spoilers. If this bothers you or you'd prefer to remain unspoiled then I would turn back now, or you can feel free to skip ahead to the end where I make my final judgement.

There are several shows I could have chosen from, but I'm going to start with one of my favorites.

Plot Synopsis

You're Beautiful in all its iterations follows the story of a young woman who is reluctantly pulled into helping out her twin brother, by temporarily taking his place in the band A.N.Jell. In addition to helping her brother get his big break, her hope is that new found stardom may lead to a reunion with her birth mother. 

She is welcomed warmly by all the band members with the exception of the lead singer. He is irritated by her clumsiness, but grudgingly accepts her into the band due to her talent. He soon discovers her secret however and must choose between helping her continue and revealing her true identity.

For future reference You're Beautiful is Korea's version and the original, Ikemen desu ne is Japan's contribution, and Taiwan's Fabulous Boys just finished airing.    


(Please note: For the sake of simplicity, I will refer to the characters by their original Korean names unless I am comparing or contrasting the different versions. Then I will use whichever names are applicable.)

        Go Mi Nyu/Go Mi Nam                                Miko/Mio                           Gao Mei Nu/Gao Mei Nan

Go Mi Nyu is the main character. She and her brother, Go Mi Nam, were orphaned at a young age. He has pursued a career in music, and she is in training to become a nun. She is also musically talented and when the need arises, she is able to take his place in the band. Though the lead singer is cold and antagonistic towards her in the beginning, she eventually begins to fall for him. She tends to be clumsy and a bit slow witted at times, however she is loyal and has strong determination. 

My pick: Tie between Go Mi Nyu & Gao Mei Nu

I feel like each version brought something likable to the character. While I enjoyed watching Cheng Yu Xi's Gao Mei Nu, I think Korea's Park Shin Hye made the most convincing boy out of all three. While Takimoto Miori did a fine job as Miko, I think my impression of her suffered due to the inconsistent tone of the show. Most Asian dramas tend to mix a bit of the ridiculous in with the drama for comic effect. However in the Korean and Taiwanese versions it seemed like there was more of a separation of the silly and the serious. Miko sometimes felt more like a caricature of the person she was supposed to be. 

            Hwang Tae Kyung                                  Ren                                  Huang Tai Jing     

Tae Kyung is the lead singer of A.N.Jell. He is a talented musician and songwriter. He is extremely popular with his fans, however in his personal life  he tends to be short-tempered and cold toward others. He is the second member of the band to realize Mi Nyu's secret. Although he originally wanted her kicked out of the band, he ends up helping her out of bad situations, and he eventually comes to accept her. He is intelligent and generally perceptive, except when it comes to relationships and his own feelings. 

My pick: Tie between Hwang Tae Kyung and Huang Tai Jing

But Ren is too pretty to not be chosen! (j/k) This was one of the hardest for me to decide honestly. Tae Kyung is the original, and Jang Geun Suk was amazing. I remember the first time I watched it, feeling exactly like Mi Nyu the first time we see him really smile. I was sort of blown away at how he could be so sour one moment and then he had this smile that just transformed him completely. Jiro Wang as Huang Tai Jing managed to actually one-up Tae Kyung in a few areas, however there were a few changes to his characterization that I didn't like. Tae Kyung could be occasionally aggressive, and though he was very cold to people around him, but in reality he really cared about his band mates. Tai Jing on the other hand was perhaps less petulant than Tae Kyung, but he was even more petty when handling his jealousy, and tended to be slightly more aggressive than Tae Kyung. 

Kang Shin Woo                                Shu                                     Jiang Xin Yu
Shin Woo is actually the first band member to realize Mi Nam's secret, though chooses to keep his discovery from her. He is warm and caring and quickly becomes interested in Mi Nam, however timing is never really in his favor and arguably his lack of openness likely contributes to his feelings going unrequited. His friendship with her however does lead to certain misunderstandings among others in the band. 

My pick: Kang Shin Woo

In this case I have to give props to Jung Yong Hwa. You're Beautiful was his first drama and he did a great job as second male lead. While the Taiwanese version found creative ways to give Xin Yu and Mei Nu more time together, and I really enjoyed watching Hwang In Deok play him, I still find myself leaning toward the original. 

Jeremy                                      Yuki                                         Jeremy
Jeremy is A.N.Jell's drummer and the youngest member of the band. He is cheerful, energetic, and playful. When Mi Nam joins he immediately senses that something is different about her, but he is the last to find out the truth about Mi Nam. Although he initially bullies her a bit, they do become friends and he is quick to be there for her to cheer her up. He develops a crush on her as well, especially once the issue of her gender is cleared up, but he is saddened to discover that Tae Kyung is who she loves. 

My pick: Jeremy (Lee Hong Ki) 

Just for clarity I'm referring to the original Jeremy. In addition to him being played adorably by Hong Ki, I really enjoyed his version of Jeremy's personality the most. The Taiwanese Jeremy was very close and I liked him a lot, but in this case I have to go with the original. Yuki again suffers from not carrying a lot of dramatic weight. In both the Taiwanese and Korean, even though you know he stands no chance at winning the girl, it still feels sad when he finds out the truth. With Yuki I felt...nothing. 

Yoo He Yi                                   Nana                                   Liu Xin Ning

Yoo He Yi is a much loved celebrity who is considered the "National fairy." To most she projects a sweet and kind demeanor, but that's an act. She sets her sights on Tae Kyung, but he quickly sees through her lies and rebuffs her attention. She's highly manipulative however and manages to uncover the truth about Mi Nyu. She uses this information to force Tae Kyung to cooperate with her demands, or else. 

My pick: Nana

So we're finally getting to the "bad guys" of this drama. While I would normally go with the character that I felt happiest with I'm going to go with the one that I hated most. In this case the nastiest of these three, in my opinion, would have to be Nana, played by Kojima Haruna. It was very close to being a three way tie, because in all honesty, all three of these ladies do a great job. However when I think about You're Beautiful one of the thing that draws me to it is that ultimately, none of the characters are evil people. Yes there are people that are manipulative, and do bad things, and cause angst and trouble, but in the end everyone manages to forgive and move on. The first time I remembered watching Ikemen desu ne, I took an intense dislike to Nana because unlike He Yi, she felt more malicious. 

Mo Hwa Ran                                Mizusawa Reiko                              Mu Hua Lan

Mo Hwa Ran is an aging singer looking to reignite her career. She is secretly Tae Kyung's mother, though she has never acknowledged him as her son. She blames his existence for the loss of her one true love and while she has made efforts to see him over the years, for the most part she has been cold and neglectful. When she reappears in his life as an adult her agenda is to take advantage of his fame now that her own has started to wane. She holds many secrets, including the truth of who Go Mi Nam and Mi Nyu's real mother was. 

My pick: Three way tie

Honestly each of the actresses who played this role did great. Mo Hwa Ran's indifference and manipulative side made me want to cry right along with Tae Kyung. And I was equally touched by the reconciliation between Ren and Reiko as well as Hua Lan and Tai Jing, as she urged him not to repeat her mistakes. In the case of this character I simply could not pick one over the other. 

In a show like this, I think it's natural to expect that music will play a fairly large role. A few songs from the original are used in both the Japanese and Taiwanese versions, although they have been changed lyrically for their respective languages. Both the Korean and Taiwanese versions had great music in my opinion. In Ikemen desu ne my biggest complaint would have to be the fact that they used so much music from the original, but the one song that in my opinion, *really* mattered, they changed. One of the things I love most about the Korean version is the final song that Tae Kyung sings to tell Mi Nyu how he feels and to ask her to stay. The Taiwanese also used a different song, but they still managed to end strong. 

If you really enjoy watching these shows for the music however, You're Beautiful is still the best. 


This is an important issue when comparing these three dramas. You're Beautiful consists of 16 episodes. Ikemen desu ne lasts only 11 episodes, while Fabulous Boys lands in between with 13 episodes. In addition to being a bit off tonally, pacing is one of the biggest things the Japanese version has going against it, in my opinion. 

Since Ikemen desu ne is only two-thirds the length of You're Beautiful quite a bit was cut in terms of content, and what was left over was still rushed through. For instance in both You're Beautiful and Fabulous Boys it isn't until the 8th and 9th episodes that Tae Kyung makes the pig-rabbit stuffy as a gift for Mi Nyu. In Ikemen desu ne Ren makes it for her by the 5th episode. In the 5th episode of the other two dramas, they are still just developing their relationship and starting to get closer. 

You're Beautiful and Fabulous Boys both are able to take their time and show the relationships develop. It almost seemed with Ikemen desu ne that there was an assumption that most of the viewers already knew who would end up together, so less time was needed to show them arriving at that point. For me however, I feel as if Ren is such a strong and contrary personality, that time is needed to show *why* he would change and let Miko get closer to him. Likewise the rushed pace made it difficult for me to see why Yuki or Shu would feel particularly attached to Miko.

Fabulous Boys also suffers toward the end from pacing difficulties. It follows You're Beautiful in terms of pacing for the majority of the episodes, however the last three feel rushed. For instance we never see the last straw which finally leads to Tai Jing breaking things off with Xin Ning for good. But I still find it a fairly good middle ground between You're Beautiful and Ikemen desu ne in terms of length.

While You're Beautiful is the longest of the three, and that can sometimes make it feel slow, it does give the fullest version of the story. 

Faithfulness to Source Material

In many cases the source material for dramas comes from manga or books or movies that have come before. In this particular instance Korea was the first to create this drama, so You're Beautiful *is* the source material. 

Ikemen desu ne is probably the least faithful, simply because so much has to be cut and altered for time. There are certain scenes which are tied to the story of You're Beautiful and exist in all three versions. Other scenes however have been changed, or omitted. To an extent I find that altering the original can be a good thing. Some scenes in the original were a tad ridiculous, and so if improvement could be made on them, then that's a good thing. Additionally some scenes were perfect in the original and when an attempt is made to copy them exactly, the copy falls flat. 

In terms of capturing the feel of the original and being the most faithful to source material, I'm going to have to say that Fabulous Boys does the best job.

Final Thoughts

I guess like most decisions this boils down to what are you hoping to get out of it. In over-all total package the original You're Beautiful still has it all. Fabulous Boys does an excellent job of covering the story, and even manages to handle many of the romantic elements better than either of the other versions, additionally it is the only version to give a satisfactory reunion between Mi Nam and Mi Nyu. But if you want a cliff-notes version of the story however, then Ikemen desu ne would be the pick for you. 

I've found now, after watching several different dramas, and several different versions of each drama, that quite often the first version sets the bar. The second usually manages to fall short because all too often comparisons (fair or otherwise) are drawn between the remake and the original. But the third gets the benefit of drawing from its predecessors to find a happy medium. 

First Place: You're Beautiful
Second Place: Fabulous Boys (VERY close to a tie)
Third Place: Ikemen desu ne

If any of you have seen any of these versions and would like to share your thoughts, I'd love to hear what you think! ^_^